After ten years of nudging and gentle encouragement, lockdown was an unexpected shot in the arm for e-resources librarian Chris Skerrow’s mission to get digital resources more widely adopted across Hull College.
“Almost overnight I had colleagues from across the college getting in touch to understand what resources were already available and how they could best use them”,
“Having been proactively pushing my digital resources agenda for some years, I suddenly found myself having to be reactive.
“The library was well prepared. We had two established e-book providers Dawsonera (subsequently replaced at the college by VLEBooks) and Jisc’s free e-books for FE, which combined gave us access to a range of titles for all our subject areas. This meant that whoever of our teaching colleagues needed them, there were relevant resources available. E-books usage in March and April is usually pretty flat but during lockdown we saw a 20% year-on-year increase.
“As you might guess, while having two e-book providers gives us a wider range of resources to choose from, it did mean students and colleagues had to look in two places rather than one. They could search for all of our e-books on our library catalogue if they knew how, but during lockdown we felt it was important to provide a more straightforward option.
“By reinventing a similar system from an old VLE, and using Microsoft Sway to host it, we created a tool that lets students and staff browse through e-books from both providers all in one place. It’s not much to look at, but it was free to create and the Dewey layout replicates the library shelves in an attempt to be the next best thing!”
The tool went live on 29 April and while the Easter break means direct month-on-month comparisons need a pinch of salt, e-book usage at Hull has increased 11% from April to May, on top of the year-on-year increase. Interestingly, there are some new additions to the list of most read titles. E-books for subjects such as motor mechanics and childcare became some of the most read titles where pedagogy was adapting to lockdown.
Grouping books together online in the same way as they appear on the library’s shelves is one of the efforts by the library team to bridge the gap between the physical and digital. With so many unknowns in the coming academic year, such as whether students will be on or off campus, the team is determined to ensure its services are flexible and enable students to move seamlessly between an online and offline library.
“We’re looking at small details too,”
says librarian Sara Robinson.
“Even down to including photographs of the library and specific shelves on the search tool. That way if you’re new to searching for e-books but are familiar with the layout of the library and which shelves you need, you’ll recognise the photographs and know you’re in the right place.”
“Some students are more confident in a virtual environment than others, so while the bricks and mortar library is off limits, we need to make sure everyone is comfortable using the digital equivalent. We’ve significantly increased our student support on email and have been running a range of Zoom sessions to show students how to use the system.”
Looking ahead to the autumn term, Chris comments:
“We just don’t know yet what the situation will be in September. What we do know is that we have the e-resources available, so we must make sure that they are accessible to everyone who needs them. That will put us in the best position to meet the needs of our learners, whether they are on-site or not.”