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Democratising the library: how going digital makes it happen

dave sherwood

A university’s library is arguably its most vital resource. Whether concerning necessary literature for their course, finding resources online, or just having a comfortable place to study, many students consider the library to be indispensable. However, according to the recent data from the National Student Survey (NSS), overall student satisfaction with on-campus libraries is especially low. 

Following an understandable decrease in scores in 2021 – expected due to the impact Covid-19 had on students’ learning experiences – universities have largely reacted to this feedback and innovated quickly to achieve better results. There is still room for improvement, however, with universities needing to further examine where their satisfaction ratings can be improved and understand how they can improve their library services for both current and future students. 

No “one size fits all” 

The first thing universities should consider is the diversity among students in almost every area. Not everyone learns the same way and a method and environment that helps one student to thrive may be detrimental to another. For example, one group of students might prefer to visit a physical library and take out copies of books to read. However, students with physical disabilities and those learning remotely often prefer an online service. 

While most libraries do provide an online service, the selection of titles available as e-books is much smaller. Furthermore, most courses only offer a limited selection of recommended online reading materials. While some students can afford to spend the money on these books, many opt for cheaper alternatives. There are also those – typically from lower-income backgrounds – who will not purchase anything and disengage from the course completely. 

A more equitable service 

In order to ensure that all students, regardless of background, have the same opportunities to excel, universities must look at how their digital library services can be further developed. This does not involve a grand attempt to “reinvent the wheel,” but rather seeks to provide more comprehensive library services that lift satisfaction scores and the performance of students. 

Ultimately, improving digital library services increases performance. Giving students the option to view course readings online is vital to this – everyone has equal access to the resources they need to succeed in their course. Additionally, a fully digitalised counterpart to the physical library means that students unable to attend the library due to disabilities, anxiety, or distance have access to the exact same materials as those who can attend. 

Digital partnerships

As university budgets continue to be stretched, decision makers should look outside the university network for possible solutions. Partnering with an EdTech firm – such as BibliU – can help universities develop thorough, data-driven insights into student habits, preferences and content usage. These can then be used by the library team and university decision makers as a solid basis for continuous improvement of the service based on feedback from those who use it. 

Universities can also save money on resources procurement costs this way. Indeed, an EdTech partnership can result in a reduction of cost per book per head of 30%-50%. A full digital library also has the advantage of making all texts available to students instantly.

These services also provide universities with access to a full range of online materials, while they only have to pay for the activated licenses. This allows the institution to save money on not paying for materials that are rarely, if ever, used. What’s more, these can be fully integrated within the library’s existing online platform. 

Resources for all

A fully equipped, robust digital library is the best way to address the low satisfaction currently shown by students with their library’s resources. Digitising the library removes barriers to learning such as disability or distance. In the same way, having essential      resources available online means no more expensive book purchases for students – they have all they need in one place. Finally, EdTech partnerships will supply the data needed for library teams to make continuous improvements to the services they provide. 

By Dave Sherwood, CEO, BibliU

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