Do libraries matter in distance education?

Corbett and Brown’s research highlights many challenges for librarians and libraries in providing services for distant students, including:

  • Accessing and searching for the right materials
  • Locating and using various media formats
  • Learning the distinctive technologies used within the online educational platform, such as Blackboard or Moodle
  • Keeping up-to-date with those technologies
  • Providing services and resources equal to those available on-campus
  • Changing the mindset of a librarian from using print resources to using online resources
  • Developing support and communication with the institution to ensure that adequate funding is put into place to develop and implement services and technologies
  • Managing issues related to reserve and copyright specific to distance education

“With older adults venturing into online education, another problem is that many of these learners are unfamiliar with using online resources, which requires additional instruction on how to use the various technologies, instead of just how to search for and use the library resources,” says the report. “Libraries and librarians need to develop instruction and tutorials to meet this unique need so that the learner can access the information when convenient.”

The authors said that librarians also need to realize that faculty, staff, and other people will be using these resources and services as much as students will, if not more; alternately, another challenge is how to change the perception of the faculty toward using library materials, resources, and services online.

The future

Based on the numerous, current research reports on the changing role of the library, Corbett and Brown believe that libraries can better serve distance education students by:

  • Increasing the number of full-text options found on the various databases subscribed to by the library
  • Focusing on ways to improve access, which can include regularly redesigning the library website for ease-of-use
  • Providing more ways for students to communicate with each other, and with library staff, online
  • Adapting typical library services such as reference, inter-library loan, document services, access, and basic library instruction for the technological world
  • Creating tutorials for instructional purposes, such as: how to search the catalog, how to find articles in the library’s databases, and how to retrieve electronic reserves
  • Focusing on digital video production and distribution

For more information (including information on the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) standards and definitions, resources for librarians, and much more), read the full report, “The roles that librarians and libraries play in distance education settings,” here.