The university library is a central hub connecting nearly every facet of a campus, and it is supported by students’ tuition. In the library, we asked ourselves what we could do to defray costs for students while also removing financial barriers to reading and learning.
The answer lay right at our fingertips, with the millions of pieces of content we buy or license for our library every year. We decided to partner across the university to help faculty assign students course materials from the library’s collections, and deliver them directly in their courses.
Today, the average tuition of a four-year college is $34,740 a year–a 168 percent jump in the last 20 years. There is now $1.5 trillion in collective outstanding student debt, eclipsing the amount Americans owe on their credit cards. The already-high price tag for college doesn’t take into account ancillary expenses like textbooks and course materials, which many students skip buying because they can’t afford them, even though they are concerned it will negatively impact their learning.
Our university’s financial aid department provides online resources where students can learn about budgeting, credit, and student loan debt, as well as seek advice and assistance to gain financial literacy. With our approach, students benefit without needing to ask or take action themselves – we leverage our investments and know-how to help them better afford their courses and improve their educational outcomes.
To do this, we needed to accomplish two key objectives: implement technology to connect our university library content and services to their courses; and create partnerships with the people who design, teach, and deliver those courses.
First, we implemented an external resource platform called Ex Libris Leganto, which is a course resource list technology. This platform connects library resources and other selected course materials to the campus learning management system (in our case, Canvas). It works on top of our existing library management software, so implementation was easy and the software seamlessly connects into the workflows our librarians already use to manage and acquire our resources.
Prior to implementing this technology, we were using traditional means of course material sharing, such as physical reserve shelves and website forms for reserve submissions–but our role then was reactive in waiting for instructors to come to us to request our help. Now, we take a more proactive approach in marketing the service, and importantly, our instructional designer partners connect us to faculty interested in the service.
A common model is for instructors to have disaggregated, non-textbook content available to students in the bookstore. Without first checking for existing access to this content in university library collections, this content is licensed through the rights-holder, copied by the bookstore, and sold alongside their textbooks as course packs. But it’s not uncommon for these course packs to contain content that students could access for free from the library.
This software allows us to reduce the need for, or completely replace, these course packs with digital library resources delivered directly in the Canvas courses. This new model is convenient for students and allows instructors to arrange and deliver course materials wherever they would like within their online course, while letting library staff help with copyright and linking issues. If the library doesn’t have something in our collections that a professor wants to use in a course, we will purchase it when an institutional license is available.
To be effective at rolling out Leganto, we also needed to work with our colleagues in STELAR (St. Thomas E-Learning & Research) who manage Canvas and help faculty design courses. At St. Thomas, these colleagues are housed in the library as well, but until Leganto, we never had a project that required close collaboration.
The STELAR team quickly saw what we were trying to do and embraced the idea of putting library materials into the classroom. What began as a way for the library to position library collections has evolved into deeper relationships between librarians as content experts, the instructional design experts who help instructors build their Canvas course sites, and instructors themselves who re-think the course materials they’re selecting with an eye towards using more library, open access, and OER content that can still provide students with high-quality learning at zero additional cost. The partnership in course materials opened the door for other collaborations with STELAR and ITS, including self-service student media production facilities, Universal Design for Learning workshops, and a Library Help quickstart integration for Canvas which professors can activate to provide students with a variety of entry points into library research and services.
With 82 percent of students claiming they would do significantly better in a course if the textbook or course pack was available for free online, and with the average student spending $1,200 on textbooks every year, it’s imperative we take every opportunity to make them pay only for content that cannot be accessed freely on campus.
None of this required instructors to change their content offering, though some have now started to explore doing so with library, technology, and course design experts on hand to help them. Since implementing Leganto in 2018, more than 400 courses have been added to the system, resulting in overall cost savings of more than $800,000, and the program has been growing exponentially each semester.
Not only has this initial technology implementation saved our students a significant amount of money on ancillary costs, it also demonstrates how the library is a good steward of the budget provided by students’ tuition dollars, and also how it serves as a catalyst for change on campus.
With technology and collaboration outside its walls, the library can offer a university significant value beyond its tried and true reputation as a place to check out books, get research help, and study. University libraries house incredible amounts of information, innovative services, and staff willing to go the extra mile to connect departments and spark valuable partnerships that help improve the student experience.
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