Emphasis on Equitable Access to Learning Materials

On November 30th, librarians, academic publishers and members of the Dawson Books team braved a chilly early morning start to tackle reading list and ebook challenges at the latest library roundtable event.

Safe in the warm (and fitting) surroundings of the Old Library, Birmingham, delegates were welcomed from a range of HE, FE and Health libraries, as well as leading academic publishers. After coffee, pastries and a quick business update from Jane Johnson (Executive Director – Dawson Books), delegates broke off into roundtable groups for the first series of discussions, focused on reading lists.

Throughout the room, it soon became clear there were a number of common, shared challenges across the academic library space – a principle issue being how to get needed information from academics in the first place! This is a particularly important topic, as an understanding of which titles are being used as core texts, as well as the relative demand for these are vital in ensuring students have seamless access to course materials; heightened by growing student expectations and links between resource provision and NSS scores.

Discussions turned to the potential for ebooks to help provide improved access to resources for a large student base. However, there were again many challenges raised – whilst some delegates noted a successful use of ebooks in this way, others observed a continued student antipathy towards ebook use, a significant factor to consider. It was also noted that different access models affected the suitability of an ebook for inclusion on reading lists – for example, whilst ebooks with a set number of credits allowed multiple concurrent access, those with single user licences were deemed ineffective to meet this demand.

At the end of the first discussion session, delegates were asked to specify an area they wanted to discuss further – and these were used to formulate the roundtable groups for the following session. After a short coffee break the groups reconvened, tackling a range of subjects including ebook models, accessibility and collection development. The topic of accessibility raised a number of interesting discussion points. It was noted that a greater emphasis is placed on equitable access to learning materials for all students than ever before; however, it was also suggested that there is still a long way to go to ensure that ebooks functionality meets the needs of all users. A number of innovations were suggested to improve the accessibility of eresources – from allowing longer download periods, to relaxing print/copy restrictions for visually-impaired students. Finally, DRM was also shown to have an impact – delegates pointed out that DRM-free ebooks are often more accessible, as libraries are able to use their own Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and other scanning software to help with text-to-speech compatibility.

Discussions were lively and constructive, and generated a number of positive and concrete takeaways to drive change and innovation to meet the challenges discussed. Watch this space for more information on the outcomes derived from the roundtable discussions!

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