How long will we have to wait for Buckland’s ‘Electronic Library’?

Monday, Aug. 26th was the first day of the semester at my job. The place was swarming with 60 or 70 students standing in line at the bookstore to buy textbooks. I could not believe. Many of the students take courses online but cannot afford the book. So, they visit the library to see if we have a copy on reserve. The school has an agreement with Follett books to give requested copies of textbooks to the library.

We offer classes online but students have to drive or take a bus to one campus on the South side of the city to make copies or read the book in the library. It does not make sense that the textbook would not be available online. Especially, considering the population of students we serve.

An ‘electronic library’ would be desirable with the increase of online universities, MOOCs, etc. The students we serve want electronic resources available to them, but we cannot meet the demand due to budget cuts or lack of technical skill.

I attended the Illinois Library Association conference in 2012. A group of librarians at a public library created a web page with links to famous books out of copyright so elementary and high school students could read them. They hooked up a router in the library, and made it possible for students sitting anywhere in the library to get access to this webpage. When I heard this idea I was so excited. The students in the Reading, English 101, and English 102 courses at my community college were reading several of the same books such as Frankenstein, and we never had enough copies for students to checkout. Our budget was cut or put on hold and it made it difficult to purchase books. I immediately brought this to my supervisor who told me it would require lots of paperwork, external stakeholders, and eventually the project would be taken from me and possibly given to the IT department. My excitement dwindled and began to immediately feel defeated. Of course, recently I learned many grants/projects get snatched out of one person’s hands and placed in someone else’s hands. This can occur in any type of organization.


4 responses to “How long will we have to wait for Buckland’s ‘Electronic Library’?

  1. Your example in the last paragraph reminded me of Library Box:

    We have one at my Little Free Library here in Michigan.

    • Yes, the Library box! It is such a simple idea but it positively affects so many in your library’s community. I hope to implement this in my library. We have a Great Books curriculum and students read so many books out of copyright.

  2. Darn you, @michael. I was going to mention Library Box! Oh well, great minds…

    Without throwing stones, I think your supervisor should have considered your project a bit more carefully. A simple webpage with links to out of copyright books takes much less work and upfront organization than s/he may think.

    At a previous workplace, my direct supervisor and I adopted a “GuerrillaTech” philosophy. In essence, we would create working prototypes of our tech-enabled projects, align politically with another librarian who saw value in our project, and then do a soft roll-out of the project before asking permission of the director. By that time we could prove its initial effectiveness and little impact on the working life of the librarians, all while being at a stage where we could garner input from the director to make “improvements” so s/he could claim some ownership over it, in a similar manner you mention of having a project snatched out of your hands.

    In the end, the projects succeeded for all parties involved, including of course the users. We built our text-a-librarian program like this, our mobile website, a major redesign of the library website, and a new version of chat reference.

    • There are only 3 full-time librarians in my library including myself and my supervisor, and the third librarian usually stays neutral. Hopefully, in the future we can hire more librarians and work to provide better services to our students.

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