Home 9 Full Text Articles 9 v32#5 The Digital Toolbox: Case Studies, Best Practices and Data for the Academic Librarian — eBooks and Audiobooks Support Remote Learning in Time of Crisis

v32#5 The Digital Toolbox: Case Studies, Best Practices and Data for the Academic Librarian — eBooks and Audiobooks Support Remote Learning in Time of Crisis

by | Dec 4, 2020 | 0 comments

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Column Editor:  Steve Rosato  (Director and Business Development Executive, OverDrive Professional, Cleveland, OH  44125) 

As colleges and universities adapt to new demands for services, eBooks and audiobooks thrive, supporting students, faculty, and staff at Swarthmore and Miami Dade colleges.

On March 13, when a national emergency was declared in the U.S. due to the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities across the country were forced to rapidly change the structure of their educational environment.  Students completed their spring semester off-campus as in-person sessions were deemed unsafe.  Six months later and schools are still navigating this new terrain as fall semesters begin. 

Over the past few months, demand for digital content for education and recreation has increased, and academic librarians have adjusted to a remote learning environment by shifting focus and priorities to eBooks and audiobooks.  Before the pandemic, many colleges and universities had already been using digital titles to supplement traditional print resources, both for educational and recreational purposes.  But even for academic libraries that were already familiar with providing digital content, there were challenges and changes.  Schools were not just responding to an increased need for digital content, but also to a need to overhaul their entire academic process completely.  And nobody felt the pressure to provide access to digital resources to support remote learning more than academic librarians.

“Online Access Did Not Prepare Us For Online Learning”

For Maria Aghazarian, Scholarly Communications Librarian at Swarthmore College, nothing could have prepared her for the “rapid changes we had to make this spring,” she said.

Swarthmore, a private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, was founded in 1864 by the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, and was one of the earliest coeducational colleges in the U.S.  The 425-acre campus, which boasts hiking trails, wooded hills, and a creek, has frequently been named one of “America’s Most Beautiful College Campuses” by Travel+Leisure magazine.

Prior to March 13, Swarthmore’s 1,500 full-time undergraduate students already had access to digital content that supported the school’s curricula of over 40 academic programs.  With an OverDrive digital library, Swarthmore was able to customize its eBook and audiobook collection.  Not just by title and format, but also the number of copies purchased.  This ability to customize provides academic libraries maximum flexibility and efficiency, while users benefit from anytime-anywhere access to titles.

But as Aghazarian noted, “online access alone did not prepare us for online learning.” 

In the first three months of the pandemic, Swarthmore’s library had 712 individual requests for digital copies of books.  Requests covered everything from course reserves, honor exams, research, and personal use.  The speed at which Aghazarian and her colleagues had to pivot to an online-only environment required developing a new workflow that “involves about a dozen different staff members to triage requests, depending on the platform,” she said.

But adapting to this increased demand for digital created new challenges, especially when it came to creating a collection that met the new remote needs of Swarthmore’s students, faculty, and staff.  “The usual factors we might consider when purchasing a book were suddenly more dire,” explained Aghazarian.  Choosing the best lending model became paramount as each one affects how many users have access to a particular title at a given time.

OverDrive’s multiple lending models support a range of loan types, and for Aghazarian, choosing among these models provides an opportunity to expand access to titles.  “The availability of class sets that can be assigned to students is a game changer,” she said.  Right now, Swarthmore delays cataloging certain titles they purchase through OverDrive to guarantee titles are first available to students in a particular class.  If Swarthmore were to add class sets, that concern would be alleviated. 

Aghazarian also sees tremendous potential in other lending models Swarthmore does not yet buy, such as Cost-Per-Circ (CPC) and Simultaneous Use (SU).  With CPC, libraries only pay for a title when a user checks it out, while SU titles can be checked out by an unlimited number of users simultaneously.  She said that both of these options “provide greater flexibility as we prepare for the coming year.” 

CPC can allow greater selection more efficiently because of the lower initial cost and the ability to set spending parameters to stay within the set budget.  For example, colleges can offer an additional 300-400 titles while only paying for the ones that circ because the real cost is only a fraction (usually 10%) of the cost of purchasing outright.  SU also offers potential savings by eliminating the need to buy multiple copies for a group or class reads, instead paying a per-student cost at a fraction of the price of a single copy.

“We Have Relied Heavily On Our Digital Book Collections”

Another school that has seen great success with its digital collection of eBooks and audiobooks is Miami Dade College (MDC).  Located in South Florida, MDC is a public college founded in 1959.  Comprised of eight campuses, it is one of the largest community colleges in the U.S. and home to a diverse student body.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Adria Leal, Librarian at the Wolfson Campus Library, recognized there were tangible benefits to digital content.  Students have anytime-anywhere access to eBooks and audiobooks through OverDrive.  Because the titles are digital, they don’t have to worry about carrying them around or needing to remember to return them.  Library staff also benefit from a digital library.  Along with eBooks and audiobooks not requiring any physical space in the library, the staff doesn’t have to worry about needing to replace lost or damaged items.  There is also no need for staff to handle the material, such as when physical books are returned and need to be checked back in, something of great concern among librarians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While eBooks and audiobooks were an essential part of MDC’s collection of online resources before COVID-19, Leal said the popularity of digital content is even more evident now when access to the physical library is limited.  “During these unprecedented times, we have relied on the use of our online learning resources and digital book collections,” Leal said. MDC’s collection is a mix of titles that fit course curriculum along with current bestsellers, both fiction and nonfiction. She added, “OverDrive has provided our students, faculty, and staff with a great choice of new material to meet their popular reading needs.”  Indeed, MDC has consistently seen a positive trend in eBook and audiobook checkouts year over year, a trend that Leal believes will continue.

Part of MDC’s circulation success can be tied directly to their collection development policy, which relies heavily on recommendations from students, faculty, and staff.  To streamline the recommendation process, MDC utilizes OverDrive’s Recommend to Library (RTL) feature.  With RTL, if a user searches for a book on MDC’s OverDrive site and MDC doesn’t own it, the user has the option to notify MDC they would like this title to be added to MDC’s OverDrive collection. 

MDC students are not the only ones who see the benefits to eBooks and audiobooks, said Leal.  “Some of our faculty have used the OverDrive collection for academic use as part of their reading material for some of the academic courses,” she explained.  In some instances, students can choose to read a title in print, eBook, or listen to the audiobook version.  Providing required reading in multiple formats supports different learning styles and increases a student’s odds for success.

Partnership Creates Path Forward

As colleges and universities continue to adapt to an ever-changing remote learning landscape, digital collections will be crucial to the success of everyone as the schools identify a path forward.  For both Swarthmore and Miami Dade, their relationship with OverDrive has created a remote learning environment that will allow their students, faculty, and staff to thrive in the upcoming academic year.

Leal points to OverDrive’s catalog of 3.1 million titles from over 30,000 premier publishers in more than 100 languages.  OverDrive’s catalog has titles and publishers that are not available on any other platforms in a digital format.  “The partnership between OverDrive and MDC Libraries has afforded a great variety of digital reading material made available in both eBook and audiobook format to our students and faculty,” Leal said.  She also added that she appreciates how OverDrive has helped MDC promote reading during the pandemic. 

Likewise, Aghazarian notes how partners like OverDrive have provided solutions to meet the needs of librarians during this time.  “As we’ve worked to quickly adapt our resources and services, I’ve been heartened to see the ways that vendors have been doing the same, appreciating their flexibility and willingness to work with us,” she said.  

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