Against the Grain Vol. 33#5
By: Phillip Hewitt (Senior Engineering and Electronic Collections Librarian, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA 18015)
and Carrie Baldwin-SoRelle (Social Sciences & Scholarly Communications Librarian, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA 18015)
Column Editor: Steve Rosato (Director and Business Development Executive, OverDrive Professional, Cleveland, OH 44125)
During the COVID-19 pandemic, academic libraries faced the challenge of supporting remote extracurricular learning around Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice (DEIJ) at a time of increased public conversations about racism and white supremacy in the United States. One way that the Lehigh University Libraries addressed this challenge was implementing the OverDrive platform with eBooks and audiobooks with a targeted DEIJ collection focus.
The Lehigh University Libraries are part of a merged library and technology organization within a mid-sized, doctoral, high-research, private university. After some funds were made available following journal negotiations, librarians began investigating OverDrive as a resource to support extracurricular reading and learning. At the end of a six-month long investigation and implementation, librarians at Lehigh University chose to invest significant collections funds in the OverDrive platform to support reading and learning about DEIJ topics.
An initial marketing push over summer 2020 focused on two collections: a Black Lives Matter Reading List and Stories of Black Excellence. Both collections were heavily used initially and see steady continued use. Additional reading lists added over the past year include collections for Native American Heritage Month, a National Poetry Month list featuring poets of color, and LGBTQ+ Pride Month. In building the lists, we considered: popular titles nationally that were likely to have long waiting lists at local libraries; items not available in our existing eBook collections; and books by Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) authors with a breadth of intersectional identities. We referenced lists like the NAACP Book Awards, Stonewall and other ALA book awards, and antiracist reading lists developed by NYPL’s Schomburg Center (see https://www.nypl.org/locations/schomburg) and other libraries and media, attempting to include a range of voices and identities. Though we hoped and expected that the white students, faculty, and staff in our community would use the titles, we strived to select content by and for the breadth of our community, and not build a collection just for a white audience.
Our initial publicity and marketing advertised both the new platform and the featured booklists. In collaboration with our Communications Strategist, we announced OverDrive and the Black Lives Matter reading list (see https://ltsnews.lehigh.edu/black-lives-matter-overdrive-collection-lehigh-libraries) in early June 2020 through a campus-wide email, a blurb in a daily events list distributed across the university, and library social media. Later lists were also featured in newsletters from the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Instruction & Outreach librarian blog, the library website and digital signage, and social media.
When purchasing eBooks for our general collection, we have a strong preference for unlimited, DRM-free licenses so that any eBook can be used in a classroom. The lending models available on the platform contradict this practice in several ways: most licenses limit titles to one patron at a time; loans last an adjustable three weeks; files are DRM-controlled and can’t be downloaded as shareable PDFs. Some titles are available for book club-type reads that allow for simultaneous access, but the options are limited and often cost-prohibitive. Because of these limitations, we built the collection assuming individual and extra-curricular use and further focused the collection on audiobooks and titles that are often unavailable on academic eBook platforms.
Reception of the collection was very positive. Books included in either of the featured collections comprise 52 percent of our top checkouts, and 39 of our top 50 most popular titles. Audiobook usage has been particularly strong. However, overall usage has been mixed. Of all the titles purchased, 40 percent have not yet circulated. Because the collection is very new, we anticipate that these unused titles will be used as the platform becomes more familiar and better publicized. The oldest items in the collection — purchased in April 2020 — average more than six checkouts per title. Titles purchased within the last six months (as of August 2021) were checked out an average of less than once. In our first year, we have seen a total of 335 unique users. This represents less than 5 percent of our total FTE including staff, but is on par with usage of the New York Times, one of our most popular account-based general resources. Because of the patron privacy settings we have chosen for our OverDrive accounts, we cannot determine identities or affiliations of our users.
While OverDrive is neither a perfect nor singular platform for providing these materials and performing this type of outreach, it provides an effective tool to enable hundreds of faculty, staff and student users to access DEIJ-related titles. The project has been an important vehicle for collections-based, DEIJ outreach and serves as a small but public signal of the libraries’ commitment to antiracism.