Quick insight into information-investment
issues for presidents, CAOs, and other
campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources
Number 7, March 2002
The Issue for Presidents and CAOs:
The High Cost of Investment Disconnection
In a complex institution like a university or college, investments
made with the right hand may be inadvertently thrown away with
the left. Course-management software provides a significant
illustration. Higher-education executives approve budgets that
help the campus library develop or lease digital resources
and then buy digital course-management programs in which the
library's resources are ignored. That reduces the educational
return on both investments.
The investments are substantial. Statistics reported by the
Association of Research Libraries indicate that its members
spent $78 million in 1998-99 on electronic monographs and e-journals.
And a survey by the Campus Computing Project shows that nearly
one in every five college courses now uses course-management
software, which has been purchased by 80 percent of all public
four-year colleges. Failure to connect courseware with library
resources not only diminishes investments in both; it also
wastes the time and expertise that campus librarians invest
in developing course resources.
What Keeps the Library Out of the Courseware?
Vendors offer course-management software to facilitate onsite
instruction as well as distance education; the greatest use
is in traditional courses. Such courseware enables professors
to post electronic information that students can consult by
computer, such as class assignments, reading requirements,
and special messages. Also, such computer programs enable students
to query professors, discuss course work with other students,
join chat rooms for test preparation, and even take tests.
Moreover, course-management programs increasingly point students
to digital library collections and informational Web sites
relevant to subjects they are studying
There's the rub. Vendors develop their own educational resource
centers, sometimes in alliance with commercial providers of
content who charge fees. Information accessible through these
centers would not have been selected by local professors for
particular courses or developed for such courses by the campus
library, which may contain material of greater use. Such course-relevant
resources of the campus library can easily go unused unless
a motivated student thinks to look for them in the physical
library or on its Web site. Isn't there a better electronic
way to connect libraries and courses?
Do What Only Top Executives Can
Course-management software could be changed to provide direct
access to campus libraries' online catalogs and databases so
- students could identify course-relevant materials in campus
- professors could add campus-library resources to their
course Web pages
- students could receive online aid from campus librarians
- computer tools could search library databases to create
bibliographies needed by students for specific papers and
But none of this likely will happen unless the college, when
considering the purchase of course-management software or its
inclusion in a package of computer programs for the campus,
brings librarians together with all others who can enhance
the asset's useIT professionals, systems administrators,
and courseware-using faculty members. The fact is that when
campus librarians ask why course-management programs purchased
by colleges fail to point students to resources in their own
libraries, the vendors explain that librarians were not in
on the purchase decisions. Rectifying this will require leadership
from alert, cost-conscious academic executives.
For more on this issue, please see these articles:
- "Course Management Software: The Case for Integrating
Libraries," by David Cohen of the College of Charleston
in CLIR Issues, No. 23, September/October 2001, available
in print or online at www.clir.org/pubs/issues/issues23.html#course.
- "Getting Ready for a New Generation of Course-Management
Systems," by Florence Olsen in The Chronicle of Higher
Education, Dec. 21, 2001, p. A25.