CLIRinghouse Number 7

CLIRinghouse Number 7

Quick insight into information-investment issues for presidents, CAOs, and other campus leaders from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) 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.

The Challenge:

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 studyingThere’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?

The Options:

Do What Only Top Executives Can

Course-management software could be changed to provide direct access to campus libraries’ online catalogs and databases so that—

  • students could identify course-relevant materials in campus libraries
  • 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 other coursework.

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 use—IT 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.

Additional Information:

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
  • “Getting Ready for a New Generation of Course-Management Systems,” by Florence Olsen in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec. 21, 2001, p. A25.
Skip to content