How We Took Our Library All Digital
by Joseph Dudley
At the start of the winter 2022 semester, Bryant & Stratton College’s (B&SC) libraries—which had until that time comprised a virtual library available to all campuses and two satellite, brick-and-mortar libraries at each location staffed by at least one librarian—transitioned to a completely digital library with an all-electronic collection and a staff of four remote librarians serving campuses in New York, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. This transition supported a growing student preference for digital-only library resources and followed current academic library trends for removing lightly or non-used print collections and repurposing physical library spaces.
|One of our first tasks after becoming a completely digital library was the liquidation of print collections at all campuses.
Our digital-only transformation was supported by existing library technology at each campus. B&SC’s virtual library was already the main access hub for our array of more than 50 research databases and our existing LibGuides, which had been designed by campus librarians to support the academic programs at each location. Additionally, B&SC was already a contributing member of the LibAnswers online reference cooperative, which meant that our students and faculty patrons were acquainted with the service and were familiar with online 24/7 chat reference and using the Ask Us widgets to initiate reference transactions with online librarians.
Reference: LibAnswers Leveraged
As our library services moved to digital-only, we anticipated that one of the most noticeable changes at the campus level would be the physical absence of the campus librarian to answer reference questions. This meant that our LibAnswers service—which up until then had served as a supplementary service for evenings and weekends—was now one of our main channels (in addition to email and video chat meetings) for reference transactions. Also, since staffing had now transitioned to fully remote librarians serving the entire multicampus system, we were no longer answering reference questions from LibAnswers patrons outside of B&SC. However, co-op librarians continued to support us during evening and weekend hours, enabling us to continue to offer 24/7 chat reference to the B&SC community.
Although LibAnswers widgets were already present on the virtual library, we spent a significant amount of time discussing how to redesign our LibAnswers FAQ page as a main point of entry for digital reference questions. FAQs were updated to include questions that we anticipated would occur to B&SC students, and links to additional library services (such as document delivery and scheduling a research consultation) were also added, transforming the FAQ page into a multipurpose digital reference desk.
Print Collections Liquidated
One of our first tasks after becoming a completely digital library was the liquidation of print collections at all campuses. The B&SC system office recommended liquidation of print items in one of three ways. The preferred method was through donation to Better World Books, whose regional drop-off locations would provide the most efficient option for liquidation. Additional suggested options included donating selected items to faculty members (who could keep them on office shelves for reference when working with students) or donating a selection of items to campus learning centers to be used as study materials. Librarians worked closely with campus contacts during this process to monitor and assist as needed. The print collections at the Akron and Parma (both in Ohio) campuses had been previously liquidated, as student preference for digital library materials became clear prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those campuses were able to act as models for collection liquidation.
Librarians also worked during the first year of digital-only service to remove bibliographic records for print items from our shared library catalog as print collections were liquidated. The market dean of instruction for the Wisconsin campuses had previously served as Wisconsin market librarian and was familiar with the cataloging system, so was able to help in this process. Ultimately, our library management system (LMS) vendor was called upon to assist with the final stages of deleting MARC records for print materials.
Library Spaces Become Campus Learning Centers
Previous library spaces transitioned to campus learning centers and were staffed by a learning center coordinator who, in most cases, also became the main campus contact for librarians. Some campuses chose to eliminate print collections from the new learning centers entirely. Others, however, chose to retain some selected titles as student study materials, with the understanding that going forward, the library would only purchase e-materials and that the campus would now be responsible for any edition updates of print materials, if those were desired.
Communication With Faculty
While general communications (such as new service and collection additions) were now distributed to the campuses through the learning center coordinators, librarians remained available to communicate with faculty members directly (either individually or at faculty meetings) and continued to actively search out such opportunities (either remotely or in person when possible). Speaking at beginning-of-term faculty meetings was recognized an excellent opportunity to present higher-level library updates, begin conversations with faculty members regarding collection development needs for the semester, and schedule classroom presentations. Librarians are also able during these meetings to answer questions faculty members may have regarding access to library services or resources.
Librarians also attend meetings during the semester (both remotely and in person), such as those with outside accrediting organizations and internal system meetings with faculty members and administrators. Attending accreditation meetings offers the opportunity to speak with outside accreditors about how library services are administered and how patrons are engaged in a digital environment. Attending system meetings allows librarians to share information with internal stakeholders that can lead to opportunities for additional classroom and individual student engagement. Additionally, librarians regularly conduct internal professional development workshops for faculty members during the semester on a variety of topics, such as best practices for managing copyright, using American Psychological Association (APA) documentation, and finding and using OERs.
Discovery Layer Leveraged
Once all print items were liquidated and records withdrawn from the catalog, we realized that it was now possible—and more efficient, given our new status—to eliminate the standard LMS software and use our discovery layer as our main search and discovery tool. Although the catalog would still have offered patrons the option of searching within our e-collection, they would have needed to navigate past screens for a primary print collection that no longer existed. So, after some discussion among ourselves and with our LMS vendor, we decided to move away from the traditional catalog and explore incorporating BIBFRAME/linked data technology into the virtual library. This would give us the ability to share our collection across multiple electronic systems, both increasing visibility and ease of access. We approached this decision recognizing that such a move was a major departure from long-standing library practice, but all librarians agreed that it was the correct move in terms of providing a more seamless library search experience for our users.
Library Homepage Redesigned
As collections and access to them were realigned, it now became obvious that we had to consider a new interface for the virtual library. Specifically, we needed to move away from the concept of several separate B&SC campus library sites created with separate design philosophies and toward the concept of a single site with a unified design distributed to multiple campus locations.
The redesign was undertaken by the system library manager and system librarians, using available technology. After considering several design options, we decided on a visual structure for the virtual library’s homepage that would allow users to contact librarians with reference questions by chat, email, or video call; request a more in-depth research consultation; access popular library collections and features from a list of Quick Links; or access all library collections and services from a rotating gallery at the bottom of the screen. A Campus Resources link provided access to all subject guides at all campuses, and a search field was included at the top of the screen to allow users to initiate a broad search of all library items. Fonts and font sizes were selected for optimum readability, and a color palette was designed to conform to the rest of the BS&C site.
Subject Guides Redesigned
The color palette, fonts, and font sizes chosen for the virtual library’s homepage were incorporated into all campus subject guides; where needed, navigation systems were edited to give the entire virtual library the look and feel of one site, with subject guides cascading down from the homepage. Individual campus guides were redesigned to provide tabs for curriculum focuses at each location, with links to selected ebook, ejournal, and database collections for each subject area, conceptually modeled on a physical library’s table or window display. In addition, the library search bar, Ask Us tab, Quick Links, and system librarian photo and email link appear on all guides. That way, patrons can search and ask questions from any point. The goal of the redesign was to ensure that all users would now have relatively the same navigation experience regardless of physical campus location.
During the fall 2023 semester, a survey was distributed to students at all campuses to gauge patron satisfaction with reference services and the virtual library’s ease of use. Student responses will be used in determining the next steps in implementing library policy.
Library instruction continues to take place by faculty member request, virtually and, when feasible, in person. For online class sessions, librarians appear as guests in the virtual classroom. When they appear virtually in a traditional classroom, images and audio are displayed using conferencing applications and equipment. Such presentations support the B&SC mission of preparing students for a digital workplace.
Classroom instruction can cover a range of topics, including navigating the virtual library’s homepage to locate materials and services, contacting a librarian with reference questions, locating library subject guides, discovering resources using keyword and subject searching, and locating and using APA resources and tutoring. Often, slides used during instruction sessions are provided for posting in course platforms for student reference.
Collection development continues to take place each semester, with librarians focusing on collecting electronic resources only. Faculty members often request specific titles for their subject areas, which can then in many cases be made available in the virtual library within 24 hours. When needed, the library system manager can request an increase in concurrent usage for heavily used titles. Notably, one of the advantages of an all-digital collection is that new items can be immediately marketed to all campus locations.
Library statistics are gathered at the beginning of each semester to track library logins, use of databases, use of library guides, digital reference chats, digital tutoring, and statistical data about information literacy assessments. A report is created based on the numerical data and distributed to campus deans along with an invitation for their feedback and suggestions.
BIBFRAME/Linked Data Capability
During the first year of all-digital service, we began to explore the addition of BIBFRAME and linked data capabilities to make our digital collection more visible and usable to our student patrons. At first, we considered making materials available on the web, but as discussions progressed, we decided that the best course of action would be to make items available to internal systems—most notably, our library guides—and to individual course platforms. In this way, we will be meeting students where they already are and will be able to advance the goal of providing a seamless library access experience for all users.
Other Plans for the Future
As we continue to develop our all-digital library service platform, there will doubtless be changes and adjustments. We are preparing for a full examination of data from our recent student survey, which will certainly inform our next steps. One possible action may be the development of relationships with campus learning centers and learning center coordinators in order to open additional communication with students and faculty. Undoubtedly, surveys and focus groups will continue to be important tools for us to gauge user needs and satisfaction as we continue to explore and develop this new landscape for library services.