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Pixels and patrons: Dal Libraries in the digital age

Donna Bourne-Tyson, Dalhousie's new university librarian

- November 16, 2011

University Librarian Donna Bourne-Tyson (Nick Pearce photo)
University Librarian Donna Bourne-Tyson (Nick Pearce photo)

As the printed word becomes increasingly pixelated, so, too, have library patrons moved into the digital realm.

“A lot of people who use academic libraries don't actually darken our doors,” says Dalhousie's new University Librarian Donna Bourne-Tyson. “I meet users all the time who say, 'Oh, I use your library every day – from my office.'”  

This is not to say the Libraries are not busier than ever: the use of library space for collaborative learning builds on the more traditional use by those seeking quiet study space and those working with librarians on research assignments.  

“The Dalhousie Libraries system is at the heart of the university – we’re a preferred campus destination, where students go to engage in independent and collaborative learning, research, reflection and group study. And we try and replicate those in-library services online to accommodate the needs of our users both at the libraries and those working at a distance – our website is like a virtual campus.”

Recent years have seen a rapid increase in the acquisition of e-books and subscriptions to electronic journals at the four Dal Libraries—Kellogg, Killam, Sexton, and Dunn—with traditional physical use ceding precedence to online environments.

“It's an equity issue,” says Ms. Bourne-Tyson, an alumnus of Dal's Master of Library and Information Studies program. “It's easier for people at a distance to access e-resources, so that means someone who lives in Truro has the same access as someone who comes to campus every day.”

Electronic materials also eliminate wait times, allowing multiple users to access a single resource simultaneously, and at any time, day or night, not just when the library is open.

“When I'm given the choice as to what we put in the collection, I usually choose electronic. However, the format people prefer is often discipline-specific, and a lot of faculty and students in the humanities still prefer print for a variety of reasons. Obviously we can't have the same title in six different formats, but we want to cater to people's preferences when the budget allows.”

User-driven e-book acquisition

So how does Ms. Bourne-Tyson see book acquisition evolving in the years ahead? She points to a user-driven e-book acquisition model.

“I think it's the way of the future,” she says. “We have some titles in our collection that don't circulate very much – one person wanted a book and that book was never used again.”

That’s the traditional ‘just-in-case’ collections model – having library books sit on shelves for years on the off chance a user might need them. This model still has its uses for rare or out-of-print items but isn’t ideal for all titles. User-driven e-book acquisition, on the other hand, is a ‘just-in-time’ model that eliminates unnecessary spending when accumulating relevant materials.

User-driven e-book acquisition involves loading a publisher's catalogue into an online library system and making purchases when a user selects a title.

“We wouldn't actually own any of those books until a user clicks on one of them,” she explains. “They would see everything they could possibly access and when they select something, it generates a purchase by the library behind the scenes – it’s a seamless user experience.”

With the patron-driven acquisitions model, instead of buying what they think a user might want, a library would only be providing materials for users that have shown a need. Some user-driven e-book acquisition models stipulate that the first two downloads of a title be considered a rental, with the third selection prompting a purchase.

“If you rent before you buy, you can ensure that book will be used by more than one person,” Ms. Bourne-Tyson says. “User-driven e-book acquisition gives a user access to a far greater range of titles than if we'd preselected and purchased titles based on what we could afford.”

The potential of open access

Ms. Bourne-Tyson also supports open access publishing, a means of sharing academic research without incurring the expense of commercial journal subscriptions. “It's a wonderful way for faculty to increase the impact of their research by having more people view, and cite, their work,” she says.

Traditionally, commercial journals have been the only way for a researcher to disseminate information in the academic world. A faculty-authored piece of work is submitted by the researcher, free of cost to the publisher, who then assumes copyright of the material and effectively charges universities an additional fee to access research they've already funded, or which the government has already funded through a granting agency.

Open access removes the middle man. “People are able to access this material at no cost and libraries are able to provide it at no further cost to the user or the university,” says Ms. Bourne-Tyson. “Faculty members are encouraged to publish in open access journals, and/or deposit their pre-publication research into what's called an institutional repository – IR for short. They can also retain their copyright for their own use by depositing to the IR;. they needn't sign it over to the publisher.”

Dal's IR, called DalSpace, also runs Open Journal Systems (OJS), a publishing program developed by Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC. OJS is a “fantastic and easy to use” system that allows students and faculty to create a journal and have it up and running “in a matter of days,” says Ms. Bourne-Tyson. Researchers have a choice to publish in an Open Access journal, publish their own OA journal using OJS, or deposit their research in DalSpace if they have published commercially.

Making libraries more accessible

Ms. Bourne-Tyson is a founding member of Libraries Nova Scotia, a province-wide collaboration of all Nova Scotia public, university, and community college libraries, and a group whose recent initiative, Borrow Anywhere Return Anywhere (BARA), gives library patrons unprecedented ease-of-access in utilizing a library's resources.

“BARA means you can take your public library card and borrow from any academic library in the province, and vice versa, and then return the material to any other public or academic library in the province,” she says. “So if you're on a road trip to Ingonish and you stop at the New Glasgow Public Library, you can borrow some talking books and later return them to the library at Cape Breton University.”

She hopes to bring a similar spirit of openness to Dalhousie’s Libraries. Having served as the university librarian at Mount Saint Vincent University for six years prior to arriving at Dal, she credits the strength of the Dal Libraries system for drawing her back to her alma mater.

“It's a fabulous system filled with very strong, very talented people,” she says. “Everyone here is committed to student success, and to supporting all of our users – students, faculty, and staff. I wanted to be part of that mix.”


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