So what do I mean by an e-Library?
Well maybe by starting off describing what it isn’t might give you a better idea.
Some people’s idea of an e-library is a website (or a section on the VLE) with information about the library, the services it offers with links to online resources. Some people take this a little further and have a link to enable users to search the online catalogue.
For me though an e-library should be an online environment that learners go and visit for the same reasons that they visit a physical library. I don’t think I have ever had a visitors to our libraries from any learners to find out what services we offer and how much the photocopying costs. Okay we might have had one person coming in to find out vacation opening times…
Most of the learners who come into the physical library are going there as they need some support, help to support their learning to achieve their qualificational goal. This support at a basic level might be a quiet environment or access to a computer. However a library is much more than just a place to study, there are resources: books, journals and online resources. There is access to collections and catalogues. Also a key part of the library are the library staff, the information professionals who are there to support and help the learners.
An e-Library should have those within it and should be seen as a support tool that is used by learners to support them on their learning journey.
The VLE is a an ideal location for such an e-Library.
Of course all that information on photocopying costs and opening times can be placed there and as the VLE can be searched (usually) then this allows learners to find that information if they need to.
Another obvious thing is to put in a link or search box to allow learners to search the library catalogue. Key question once the learner has searched and found a book, can they reserve it? Can they access their record on the library system and renew stuff?
So as well as the things that are obvious what about other stuff for an e-library?
Well the VLE can act as a portal to any e-books the library holds. With the addition of guides on how to use the e-book platform, this will enable learners to access e-books through the VLE. You can do something similar with e-journals.
The VLE is also the obvious portal to signpost ay digital and online collections that the library subscribes to. As well as providing the link, it could include additional information and details about any of the collections.
Tools within the VLE also allow for discussions and FAQs, using the forum functionality, learners would be able to post questions and importantly get answers about learning resources needs. You do need to manage expectations, so learners posting at two in the morning realise they may not actually get an answer from the library until it opens at 8.30am! You may want to post any questions you get from learners on a regular basis actually in the library to the FAQ (with the answers) so that learners can find it themselves, or useful for signposting when answering e-mail queries.
You may want to use forums (or other tools) as a method of eliciting feedback from learners. Listening to the learner voice and getting feedback is an important part of our self-assessment and review of how we work.
Immediate support on a learning resources issue is generally quite easy within the physical confines of a library, on an e-library, might be more challenging. You could for example use the live online chat facility to enable learners immediate access to an information professional who could provide support and help as well as links and advice, just as they do in the physical library.
One thing I expect my team to do, is to support learners through a reader development programme. A series of events and offers of training that helps learners build up their study skills. The VLE in conjunction with a virtual delivery system (such as Elluminate or Adobe Connect) would allow for both the delivery of live and recorded study skill sessions. This would help learners improve and enhance their information skills.
An e-library should be a place that supports and develops learners in their learning journey in the same way that the physical library does. The VLE is an ideal location for an e-library as it sits alongside the virtual courses they are already using. A familiar environment that they already know how to use.