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Posted on Jan 30, 2015

Embracing ‘Affordable Learning Solutions’ to promote equity

Embracing ‘Affordable Learning Solutions’ to promote equity

As tuition increases for college students, so does the need to control other costs.

That’s why libraries are making affordable textbook alternatives available to students through the CSU’s Affordable Learning Solutions program. Leslie Kennedy, director of Affordable Learning Solutions, or AL$, works with campuses in the California State University system to create cost-effective options for students.

“What we’re trying to do in the CSU is help faculty discover and hopefully adopt low- or no-cost materials,” Kennedy said. “And from the student perspective, we’re trying to support student success.”

AL$ promotes cost-effective alternatives, such as e-books, book rentals, course reserves from libraries and free open textbooks. The program aims to familiarize faculty with the available options and encourages them to choose resources that save their students money.

High textbook prices can get in the way of student success when students opt not to take certain courses because they can’t buy the text. Or they take courses but don’t buy the textbook.

“Students don’t buy the book, but take the course anyway and will accept a lower grade as a result, and then there are those who don’t even pass,” Kennedy said.

One study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group found that 65 percent of students have decided not to buy a required book because of the price, and a single book can cost more than $200 depending on the course.

CSU libraries play an important role in saving students money. The Chancellor’s Office offers $20,000 grants to campuses proposing their own AL$ initiatives, and often, the libraries spearhead the effort to offer more affordable materials to students.

“For the most part, the CSU’s libraries have stepped up and taken the lead,” Kennedy said.

A hub for affordability at Pomona

One of the first universities to partner with AL$ was Cal Poly, Pomona. Their Affordable Learning Initiative (ALI) started in summer 2011 and has been growing ever since, said Emma Gibson, head of library public services.

A website about ALI offers resources for faculty and students, and serves as a hub for outreach.

“It gathers together a lot of resources like MERLOT (thousands of free, open textbooks); it links to a lot of the library resources; it links to sources where you can actually go and look for free e-texts,” Gibson said.

The library also provides services on Blackboard, the university’s learning management system where students access library databases based on their major and the courses they’re taking. Faculty can also work with the library to post course-specific resources on Blackboard.

“We’ve provided links to articles from our databases and we can also provide them links to our e-books from our e-book collection,” Gibson said.

But the librarians are perhaps the most important resource in ALI. Pomona’s librarians are encouraged to remind faculty about the program’s different services, and assist instructors in finding suitable course materials.

One such faculty member recently came to Gibson asking for her help in finding an affordable textbook for a new Spanish course. Gibson found several resources in the library’s collection, and even more texts through MERLOT, all of which she sent to him, she said.

Now, she’s waiting to see what book he chooses for his students.

“Contact us and we’ll do the searching for you to try to locate materials, an assortment of materials so that you can make the final decision,” Gibson said.

Bookstore and library collaborate at San Jose State

Started in spring 2012, San Jose State University’s Affordable Learning Solutions program partners the library with the bookstore to save students money. Each semester, the bookstore sends a list of textbooks ordered by faculty to the library, where that list is cross-referenced with all of the e-books in the library’s collection. The library then comes up with a list of more than 150 e-books available to students if they would prefer not to purchase a textbook.

“It’s gotten increasingly popular,” said Ann Agee, one of the coordinators of the program. “Back in spring 2012, we had 1,758 students using them. In fall of 2013, this last year, 5,000 students.”

That can mean as much as $130,000 in savings from e-book alternatives in one semester alone, Agee said.

The library also coordinates the Textbook Alternatives Project, which offers grants to encourage faculty to switch to more affordable options, be they e-books, open textbooks or course packs. Faculty are offered $1,000 to make the switch. Two faculty members have even written their own textbooks through the program, Agee said.

And for faculty who don’t have time to search for a less expensive textbook alternative, the library is doing that work for them, launching a book-matching program that pairs affordable books with many of the largest general education courses, Agee said.

“A lot of this is time,” Agee said. “Our faculty are teaching three to four courses every semester, and it’s not lack of will. It’s just going out there, finding out if it’s any good, you know, and it’s tough for them. So we’re going to do some of the legwork.”

‘Keeping education affordable for everybody’

In the end, the libraries offer up the tools, and it’s the faculty who make use of them, Gibson said.

“It’s the enthusiasm of the faculty who are involved, and the dedication of the faculty to really do whatever they can do to try and ensure that students have a good learning experience,” Gibson said. “When textbooks are too expensive a lot of students would go without. And when they go without the textbook they’re not really getting the full advantages of their education. So I think the faculty try to ensure that as many students as possible can obtain and access the textbooks they need for their course.”

For Agee, the program ensures that a quality education is available to all students, regardless of socioeconomic status.

“It’s equity,” Agee said. “It’s keeping education affordable for everybody, not just people who have money.”

For Kennedy, the AL$ program is about solving problems through options, and each campus involved is figuring out which solutions fit their faculty best.

“We’re not about prescribing what folks need to do, what faculty need to do, what students need to do; we’re about providing a spectrum of choice,” Kennedy said.


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Posted on Jan 20, 2015

The Japanese-American Digitization Project: Collaboration to tell a story

The Japanese-American Digitization Project: Collaboration to tell a story

The CSU libraries are places where stories live. Special collections and archives protect manuscripts, photographs, letters , oral histories and other historic documents. These departments house a host of unusual, rare and historical materials for our collective memory.

The California State University Japanese-American Digitization Project unites collections from at least 13 campuses in the CSU to create a picture of what the lives of Japanese-Americans were like during World War II. The collaboration is vast, and has an enormous impact as well, said CSU Dominguez Hills Director of Archives and Special Collections Gregory Williams, who is heading the project.

“We’re dealing with more than just photographs,” Williams said. “We’re dealing with papers and documents and letters and whatnot. And what’s great for our students is they’ll be able to access this material online.”

The project’s spark

The project was born out of conversations with colleagues, Williams said, as archivists realized that they had bits and pieces of an important history that could be brought together to create more holistic story. Inspired by the other archival collaborations of California, another database of historical documents, the archivists began working together on the digitization project.

They received a $40,000 planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to begin digitizing the materials and create a road map for the project, which began with a symposium to discuss how the libraries could collaborate on a project of this scale. That was followed by a beta website at Dominguez Hills’, and the uploading of 200 to 300 public items.

Archivists worked across the CSU to track down materials, from oral histories at Fullerton and Sacramento, to yearbooks and newspapers at campuses such as San Diego to corporate documents at Dominguez Hills.

“We came across this huge cache of corporate records from the Dominguez family companies in our Rancho San Pedro collection,” Williams said. “They showed the extra steps of bureaucracy that Japanese-Americans were required to take to work and lease land. They detail the effects of the Alien Land Acts of the early 20th century.”

Next, the cross-campus team will set up a website dedicated to the archive, which Williams hopes to go live by the end of the year. Then, with additional funding, the libraries will begin uploading about 10,000 total items, Williams said. That could take two to three years, once the funding is secured.

Making an impact

Even though it isn’t yet completed, the project has already started to have an impact, Williams said.

“Because we’re such an expanded, stretched-out university – we used to be called the thousand-mile university – researchers had to go all over the place, and didn’t know about certain things,” Williams said.

Now, archivists are working toward uniting the collection online.

Williams sees this project as the first of many collaborations:

“The CSU archives and special collections are ripe for other collaborative projects … It’s just the beginning.”

Photo courtesy of the Japanese-American Digitization Project and the Manzanar Collection at Robert E. Kennedy Library in Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

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Posted on Dec 4, 2014

Expanding and transforming the J. Paul Leonard Library

Expanding and transforming the J. Paul Leonard Library

At San Francisco State University, an expansion and renovation of the library building came with a chance to improve learning spaces.

Completed in 2012, the campus’ new J. Paul Leonard Library expanded its group and individual study spaces, as well as added study rooms with extended hours and new furniture.

The whole idea was to create areas that were flexible for students to use them as they needed, said Darlene Tong, the library’s former head of Information, Research and Instructional Services. Tong was the library’s lead on the project because of her familiarity with the library building and its history.

“We really wanted to have open study spaces,” Tong said. “Our buzz word, our mantra was ‘flexibility.’ ”

But the university didn’t immediately embrace that concept of library space, Tong said.

“I think the campus really didn’t understand the idea of flexibility,” Tong said. “They kept reflecting on other campus buildings that claim a need for flexibility, but in their experience, occupants move in and stay that way for 20 years. We kept telling them, ‘Libraries aren’t like that!’ ”

Instead of focusing primarily on book storage and stewardship, the new plan for the library expansion and renovation focused on creating multi-use spaces and maximizing the space available.

Those spaces include the research commons, a 24-hour study area with group study rooms, desktop computers, laptop loans and a quiet study room; the study commons, another computer-equipped space with extended hours as well as quiet and group study spaces; and the second floor corridor, a popular, casual meeting place for students with whiteboards and moveable furniture.

The need to expand

These spaces, now bustling, were sorely needed before the expansion, said University Librarian Deborah Masters.

“We had six group study rooms and virtually no other place that was suitable or congenial for group study and collaborative group projects,” Masters said.

The old library also had a small 24-hour computer lab with 35 stations, as well as about 120 seats in a study room. That wasn’t nearly enough, Masters said.

Students needed room to collaborate, as well as have access to technology, or study quietly if they preferred, Masters said. So the library worked with architects, planners and groups of faculty, staff and students to devise a new plan for the library layout.

The resulting floor plan expanded study space from a handful of rooms to two learning commons, called the research commons and the study commons, as well as extensive areas for individual and interactive study. In all, the expansion increased the library’s square footage by 28 percent, or 79,042 square feet, for a total of 361,542 gross square feet.

Both the research commons and study commons have group study rooms as well as quiet study spaces, and both boast flexible hours. And the new group study rooms also include media:scape furniture so students can bring their own device and work together on them. Media:scape tables allow students to connect laptops and project images onto a large, shared screen. They also added IdeaPaint to walls in each of the group study rooms, which allows students to use the walls as whiteboards.

Making room

Of course, study space doesn’t just appear out of thin air. The library committee that worked on the building project had to figure out how to maximize the available floor space without sacrificing collections, all while keeping with CSU guidelines, Tong said.

“There’s a mandate from the CSU that a certain amount of your collections needs to be in some sort of compact retrieval system,” Tong said.

The committee wanted to keep collections on-site and readily available, so they brought in an automated storage and retrieval system, allowing the library to store books in a compact but easily accessible space.

“We wanted to keep the library where it was and we didn’t have much space to build out, so we chose the automated retrieval system. And one of the key reasons we chose it, besides being able to keep our collections on-site, was to free up what space we did have available for public use,” Tong said.

That automated storage and retrieval system now stores 75 percent of the library’s collections, with 25 percent of books still stored in traditional stacks. This means there’s more room available in the library for those flexible study spaces, Tong said.

Flexing their floor plan

Part of that flexibility is apparent in an unexpected place: a wide corridor on the second floor. The corridor leads to instruction rooms, so it has a lot of foot traffic, Masters said. Planners had the foresight to fill it with moveable furniture so that students could stop and study there and customize their experience.

“Students use that corridor very actively for interactive collaborative work, and they can just form whatever size group they want by moving the furniture around and moving the whiteboards around, so it is great,” Masters said.

The moveable whiteboards were so popular that students started taking them via elevator to other floors, so the library invested in whiteboards for every floor. And the library’s corridor, as well as research and study commons, was enormously popular.

“In the research commons and the study commons, and along the second floor corridor, I would say in the fall and spring semesters, at least, almost all of the time, every seat is taken. … If you build it, they certainly did come,” Masters said with a laugh.

Expanding the idea of the commons

In the end, the library discovered that the idea of a learning commons as a flexible study space can be applied throughout the library, Masters said.

“You don’t necessarily have to have one single space that is defined this way. You can have some dimensions of a learning commons in various spaces in the building, depending on how your layout works,” Masters said.

For Tong, the library building has become a campus-wide example that shows how effective flexible spaces can be in providing for students’ needs. And the university has embraced the new model, Tong said:

“Now the campus is saying, ‘Oh, the library is an example of how all campus buildings should be designed now, with the idea of flexibility and spaces that can be used in many different ways.’ ”

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Posted on Nov 12, 2014

Tailored spaces and resources at CSU East Bay

Tailored spaces and resources at CSU East Bay

The library pioneer S.R. Ranganathan wrote that “the library is a living organism.” It grows and changes and adapts as needed.

A library’s job is to match each user with the right resource, Ranganathan wrote. Simply collecting books can’t do this.

Instead, libraries analyze usage data, review their collections and update them frequently, discarding old or unused books and bringing in new ones. This process is called deselection and refreshing, or for some, weeding.

That process of deselection helps visitors to the library more easily focus in on what they’re looking for, says CSU East Bay Dean of Libraries John Wenzler.

“Just like going through a garden that’s full of weeds, trying to find the fruits and vegetables that you want is a lot harder when a lot of stuff that’s less interesting gets in the way,” Wenzler said.

So librarians organize collections, analyze their use, and eliminate resources that aren’t valuable to library patrons.

The big project

Though deselection and refreshing is a regular part of library collections upkeep, some libraries in the California State University system are taking on the process in a much bigger way. At East Bay, the goal is to deselect about 10 percent of collections, freeing up space for group and individual study areas in a very popular library.

“Our library is very busy,” Wenzler said. “Students walk through all the time; especially in the middle of the quarter, students are on top of each other. So we’re going through a careful weeding process to prune about 10 percent of the books and create more space for students.”

Collection review

To accomplish this massive undertaking, CSU East Bay partnered with Sustainable Collection Services, a company that’s worked with many libraries in the CSU system, to review the collections.

“Basically we gave them a list of all of our books and our circulation records and they came back and told us how many books in our collection were never circulated at all, nobody had ever checked them out or even taken them off the shelves,” Wenzler said.

Sustainable Collection Services also compared East Bay’s collection with other CSU libraries, and noted which books were readily available for loan from other libraries in the system.

The library took that data and decided to focus on books that had been in the collection for 10 or more years without circulating and were also available from several other libraries in California, Wenzler said. This gave them a list of about 90,000 books, or 10 percent of the collection.

The library faculty are reviewing that list with their departmental faculty to ensure that no essential titles are removed.

Greater accessibility and visibility

From there, the books will be removed from the library, the collection will be rearranged, and more space will be opened up for students, Wenzler said. But that could take another year.

“It’s not just a matter of removing the books from the shelf. It’s removing them from the catalog, verifying that the books on the list really are on the shelf, and then after all the books are removed, we’ll have to do a reshifting project,” Wenzler said.

The end result should be more space for students, and a library collection that is more tailored to their research needs.

“The goal is to make the useful parts of the collection more accessible and more visible to people that are visiting the library,” Wenzler said.


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Posted on Oct 14, 2014

Unified Library Management System: One platform, 23 campuses

Unified Library Management System: One platform, 23 campuses

The Unified Library Management System, or ULMS, is a next-generation platform that would bring together library technology for all 23 California State University campuses. Currently, each campus has about three to five different information resource management systems, many that don’t talk with each other or with the other campuses.

The ULMS would change all that.

Right now, the CSU Council of Library Deans, with the backing of the Chancellor’s Office, is preparing to put out a request for proposals for the technology to link their libraries. After taking stock of their options, they hope to choose a system that will connect their separate CSU campuses through powerful cloud-based computing.

‘To ensure equity across all campuses’

The goal is to not just make research easier for library users, but also to ensure equity across the campuses, said Gerry Hanley, assistant vice chancellor for academic technology services at the CSU. Hanley is championing the project at the Chancellor’s Office.

“I think the big important issue is to ensure equity across all campuses, to every student and faculty and staff to have equally successful and powerful library services, whether you’re on a big campus, a small campus, a rich campus or a poor campus,” Hanley said.

The ULMS will ensure that equity by becoming the source for electronic resources for every campus. It will also help library staff manage print collections and assess user data, giving the CSU a broader picture of what resources are in demand.

Going door-to-door and getting feedback

In order to get all the universities on board, ambassadors of the platform have been visiting campuses, to answer questions. Two of those ambassadors, Systemwide Library Services Director David Walker and Sonoma State Interim Library Director Brandon Dudley, toured 13 CSU campuses to share the vision.

The goal was to explain the platform and garner support, as well as assess individual campus’ concerns and needs, Dudley said. The reaction was overwhelmingly supportive.

“All the campuses are different,” Dudley said. “They’re in different cycles with their current products. They’re in different phases of growth in life. Some have had recent changes in management. The reactions were positive. Some were ready to go tomorrow with a new system; others had a more cautious attitude about it.”

Even the more cautious campuses, however, saw the benefits of a unified platform, Walker said.

“I think people really wanted to express to us their concerns, their issues, things they want to make sure that we factor into the decision. But overall, I think it’s been very positive, and the library directors in particular have been very positive about this project,” Walker said.

Looking to other models

There are several consortia pursuing collaborative platforms similar to the ULMS vision.

The group that is perhaps furthest along is the Orbis Cascade, a mix of large state schools, community colleges and small, private institutions in the Pacific Northwest. Orbis Cascade is in the process of migrating its libraries over to their Shared Inter-Library Services, or Shared ILS.

Their experience of moving through the request for proposals process and selecting a platform has been a reference for the CSU, Hanley said.

“We’ve been talking with them about how they approached it and how they’re supporting it and being successful at what they’re doing,” Hanley said.

‘You’ve got to pay the mover’

Of course, once a system has been selected, the process of migrating all of the libraries’ data begins.

“There’s a cost to implementing it because you’ve got to move data from one place to another,” Hanley explained. “You have to make sure literally the almost billion records of resources we have get managed properly. Think about when you’re moving from one house to another, you’ve got to pay a mover, right?”

To that end, the Chancellor’s Office has invested $1 million to support this new initiative. That $1 million, Hanley says, is sort of like the moving costs for the first group of campuses.

A portion of that money will then be used to “pay the mover,” said Hanley, and transfer the first few campuses to the platform. In the end, the system may pay for itself, by lightening staff workloads and eliminating the need to license many different programs.

Then libraries will be empowered to do what they do best: providing information resources to their users as easily and efficiently as possible.


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