Friday, January 05, 2007

Libraries and Distance Learning

Laura Rein, Dean of the University Library at Webster University, writes in today's Inside Higher Ed about the library as place given the increasing numbers of distance-education students who will never set foot in the physical library while they are pursuing their degrees. Supporting distance education is not a major issue yet for law libraries because of the American Bar Association's Standard 304, which imposes restrictions on distance learning. However, it is reasonable to assume that this restriction will probably erode over time, and it would be wise to think about how we will support distant students when it does. Rein believes that libraries "can translate the benefits that our physical libraries offer to on-campus students and professors" by "careful planning during building and renovation projects, through the creation or revamping of services and collections, and through the creation of specialized services to promote community and active learning." My library is currently undergoing renovation, and one of our most important achievements during the renovation process was securing a private office for each member of the professional staff. While arguing for private offices, I wish I had had the benefit of Rein's insight--"Private office space for more important when a librarian could be on a lengthy, complicated phone call with a student overseas." She also talks about developing online tutorials to enhance information literacy in off-campus students and other uses of technology to bring the library to distance-education students and professors. Rein acknowledges that the biggest challenge in serving an off-campus population is creating a sense of community. Library blogs haven't turned out to be terribly helpful, but working with professors may be a more fruitful avenue to explore. At Rein's school, a Faculty Development Center that supports both on-campus and distance-education professors was set up. The Center supports a discussion forum for faculty, and offers a "new faculty orientation course, an active learning handbook, Web conferencing with a staff of instructional support specialists to offer individualized instructional support to faculty regardless of their location." This will require librarians to work across departments.

No comments: