VCU Libraries Advisory Committee
First Floor Conference Room, Tompkins-McCaw Library
October 21, 2011 2:00 to 3:00 pm
Charlotte Arbogast, Meredith Byrk, Corey Davis, Tehra James, Kathy Kreutzer, Whitney Newcomb, Peter Nguyen, Faye Prichard (Chair), Amy Throckmorton, Katheryn Witt
Absent with notice
Etti Baranoff, Jose Dula (Allen Lee attended in his place), Lisa Phipps, Jeanne Schlesinger
Les Harrison, Linda Hughes, Roy McKelvey, Laura McLay
Staff: John Duke, Jeanne Hammer, Teresa Knott, John Ulmschneider, Pam Fraga (recording secretary)
Guests: Allen Lee (see above), Roy Brown, VCU Libraries
Ms. Prichard opened the meeting by thanking Mr. McKelvey for his leadership example and his years of service to VLAC.
Review and approval of agenda
The agenda was approved as presented.
Review and approval of minutes from September 2011
With the revision noting that Charlotte Arbogast was present, the minutes were approved as presented.
Alternatives to traditional textbooks: What is the appropriate role for libraries?
Mr. Ulmschneider thanked everyone for attending even in the midst of “Reading Days” at VCU. He noted that the rising cost of textbooks is an increasingly important issue to students that may even have political implications at the State level, especially given the economic challenges some students and their families are facing. Students, parents, and external constituencies (lawmakers, opinion-leaders and news media) are raising questions about the cost of textbooks. Many people believe that e-textbooks might offer an answer to textbook costs. This belief might affect the efforts that VIVA, the consortium of Virginia academic libraries, are making to secure funding for e-books, since only a subset of e-books can function as textbooks, and then usually only in upper division courses.
The greatest challenge to overcome is educating and motivating faculty to change the way they select and use textbooks. People outside of universities often do not fully understand that faculty members, appropriately so, control the pedagogical environment and choose textbooks to meet curriculum and teaching needs. He suggested that faculty all efforts to change the current textbook use models should put faculty in the driver’s seat for those changes. He also noted these points:
- Libraries cannot buy textbooks to serve the student body. This would be impossible, both financially and in sheer volume: libraries can’t possibly buy and process enough textbooks to meet the needs of the student body. The funding requirements alone would consume the entire collection budget, eliminating library materials for curriculum support and research assistance for both faculty and students. In addition, textbooks are not considered scholarly resources; they do not normally have enduring scholarly value, so they are not appropriate for the permanent collections.
- Digitalization will change the way textbooks are created and made available, but it will not change the fundamental business need for profitability. Publishers need to continue to make money, and they understand digital publishing as a business opportunity that is ripe with opportunity to increase profit. Therefore digitized textbooks in themselves will not result in cost savings for students.
Mr. Ulmschneider asked the Committee what guidelines/parameters they used in selecting their course materials. In brief, the responses were:
- Readability – this was a stressed as being as important as content
- Inclusivity – in some cases, professors use two texts, one that is readable and one that is more inclusive of the broad span of applicable data and findings
- Currency – strong concern was shared about how often textbooks were updated
- Approach – that the textbook author’s approach to the topic be appropriate for the programmatic focus.
- Cost is seldom a key criteria for some faculty when selecting books, but cost and availability are the top issues for students.
In discussion, several points were raised, including the fact there are almost no texts on dentistry, especially electronic textbooks, and whether an electronic version of a textbook is as readable and useful as a hard copy. Mr. Ulmschneider explained that for electronic books, publishers control how many users can simultaneously use a given book. Some allow open access and some limit it to just a few users at a time, severely limiting the usefulness of the item. Mr. Ulmschneider said that there are over 500,000 e-books in the VCU collection but that we need to do a better job educating faculty regarding their availability and their usefulness in classroom settings, including the usefulness of video, audio, and mixed-media materials.
The discussion considered possible changes to the status quo:
- The faculty must take the lead on any initiatives regarding e-texts. It is not appropriate for librarians or others outside the classroom to intrude upon the design and delivery of curriculum, including textbook selection and use.
- Identify and encourage alternatives for traditional textbooks, such as open-source texts, e-books that can serve as textbooks, and the like.
- Identify core curriculum that might benefit from a standard, widely adopted textbook. For example, it might be possible in some settings to adopt a single textbook for introductory calculus.
In further discussion these points were raised:
- The SGA representative said she was glad to hear that this topic was being actively discussed. Students are very concerned and don’t have a say in selecting texts, how the texts are made available, and what those texts cost
- Faculty expressed concern about increasing pressure for standardized accountability, and fear this will lead to an atmosphere of “No Child Left Behind” in which teaching becomes scripted and standards lowered and simplified. Committee members also noted that some faculty are not completely sympathetic to the complaints about materials costs when they see students showing expensive spending habits.
- Faculty strive for excellence in creating classroom experiences. Adopting standard texts might well lead to “standard thinking”, which corrodes educational value.
- Adopting new texts requires a teacher to revamp schedules, timetables, notes, tests etc. This is a costly process for the faculty member.
- Cost of some new tools (iPads) to access digitized textbooks may be prohibitive for students, but other approaches – for instance, a free digital reader with a paid subscription, might be viable.
Mr. Ulmschneider thanked the Committee for the vigorous and open conversation in this ongoing dialogue about textbooks, costs, alternatives and the future.
Reports and Discussion
Update on revised six-year budget plan, released 10-12-11 (with handout attached)
Mr. Ulmschneider, referring to the handout, told the Committee that the final budget plan has been released and the summation is this handout. He then referred to the last page, pointing out several priorities, including No. 19 – “address library needs.” He said that the University hoped to fund all of the items included in this budget, but the final decisions won’t be possible until funding levels are known.
Upcoming renovations to Tompkins-McCaw Library - visual aids, samples of materials
Ms. Knott gave a brief overview of the planned renovations to the second floor and the basement area of Tompkins-McCaw Library. She said that the renovations to the basement are being funded by the VCU Libraries, and it is hoped that the Provost’s office will fund the needed changes for the second floor. She reviewed the new floor plans and showed samples of the materials and colors to be used. She also said that Facilities Management has committed to replacing the steps into TML with new brick and granite construction. The new construction can’t happen until spring 2012, so Facilities has committed to keeping the steps in good repair through the winter months.
Ms. Knott also told the Committee that the watercolor exhibit currently on display on the 1st floor of TML will be in place until late next month and that there is a guide available at the front desk to assist in viewing the works.
VCU Libraries programs: Mr. Ulmschneider spoke briefly about each of these items, including the fourth one, for which there was a handout publicity sheet.
• Tayari Jones visit and reading: October 7 reading
• Medical Library Association Middle Atlantic Chapter meeting, Oct. 10-12
• VCU Libraries Annual Book Sale, Oct. 24-28
• Grave Robbing, Goblins and Ghouls: Anatomical Education in 19th Century Richmond, presentation and MCV Campus tour, Oct. 31, 3 p.m.-5 p.m.
• Before and Beyond Birmingham: A Conversation with Wyatt Tee Walker, Nov. 11, 7 p.m.
• Cabell First Novelist Festival, Nov. 15-16, 7 p.m. each evening
Mr. Clark announced to the Committee that Dr. Wesley J. Chenault has joined VCU Libraries as the new Head of Special Collections and Archives, effective Oct. 17, 2011.
Demo and discussion: Access Medicine and other Access offerings - online demonstration
Roy Brown, Education and Research Librarian at TML, gave a brief overview of the Access databases which are available in several disciplines, including medicine, engineering and science. He showed how to access the Access Medicine material from the main VCU Libraries web page and catalog, noting that use is limited to five persons at any one time. He also pointed out the updates are noted on the right hand column and that there is a Q & A feature, as well as case files organized by either alphabetical names or specialties.
He then talked briefly about the Access Engineering database and said that it has no limits on the number of users and is quite user-friendly. Access Science has a wide variety of media used, including images and video. He said that these images can be copied and reproduced if used for instructional purposes. He also noted that it’s possible to save the various images, annotations and texts into one’s own account.
The meeting adjourned at 3:10 pm.