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No Longer Missing: Tools for Connecting the Library with the Course Management System

Libraries and course management systems are two of the larger infrastructure investments made by colleges and universities. Too often, they are treated as stand alone systems and organizations, even though student learning is greatly affected by each. In this Viewpoint, Elizabeth Pyatt and Loanne Snavely describe Pennsylvania State University's efforts to better integrate these two campus resources.

One of the benefits of using a course management system (CMS) such as WebCT, Blackboard, or ANGEL is that course materials, including the syllabus, course schedule, course files and notes, discussion boards, course links and quizzes can be accessed from one location. Yet the role of the campus library generally has been peripheral, outside of the CMS environment. Some systems provide a link to the library homepage or to a set of generic Web resources, but that has been the extent of the integration.

While a link to the library homepage is a good start, many students are easily disoriented by the many layers of resources available at the library Website. The Penn State University Libraries subscribes to over 300 citation and full-text databases and offers a wide range of multimedia content in addition to traditional print materials. With such an array of content across disciplines, it is difficult even for instructors to keep current with the latest library resources for their discipline. For undergraduate students inexperienced with research methodologies, it is even more problematic to find the relevant research materials for their courses. Out of confusion and frustration, many students simply turn to the Internet, bypassing the quality resources purchased by the Libraries.

To address these issues, Penn State decided to leverage its CMS software, ANGEL, to "push" resources for discipline specific library materials into individual courses. To "bring the Library to the student," Penn State University has developed a suite of three ANGEL Library tools: a Subject Guide tool listing course-specific library resources, a Reserves tool which generates direct links to course-specific Library Reserves material, and a link to the Penn State Libraries ASK service which includes opportunities for live chat, an e-mail question form, and contact phone numbers.

The Subject Guide tool is a template used by subject specialist Librarians to generate a Web page listing resources grouped by type. Resources include links to suggested article databases; search tips and suggested keywords; call numbers; basic bibliography for books; and links to additional databases, multimedia content and Web sites. Pre-programmed links to informational databases to which the Penn State Libraries have subscribed are included, and students can go directly to these databases from inside ANGEL. The guides can be duplicated or modified for similar courses, even across different campuses within Penn State. Both specialist librarians and instructors have the option of viewing, exporting and adding to the HTML code, thereby contributing other Web references. Librarians can also link to subject guides already created on the libraries Web pages.

The Reserves tool allows instructors to generate a pre-programmed link to material posted within the Libraries' Electronic Reserves System. The link passes the Penn State course number, student and instructor user ID to the Reserves server that then shows the current list of reserve materials for that course. The materials can contain links to full-text articles, streamed audio files or citations to print materials. Materials posted in Electronic Reserves have been cleared for copyright and are readily available to students.

American Studies 105: Popular Culture and Folklife uses all three of these tools. With the course's focus on mid-century American culture, music as well as the other arts are important aspects of the material. The Electronic Reserves for this course include general course readings, specific New York Time articles from years past, and streamed audio files sung by Elvis Presley. With one login to the CMS, students see the course schedule and then have immediate access to the course Electronic Reserves.

Political Science 20: Contemporary Politics of Western Europe uses the subject guide to locate statistical data sets, and links to specific resources for country background and comparative constitutions, parliaments, executive branch ministries, election systems and political party systems. The guide also provides the contact information for the social sciences librarian so students can ask additional questions. Without these guides, many students would miss these focused library resources, relying instead on Internet search engines that generate lists of materials of varying quality.

Two factors allowed Penn State to develop these custom tools for the ANGEL CMS. One was commitment from the top on the value of these tools. Administration encouraged Information Technology Services, which administers ANGEL, and the University Libraries to co- design the tools and build connections between the Library and CMS database systems. Development of the tools in the CMS was further facilitated by CyberLearning Labs, which permitted Penn State to alter the source code on its server and then share it back to the CyberLearning Labs community.

Although this tool has been very successful, there have been a few bumps in the road. At first there was concern at both the ANGEL and Libraries help desks that an ANGEL problem would be directed to the wrong handler. By sharing contact lists and holding meetings across help desk personnel, both felt more confident that even if they could not solve a customer's problem immediately, they could point them to someone who could. Making instructors aware of these tools is the other area where effort must be invested. There are many outstanding examples of the ANGEL library tools in use; the Libraries are working for even wider adoption.

To date, 51 department/major level guides, which are linked to every ANGEL course in that department, and an additional 100 guides for individual courses have been built with the custom library-CMS tools developed at Penn State University. Our goal is to have a guide connected to every course. CyberLearning Labs, the Penn State Libraries and Information Technology Services all have contributed important elements to the success of this project. We are particularly encouraged that our work will be disseminated to the broader community of ANGEL users. The Library no longer will live outside the CMS. Instead, the CMS will serve as a door to the library--a most important campus resource.

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