No Longer Missing: Tools for Connecting the Library with the Course Management System
- By Elizabeth Pyatt, Loanne Snavely
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
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
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.
To submit a Viewpoint or case studies, please e-mail us at: eLearningDialogue@syllabus.com
or post your comments here,
in the forum.