Home > e-learning, Institution-is-University-of-Tampa, service-is-library, Spreadsheets > Learning materials management: Offline resources (2005-2006)

Learning materials management: Offline resources (2005-2006)

AKA books, shiny disks, VHS and – oh my! – cassette tapes. All come with shelves. Yuck! Where is Google Books, when you need it?

The media library I had to work with had, as I found it, a content specific labeling system and a language specific sort order on the shelves. This seems an anti-pattern in many modern languages departments: try to avoid complexity by isolating yourself. 1st degree: each language program on its own; 2nd degree: each instructor on his/her own. Atomization leads to idiosyncrasies and duplication of efforts (which must result in lowering of standards, despite, no doubt, individual toiling).

Trying to find an easy answer for complexity: I am afraid I quickly had to throw overboard the suggestion to implement the Library of Congress labeling scheme. I also abandoned trying to represent in one physical order what has to be viewed under multiple perspectives. I introduced a unique id labeling scheme based on a a simple numerical counter, where each new item would be added to the end of the stacks with a label equaling max(counter) + 1, and as a new row at the bottom of an Excel spreadsheet, which supported all discovery and lending with sort, filter, search.

And here is a partial screenshot of the offline_resources.xls:

Way too much complexity still remained: too many fields, all types of resources had to be coerced into records of the same format (hand-coded an access database for records to avoid this requirement – don’t go there!). Should have relied more on full text search, even with the simple regular expressions that come with Excel.

However, the sheet was open all day on the lab assistant’s computer behind the reference desk and worked pretty well, or was at least a major improvement. Remaining issues: speed of spreadsheet (too many complex ISBN validating formulas), lab staff training, more so instructor training (if they did not want to rely on lab staff entirely or on trying to browse the physical stacks looking for a physical order where there was no such system any more: change management problems).

  1. Unknown
    2009/02/22 at 14:51

    A couple of questions from my students regarding the purchasing of these resources:Regarding the purchasing plan and media priority, how could the LLC director deal with too many "high priority" purchasing requests from teachers whenit is apparent that the LLC budget cannot buy all of those items? In other words,in the situation that all requests are claimed "high priority", how could the LLC directormake a purchasing decision with a limited budget? How can the LLC director compromisewith the teachers who might not get their wanted items for that academic year? Or should the LLC director ask the teachers to prioritize their media needs again?Does the LLC director have an absolute authority to make a final decision which items should or should not be bought when over-demand persists?

  2. Unknown
    2009/02/22 at 14:53

    More student questions:What will you consider before you purchase media/collections?What policies will you take regarding with out of date collections/media/equipments?Do you think that it is important for LLC to collaborate with other units?What aspects should we consider before we collaborate with other units?First, presumably your LLC allow faculty to borrow media, equipment or books. How do you deal with faculty who ‘reluctantly’ returned back borrowed materials from the centre?Secondly,regarding the hybrid ordering-purchasing system, how do you prioritize the purchase?Some languages offered by the Faculty got more responds from the students than the others, how does this scenario affecting your purchasing plan? Do you solely rely on request form submitted by the instructors?How do you prioritize faculty requests for media purchases? How do you define a "high-priority" item vs "low-priority"? Are certain languages favored over others when considering purchasing media, especially if your funding is limited? How do you explain to faculty that their request for media is either denied or cannot be ordered within the time frame that they\’ve given you?

  3. thomas
    2009/02/25 at 15:30

    “What will you consider before you purchase media/collections?” A general cost/benefit analysis, from a pedagogical (I do not expect much benefit here without effective integration into the curriculum) and a technical standpoint (obviously you will try to avoid purchasing media formats that promise to be heritage/vintage soon)What policies will you take regarding with out of date collections/media/equipments?I always made some digitization efforts, but there was often such a lack of time, that it was easier to reproduce or repurchase (copyright-wise, you often are required to, unless you I could get special permissions for digitization from textbook publishers) in new formats. An effective way to digitize (or digitalize, as they say here) is the “evolutionary approach”, survival of the fittest, in other words instead of having a blanket digitization project, digitize items one by one and on the fly, when they are demanded, and do not worry too much about “the long tail”. “collaborate with other units?”: I believe it is important to collaborate, primarily with library services, in order to prevent duplication of efforts/expenses, and running a cottage industry of less than professional library services becoming is not a good way to look for security. Unfortunately the real-world lack of communication and of finding common ground, and it is true that the special requirements of foreign language used to make the foreign language centre “the odd man out” in terms of requirements (some of which, like special media formats, – but not all: language studies will have special needs – will hopefully diminish in a globalized world). Evolving online e-repositories of learning materials promise to centralize provision and prevent duplication; difficulties however abound. “faculty who ‘reluctantly’ returned back borrowed materials”: One of the touchier issues when running a make-shift library service. Daily late fees could solve some of your purchasing budget problems – we could even add an exlibris: “Gratefully purchased from late fees of the late Professor XYZ”. And forfeiting of borrowing rights: not so easy. For starters, keep your data up to date. There is a column in the spreadsheet above which indicates who checked out which item when. Run a report and email it as a friendly reminder to the offending instructor client. Over time, escalate as you see necessary. The cc: line is your friend. “how do you prioritize the purchase?”: The least common more commonly taught language is obviously dearest to me, however, student numbers do matter, and have to have an effect on purchasing budgets. On the other hand, language learning centres which tend to pride themselves on increasing diversity on campus, will also lend a helpful hand to the needs to less commonly taught languages. It is unlikely that you have to remind your language instructors of that when you try to find a compromise between student numbers and diversity with them which is what I would recommend doing. I would be wary of making a decision since I do not teach all languages nor run all language programs ;-). It is the so called “domain specialists”, in other words instructors, who can best make such a decision (and compromise) when i would ask them to prioritize numerically. ultimately the decision has to rest with the person responsible for the budget. of course this is not always as clear-cut as one wishes it to be. So i would be more than happy to advice on what could be done e-learning-wise with a resource. e.g. a frequently over-requested item have been foreign language movie DVDs. since we can relatively easily and effectively integrate DVDs using their subtitling, subtitling being readily available parallel text, the availability of subtitles for a certain DVD used to be a factor in our decisions. By the way, at this point you can effectively turn the table from “What I prevent you from having” to “What I could do for you”… 😉 Good luck to you all…

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