Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Short Loan Projects

John MacColl discusses some of the issues involved in the digitisation of short loan collections.

Short Loan Collections have long been a necessary evil in academic libraries. Sometimes called 'Reserve' or 'Heavy Demand' collections, they were developed as a compromise solution to the problem of providing sufficient copies of undergraduate texts to meet the demands of large numbers of students all requiring access to the same texts at the same time.

Among the latest group of eLib projects to be funded are four in the new 'Electronic Reserve' area. ERCOMS, based at De Montfort, concentrates on copyright management. ACORN, at Loughborough, will use a commercial partner as an agent in negotiating copyright clearance. ResIDe, led by the University of the West of England, will base its pilot system on the Web, and will in addition consider the supply side by providing a means for academic staff to publish their material directly into the system. Web access is also the interface favoured by PATRON, at the University of Surrey, which will concentrate on a collection of multimedia materials in the performing arts.

The problem of copyright clearance for digitisation, so prominent in the On Demand Publishing area, is here too the most difficult bridge to be crossed. The aim of each project is to identify the most heavily-used material in particular fields, negotiate copyright clearance with publishers, and then provide access to a digitised version of it.

baby pictureNone of the projects is beginning with book material, even though multiple copies of undergraduate text-books are the mainstay of most short loan collections. The three text-based projects will focus upon journal articles, tackling the 'fair dealing' clause in the Copyright Act head-on. Fair dealing permits a single copy of a chapter or journal article to be used for private research. Libraries traditionally police this by warning students of the conditions of use by means of notices. With electronic copies available, however, the policing becomes more difficult, and the ability of the user to make copies much easier. ResIDe is using electronic forms based around an 'honour' system. ERCOMS will take a different approach, investigating tracking technologies. Success in this area may be crucial in determining the future of fair dealing in copyright law.

Copyright in the performing arts field is most complex of all. Liz Lyon of the University of Surrey comments "With a musical recording, collecting societies, the record company, the performers and the composer may all be involved in the copyright clearance procedures."

But the very idea of an 'electronic reserve' collection is something of an absurdity. Materials which libraries reserve in their short loan collections are there simply because the library cannot meet the demand for a single text object. Reservation assures a fair and equitable system of access. But the same object, once digitised and made available on a server, is no longer reserved.

Short loan collections have often been accused of imposing poor study habits upon students, forcing them to concentrate on 'important' sections of material without an appreciation of context, and steering them towards superficial learning styles because of the time limitiation upon the material. They have been criticised for 'spoon-feeding' students with lecturers' own choices of the 'best' material available. The Electronic Reserve projects aim to revolutionise a situation in which students are served up small chunks of high-demand material for short periods. Unrestricted access, 24 hours per day, without any time limitation, is the aim. If it succeeds, this could be one development in which the arrival of the electronic library provides a real benefit to the learning styles of students.