Making a digital difference at the library

Paul Stainthorp is probably not what you’d expect if you were only told that he is a librarian at the University of Lincoln.

“Perhaps the stereotypical view is a bit out of date,” he suggests. Paul is the university’s “Electronic Resources Librarian”, and is charged with looking after the library’s expanding collection of digital works, as well as the systems used to manage and access them.

The job is just a year old, and Paul says that it “ties together” all the jobs involving digital resources that was previously just “unofficial parts of people’s jobs,” and also to plan where things go in the future.

Paul Stainthorp, the university’s electronic resources librarian, wants to make e-books more popular among students. | Photo: Samuel Cox

He says that a dedicated person was needed “as e-resources became more and more important.” His day-to-day activities are focused on e-journals, e-books, and databases, rather than dust jackets and the Dewey Decimal System.

“There’s a big move to buy more e-books, driven mainly by students themselves. As more students study from home, or work part time… so a lot of the demand is coming from students to make sure we have core texts available in [an] electronic format.”

However, he says that paper still has its place, and won’t be going away: “There’s a whole new set of problems with e-books. They’re not a complete solution to everything. You get rid of the problems of paper books, where you only have one copy between 20 students, because with an e-book you can have 500 students reading the same book at once.”

“But then copyright problems come in, and compatibility with students’ own computers, so it changes the way we have to support students and the problems they might have.”

Currently the library has about 42,000 e-books, and access to about 45,000 e-journals. Though not an insignificant number, the amount of digital resources can’t compare to the amount of traditional books held across the university campuses.

“It’s still dwarfed by the print collection,” Paul says, which consists of about a third of a million items. The separation between paper and digital is something that the library staff plan to bridge, though, and Paul says that some changes to the physical environment may be needed to bring this about.

“The library as it’s set out at the minute is very much about accessing physical resources, and what we hope we’ll be able to do… is redevelop parts of the library to make much more flexible learning spaces where students can come in and use digital and paper materials, for group study, for project work, and for individual study.

“One of the big changes, which will be really obvious to students and staff, is that we’ll start to see changes, particularly the ground floor of this library and that’s going to be quite impressively, hopefully. It’s eventually going to look quite different when you come into the library here.”

Another priority is simply making students aware of the digital resources: “E-books are much more invisible, so one of the things we’ll be trying to do is a bit of marketing to make sure the students know that these things are here.”

One of the things he suggests might happen is putting markers on the shelves where the paper book would go, to make students aware that there’s an e-book version that they can use. The idea is to get students familiar and comfortable with the idea of electronic works, so that it becomes part of their everyday library usage.

In the end, these changes may lead to even more radical ones, such as in the way library staff support students. “The big difference is at the minute a lot of it involves expecting students to come to us and the shift is we’re going to try and take the library out of these four walls, and out to students.

“The support that students can get inside this building might be less about a student coming to a desk and asking for help, and much more about staff in the library going round the library and seeking students out, and finding students who might be working in a group or having a particularly problem. Taking the help to the students, more than sitting behind a desk and waiting for the student to come to us.”

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