Course-management systems have not revolutionized education overnight. Rather they are a single step in the ongoing evolution of learning and education. Most commonly, the introduction of new technology is first met with a period of reduced productivity or "trough of disillusionment" (De Rosa, Dempsey, and Wilson 2003, 49) before pre-adoption levels of productivity are regained and then hopefully surpassed:
Like all other technology sagas in the history of higher education, the introduction of course-management systems has ushered in a new round of struggle between the propensities of technologies to define their own paths and faculty's appropriate desires to subordinate the technologies to the values and traditions of the academy (Katz 2003, 56).
Therefore, when a campus introduces a new CMS, early faculty complaints about the system should not serve as an indication that the CMS project will inevitably fail. The number of successful implementations, coupled with the students' expectations for some degree of online learning, suggests that course-management systems are more than a passing phase.
To remain relevant, academic libraries must go where the students and faculty are. More to the point, libraries need to be where the learning is happening, even if this is the virtual environment of a CMS. To resist is to cede additional ground and in essence invite alternative services and resources into the void.
Course-management systems should be viewed as another means for academic libraries to become more engaged in the learning and teaching missions of their institutions. CMS are:
providing new opportunities for libraries to design and disseminate new services. At the same time that libraries create these new services, they also will need to highlight their expertise, abilities and irreplaceable resources quickly in order to take a learning role in the new (e)learning and course-management environment (OCLC E-Learning Task Force 2003, 1).
Unfortunately, what is almost universally absent from the glossy promotional literature of any CMS is any mention of libraries. For reasons to be articulated below, the services and resources of libraries were not considered in the early designing periods of most courseware. Now that these courseware products have grown into enormous, complex, and intricate systems, it is nearly impossible to remedy the initial oversight without a complete reconstruction.
Since 2001, when Cohen first brought public attention to the absence of libraries in courseware products, various initiatives have been undertaken to rectify the problem. An excellent example is the alliance between the IMS Global Learning Consortium--which promotes the adoption of open specifications for e-learning technologies--and the
Coalition for Networked Information (CNI). However, as the following two sections will illustrate, there is still a great deal of work to be done.
The major barriers to the seamless integration of library resources and services into course-management systems can be placed into two broad categories: technical barriers and cultural barriers.
Within an academic library a patron does not find a seamless world of information. A comprehensive literature search requires the execution of numerous queries across potentially hundreds of resources, each with its own unique interface and search protocol.
Students can identify and locate books and journals with metadata that resides in the online catalog. Relevant articles are found through the searching of abstracts, indexes, and article databases. Add to this maps, data sets, conference proceedings, technical reports, dissertations, and patents, and the list is still far from exhaustive.
While there has been significant interest in a library metasearch tool (essentially a Google-like box that can search across all of a library's resources) libraries are far from fully realizing this vision. In spite of initial hopes, metasearch tools, such as ExLibris' MetaLib and Endeavor's ENCompass, have failed to live up to expectations. This is due in part to the fact that the information suppliers (database vendors) must make significant changes. The vendors need to coordinate their protocols and standardize their data so that information from disparate sources can be normalized, controlled, and manipulated in a consistent manner.
This, of course, costs money, and consequently the vendors are not willing to invest in the changes until user demands for it are evident. Furthermore, vendors fear a loss of identity and brand recognition when their content is taken from its unique native interface and mixed seemingly indiscriminately with the content of competitor vendors. For an examination of complexity of the metasearch problems, see Bowen et al. (2004).
The silos of information within a physical and virtual library remain just as separate when transported into a CMS. In fact, adding a courseware system to the equation makes the solution just that more complicated.
In order to illustrate many of the current technical barriers to the seamless integration of libraries and CMS, some case scenarios will be employed.
Case 1: An instructor pulls together a list of articles relevant to next week's lesson and wishes to provide links to the online full-text of each within her course site. (For the sake of simplicity, we shall assume that the articles are all available as online.)
While it appears that every article within an article database, such as EBSCOhost, has a URL, as indicated by the presence of an "http" string in the address bar of the browser, not all of the URLs are enduring and reusable.
For example, when searching EBSCOhost for a particular article from the New Statesman, the URL in …