Integration of Libraries and Course-Management Systems

Library Technology Reports, May-June 2005 | Go to article overview

Integration of Libraries and Course-Management Systems


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.

Technical 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. …

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