Another problem/solution based post, this one is something I’ve been thinking about for ages but haven’t been able to do anything about yet. I thought it might be useful to see if anyone out there has a solution to help with the nightmare that is reading lists? It’s one of the responsibilities which seems to be shared by almost all academic librarians. During my experience supporting different academic schools, each seems to deal with their reading lists in different ways. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a standardised procedure so that all academic staff, library staff and students knew where they stood? Is that really too much to ask?

The problem:

Firstly there’s the issue of length, which seems to vary massively. Some academic schools limit the number of texts recommended on each module. It seems relatively common for this figure to be around 8-10 books. Some schools however don’t seem to have a limit and I have checked the odd reading list with, and this is no exaggeration, 11 pages of recommended texts (yes, 11 pages – for one module!). I’m presuming the students aren’t expected to consult each one of these books but even so, an 11 page reading list can be quite overwhelming just to look at! What happened to students learning to find their own resources and do their own research?

Next there’s the issue of key texts (sometimes called core texts) and recommended texts, and what this means. In some schools, students are expected to buy key texts (therefore the library is expected to have a few copies but encourage students to buy their own copy); in other schools the key texts are those that they should definitely consult during the module (therefore the library is expected to have plenty of copies). It’s often not clear which makes it very confusing for students (and causes problems when they expect the library to have plenty of copies of all key texts).

But the main problem isn’t necessarily the lists themselves but the procedure of reading list production, checking and publishing in the module guides. I appreciate that reading lists aren’t the most exciting of things, but I do think it’s important that both librarians and academic schools should work together to ensure that the reading lists are appropriate for the module (i.e. reasonable number of up-to-date resources, students not expected to buy out of print (or very expensive) books etc.) and that we have the resources available to support the courses.

The current situation:

Some schools have administrators who ensure that module leaders have submitted their module guides for the next semester well in advance. Other school administrators don’t do this role, and some schools don’t have seem to have general school administrators at all. Some schools have some form of repository, be it our VLE or Public Folders on Outlook Exchange, to store all module guides to ensure they are relatively easy to find and anyone can get access to them (providing they have access to the repository of course!). Some seem to leave it up to the module leaders as to where (and if) they publish the guides. This has meant that sometimes librarians don’t get to see the guides until after the students (sometimes when a student alerts us to the fact that we have no copies of one of their important texts!), and often have to keep searching through the VLE in the hope that they may have added the module guide.

When we finally do get hold of the guides we check the stock on our OPAC, note the number of copies we have, and order more if we need to. This involves lots of paperwork which I’m sure will be streamlined in the future. We also check for newer editions and order those if necessary, as well as informing the module leader that there is a new edition available. Then when the lists are finalised (newer editions added, out of print books removed if necessary etc.), we pass them to another team in the department who manually add the lists to TalisList for students to use. All in all, it’s a very long process and I’m sure there must be a better way.

The solution?

There are lots of problems with the process, and although I’m particularly interested in the liaison between academic staff and library staff stage, if you have feedback on any other aspect I’d be very pleased to hear it.

I’d love to be able to set up a wiki of some sort with collaboration with some academic staff so that both they and us can edit the lists and be notified of any changes, do you know of anywhere that has done this? Or do you have a better idea of how to cope with reading lists? Please share any views or ideas in the comments.