Increasing engagement with digital resources
Why is this issue important?
- Libraries and learning resource centres provide essential services to support learning, teaching and research. They manage resources and spaces which are both digital and physical. Organisations which invest in their library and learning resources services are keen to ensure they are well used
- Students and staff need to connect easily with digital resources at point of need, whether on campus, in the workplace or on the move
- Digital learning resources compete for the attention of busy students and staff, so one-shot, one-way communications from the library are unlikely to be enough to embed resources into practice. Collaboration between librarians and others – teachers, senior managers and students – is key
- Minimising barriers to digital resources is particularly important for those with disabilities and contributes to a widening access agenda
- Access to appropriate digital resources is important for students in college studying at HE level, but they may need extra help and support to take the step up to using quality academic resources
- As colleges and universities move towards a more digital curriculum, there is opportunity to review ways to increase engagement with digital resources and library services within a digitally capable organisation
How to use this guide
This guide is aimed at librarians and learning resources managers in colleges as well as other managers who may oversee learning resources provision. Using seven broad headings it includes basic suggestions to help those new to the field as well as more innovative ideas for the more experienced. Many tips have been sourced from college libraries which have achieved strong uptake of digital resources, particularly the Jisc E-books for FE service. As such they are particularly relevant to colleges but could also be adapted for other contexts.
Understand and align with changing needs
- Understand the drivers and barriers your learners and staff face in adopting digital resources and library services. You can find two case studies about e-books, from Havering College and Coleg Cambria, in our FE and skills case study collection.
- You can use resources developed during our Digital Student project to open discussions with students/staff about their expectations and experiences of digital learning and teaching.
- Take into account the accessibility needs from the outset to ensure resources can be used by all, regardless of disability
- Be prepared to challenge perceptions. Some, e.g. adult learners, may have outdated expectations of a library service and may not realise they can access digital resources and services off-campus
- Consider whether any groups will require amended opening hours to enable use of your resources (for example HE students or those who don’t have easy internet access off campus).
- Seize opportunities to find out what learners what and need. Asking a few quick questions in the café can provide ideas that would be hard to obtain from surveys. Consider small rewards such as coffee vouchers.
- Align your plans with your organisational strategies for learning and teaching, digital development etc.
Collaborate with teachers
- Teachers are vital to good uptake of digital resources and word-of-mouth recommendation is particularly valuable.
- Go to where staff are: staff meetings, classrooms, coffee areas. Take resources and tablets along to create a ‘pop up’ library. Highlight how resources will benefit their subject and save time/effort.
- Work with teachers to identify titles which are directly relevant to the course and link to them from online reading lists, VLE materials, course handbooks etc.
- Contact teachers when a new course is being planned to ensure new resources are identified.
- Make early contact with new staff and help ensure that digital resources become part of their routine.
- Involve teachers in trials, renewals and cancellation decisions where possible.
- Manage expectations of teachers. For example, they may not realise that the process of getting e-books into place for class use is more complex than ordering a personal copy.
- Identify and encourage ‘champions’ or advocates (including learners where possible).
- Make use of any feedback received from inspectors or verifiers.
- Well-managed, selective reading lists can be a key route to engagement for many student groups.
Simplify resource discovery and access
- Provide links to key resources at multiple access points where learners will come across them, for example your VLE and your college app. Make sure you keep a record of where resources are promoted so you can update when necessary.
- Work with IT/VLE staff to minimise the number of clicks needed to get to your resources.
- Obtain MARC records for e-resources from suppliers so they show up on your library catalogue. At the same time, be prepared for the fact that many users will not use it as their primary route to discovery.
- When writing descriptions of digital resources, make them user-focused (e.g. what the resource will enable them to do) rather than a dry description of what it contains.
- Many libraries, particularly in higher education, provide a “discovery tool” which offers a simplified Google-like search across the library catalogue and other e-resources which you subscribe to. These discovery tools may provide a good alternative to the library catalogue for many users, accompanied by appropriate support/training.
- Increasing availability of campus wifi provides a great opportunity to promote access to resources.
- Support off-campus access by implementing federated access management, e.g. using Shibboleth or OpenAthens. See our UK Access Management Federation page for an introduction and case study.
- Make sure you’re offering mobile-friendly options where possible.
- If introducing tablet devices on loan, use the opportunity to promote digital resources at the same time.
Enable the digital literacy of learners and staff
- Libraries and learning resource centres often provide classroom sessions on how to find, evaluate and reference resources. This is sometimes called “information literacy” but may also be called “study skills”, “research skills” etc. These skills are a vital part of developing digital literacies.
- Don’t load too much digital resources information into induction time. Aim for a friendly welcome to the service at induction time, then schedule more in-depth sessions at times when learners are able to understand the relevance of the resources for their assignments.
- Don’t expect all learners to take up a wide range of resources initially. Build good habits around engagement with core texts and build on this.
- Use a variety of teaching strategies when promoting digital resources.
- Look at ways to offer teaching materials online as refreshers or revision material. For example you could make short screencasts or promotional videos to embed in the VLE.
- Ensure your front-line staff develop the confidence and skills to handle basic support queries and share enthusiasm for your digital resources.
Use a wide range of promotional techniques
- Use clear, concise messages, simple language and avoid library jargon.
- Make online resources visible in physical spaces, for example QR codes on shelves.
- Look for fun angles and fascinating facts to spice up your communications around digital resources. For example, some academic libraries use animal mascots to engage students with their brand.
- Use book cover images to promote titles in your catalogue – ask your library system vendor what they offer.
- If learners and teachers in a subject area are keen on a particular resource, use it as a springboard to get them interested in something new (“If you loved x, you may also like y”).
- Build up a supply of images of your service which you can use to illustrate good news stories on your website or blog, to raise awareness of your digital resources.
- Social media can be important, so find out which social media channels your staff and students like to engage with.
- Use induction sessions to raise awareness of your service but don’t expect students to retain detailed information at that stage. Where possible integrate digital resources instruction into meaningful activities/assignments at a later stage in the course.
- Give your digital library a physical presence – consider holding ‘open house’ in the learning resource centre/library with coffee and cake to show off a new resource.
- Take advantage of campus-wide campaigns on high-profile topics to draw people in and show off your resources. Many colleges have used events like the Summer Reading Challenge and Safer Internet Day as a platform to promote library services.
- Make use of any offers from vendors to provide demonstrations or promotional materials.
Make effective use of data
- Collect and analyse usage data regularly. Your suppliers should be able to tell you which usage reports they provide and how to access them. Check that your suppliers are compliant with COUNTER standards, enabling you compare usage across different resources for key metrics like cost-per-use or cost-per-download. The JUSP service, freely available to Jisc members, offers one way to access usage data for the Jisc E-books-for-FE as well as a range of other suppliers.
- Combine usage data with other forms of intelligence to communicate success stories to stakeholders and inform resource planning decisions.
- Allow sufficient time to plan engagement and assess resource usage, starting with the initial buy-in of staff at the trial stage through to promotion to students throughout the course (including resits). It may take more than one year to see real impact as staff build the resource into their curriculum.
- Periodically undertake a review of the digital resources you provide to ensure they are delivering good value (even the ‘free’ ones carry a time cost). You may find the Boston matrix a useful tool for weighing up the pros and cons of your resources. It’s one of the prioritisation tools in our guide Managing strategic activity.
Network and collaborate
- Where you have gaps in your digital resources provision you may be able to increase your range through collaboration. For example, some colleges work with their local public library service. Learners receive a public library card on enrollment, giving them to access to additional digital and print resources. This enables the college to focus on the highest priority resources.
- Stay in touch with your peers doing similar work in other organisations. Even if you can’t attend meetings in person there are opportunities to tap into professional networks using Jiscmail lists such as LIS-LINK, free webinars such as those of UKSG, and Twitter.
- Make sure you’re up to date with all the resources available to you from Jisc, as well as any changes to existing agreements. Your Jisc account manager will help you ensure you are making the most of our digital resources products and services.
Digital resources tool-kits and handbooks
The NSW.net e-resources toolkit (ca 2014) aims to help public libraries in New South Wales to “promote and maximise their use of e-resources”. It was based on an e-resources toolkit developed around 2009 for New Zealand libraries. Both are some years old and are written for a specific audience, but many of the principles are generic and you may be able to adapt them for your own context.
The e-resources management handbook published by UKSG. Though some years old, many of the principles on increasing engagement are still sound.
The learning context
The evolution of FELTAG: a glimpse at effective practice in UK further education and skills. This report presents snapshots of blended learning in a range of colleges. College library/learning resources services might consider how they could promote digital resources as part of the college’s effective practice with technology.
Digital student – our project resources are great for understanding the expectations and needs of the learner in a digital environment, with resources to help you discuss these issues with your users.
Developing students’ digital literacy – our quick guide could be used to prompt discussion about how digital resources such as e-books can play in developing students’ digital skills
Stay up to date with Jisc digital resources
Jisc digital resources – links to all our digital resources and library services including Jisc Collections
Jiscmail lists are used to update our members on new agreements, renewals and other Jisc digital resources and library services news, e.g.
You can also find out about our resources from your Jisc account manager.
The guide Make your digital collections easier to discover was developed primarily for academic and heritage institutions wishing to improve discovery of digital collections they had created themselves (for example research materials and archives). However, some of the information could be applied to other libraries wishing to encourage discovery of third party resources.
JUSP (Journal Usage Statistics Portal) can help you make the most of your e-resources usage data.
Find out how the UK Access Management Federation can reduce barriers to access.
Marketing and promotion
Ned Potter’s book The library marketing toolkit (Facet Publishing, 2012) has 4 chapters available as open access. For details see his website.
Michael Jones offers lots of useful tips on Slideshare on Promotion vs marketing and Polish your promo
Enhancing the student digital experience: a strategic approach
The guide Managing strategic activity includes a useful section on prioritisation.
Accessibility and inclusion for all
Getting started with accessibility and inclusion (quick guide)
Jisc support for accessible library services (blog post)
Professional networking and collaboration
UKSG is a membership organisation which seeks to ‘connect the knowledge community’ and provides reduced-price membership for colleges. It runs an annual seminar for FE on various aspects of e-resources management. Some of its activities such as webinars on e-resources management and the open access journal Insights are open to all.
CoLRiC is a membership organisation for FE and sixth form learning resources services which offers a peer evaluation scheme, annual awards and events.
CILIP provides a variety of events and resources on all aspects of effective library management. Examples of some of its useful special interest groups are the Information Literacy Group and the MmIT Group (Multimedia and Information Technology).
The Change agents network is a great source of ideas and peer support on working with students in partnership.
Please get in touch if you would like further advice on this topic.
Subject specialist (libraries and digital resources)