Behind-the-Scenes: College Library Services at a Distance Learning Institution (Part 1)

While the modern college library continues to evolve, both in practice and in architecture, to meet the demands of the digital age, most people still consider libraries as requiring a physical presence. For newly enrolled students at distance learning institutions like Excelsior College, this can lead to uncertainty around the delivery of library services.

In this next “behind-the-scenes” segment, Excelsior Life sat down with Anita Norton, director of the Excelsior College Library to explore the inner-workings of a digital library.

Excelsior Life: How does a Library at a distance learning institution work? What tools are most useful to students?

Anita Norton: An online library is very similar to any physical academic library. We have a team of professional librarians to help with teaching, learning and research. The collection reflects the curriculum and supports all users, including students, faculty and staff. The Excelsior Library is customized to assist students at all levels, addressing their needs, and meeting them where they are. For example, we provide instructional resources such as tutorials and tip sheets on how to navigate the Library, as well as the use of the resources e.g. research databases.

Assistance comes in many forms such as help by phone, email, a database of questions and answers (Find Answers 24/7), virtual conferencing and self-paced help. We have also created Research Guides that are discipline, and even course specific in many instances, to help our students get started with their research by placing many of the resources in a particular discipline in one place.

Excelsior Life: For students new to online education, what are the typical services the library can help with?

Norton: For all students whether they are new, undergraduate or graduate, the library provides services and resources to acclimate them to the research process. We can help with supplemental resources for course work and we have created exam resource pages for certain exams. Some examples of how we can help include assistance with choosing a topic, finding research for a paper, determining the appropriate writing style for a particular discipline and how to correctly document those sources using citation styles, such as APA or MLA. If additional help with writing is needed, we refer students to the writing resources at the College, like Smarthinking, the Excelsior Online Writing Lab or Grammarly.

Excelsior Life: How is the library set up?

Norton: The Library is fully online with customized resources provided according to the programs, courses, and degree levels offered at Excelsior. We develop our collections using our expertise and with the input of the Excelsior community.

The library homepage is set up by organizing categories of information. We have OneSearch at the top, and then we have the following categories: Find It, Research Guides, and Get Help.  We also have an About Us section as well as a Library blog.

Excelsior Life: What is One Search? Is it really better than Google?

Norton: The OneSearch discovery tool is a single interface to search most of the Excelsior College Library’s collections, regardless of the database provider. It has characteristics like Google in that it searches many resources in the Library at one time however it differs greatly from Google in that it searches the library’s subscription resources that are not often freely available on the Web. These resources are licensed for the Excelsior community to use.

Excelsior Life: I assume Library services are integrated into Excelsior coursework?

Norton: Yes, we are integrated into courses in multiple ways. As mentioned previously, we are involved in the course development process from the initial meeting. Some services that we offer include recommending resources, such as articles, books, videos, and music); creating assignments that teach research skills; and linking to tip sheets and tutorials at the point of need, such as how to find a peer reviewed article when an assignment is due. We have also created Research Guides for every discipline currently offered at Excelsior. These guides list the recommended resources for each subject area, and we encourage developers to link the guide that relates to their subject area in their courses so students have needed resources at their fingertips.


Next Up: Part 2 – The Student Experience