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Course packs could go online, cut costs

Every semester, students are purchasing course packs full of material they have already paid for.

Arts Senator Lynne Champoux-Williams recently released a report showing how simple it is for professors to connect their students with needed course pack materials through WebCT.

WebCT, the online learning management system, allows students to access their readings through the library’s online database, and since the libraries have already paid for the copyrights for the material in the database and there are no printing fees, it drastically reduces the amount of course pack materials the students have to buy, according to Champoux-Williams.

“It decreases the cost for the student because we don’t pay twice,” Champoux-Williams said. “And it saves paper.”

A study five years ago found that 30 to 40 per cent of course pack material can be accessed through the libraries’ databases – but that number has likely increased since the introduction of e-books and other materials.

Further, approximately 90 per cent of journal articles found in course packs can now be accessed through the library database, according to Diane Koen, Associate Director of Planning and Resources.

The WebCT service has been the result of librarians’ efforts to make McGill’s extensive databases more accessible to students.

The introduction two years ago of WebCT Vista allowed the library to create a “deep linking” program, allowing direct access between WebCT and the database.

The library has 67,000 electronic journal subscriptions, hundreds of databases, and over a million e-books, licensed for use by faculty, students, and staff. The library spends more than half its annual budget on the online collection: $9-million a year on electronic journals, and $4-million on monographs.

“We’ve got this amazing resource, we have a very rich collection. The challenge is letting students know that we’ve got it, and making it really accessible,” Koen said.

She and Champoux-Williams stressed that students needed to pressure their professors to use the service more.

To create course packs, a professor must send a bundle of photocopied materials to Eastman Custom Publishing, a publishing house unaffiliated with McGill. Eastman purchases the copyrights to the materials – a large part of the course pack’s cost – and then ships a completed course pack to the professor.

To access the online service, professors simply send their course bibliographies to their designated liaison librarians; these librarians then create the link on WebCT to materials found in the database.

Librarians said that their current staff could handle a surge in online demands from professors. Out of 60 total librarians, 40 are designated “liaison librarians,” who act as a conduit between professors and the library.

“We have the librarians, we have the support staff, we have plenty of people that can do it. It’s just getting the [bibliography] list,” Koen said.

Some professors are already using the service. Political Science Professor Narendra Subramanian currently links some journal articles from his WebCT page.

“I try to save the students some money,” Subramanian said.

However, some students may not embrace reading course material online. Clare Cheng Hussain, U0 Arts, said she prints off almost all her online readings.

“I would rather pay for a course pack because it’s already printed and bound,” Cheng Hussain said. “I print them out because I don’t really like reading things on the computer. It’s harder to keep your place.”

Still, Adrian Angus, SSMU VP University Affairs, said the potential for online course packs had long been overlooked.

“McGill is this big old machine…held together by bailing wire and bubblegum. If you kick it in the right place you can get to do things. Lynne has done that, she has been a catalyst,” Angus said.

Champoux-Williams, Angus, Koen, and Associate Director of Client Services, Humanities, Law, Management and Social Sciences Carole Urbain all insisted that this system would not change tomorrow.

“Over time, the amount of print will drop,” Koen said.

But according to Koen and Urbain, many are unaware of the service.

“Our challenge as librarians is to make sure all the faculties know about this,” Koen said.