Relieving the pressure for librarians with digitisation

The pressure facing today’s university librarians is perhaps reflected by those working in the same roles in local government. The latest report by Unison  — Under Pressure, Underfunded and Undervalued, which polled librarians, teaching assistants and carers from across the UK — found that 75 per cent of respondents said workload and pressure have increased in the last 12 months, while nearly two thirds (63 per cent) believe morale has declined.

One area that has increased pressure on librarians is digitisation, a vital service offered by many facilities up and down the country. Over the last twenty years, higher education institutions (HEIs) have been met with this challenge, with the volume of scans and number of requests soaring. As a result, digitisation has had a significant impact on the workload and workflows of librarians.

Digitising reading materials makes them more accessible to both academics and students and means that library resources can more effectively support the needs of students. The digitisation service operates under the Copyright Licensing Agency's (CLA) Higher Education Licence for photocopying and scanning. Any scans taken have to be copies of original text owned by the university, or be a copyright fee paid copy of a chapter/article supplied by an organisation holding a document delivery licence with CLA, such as the British Library. This task has fallen to HE librarians who have had to adjust their previous workflows dramatically in order to meet the never-ending demand for content.

In an effort to overcome this challenge, some of the country’s top universities have been trialling a new solution that could revolutionise the entire digitisation system.

Middlesex University is one of the country’s universities that has been using the new web-based hosted solution, the Digital Content Store (DCS).

The DCS platform, developed by the CLA, in conjunction with software expert Cloudspring Technologies, was designed to simplify the current labour intensive process associated with declaring digital copies and scans to the CLA. The DCS enables users to research, record and monitor all digital book chapters and journal articles in a bid to help all HEIs reduce the risk and potential cost of copyright infringement.

The DCS can be used in any browser; lists of requests from academics and lecturers can be uploaded to the system and searched for on the bibliographical database. This search includes a series of automated checks, confirming whether the book or article is included in the CLA repertoire, to checking the extent limit by calculating the percentage of the book being used. The DCS can also connect to the institution’s library management system to determine whether the specific book or journal is held in the library catalogue and check the ownership, which is a requirement of the licence.

While the pressures facing librarians working in HEIs may be greater than ever, there are technological solutions that have been designed specifically to ease the burden. Digitisation is one of the many elements involved in the day to day running of a library, but with the collaborative efforts of several universities and the CLA, all academics and students can now be copyright compliant and the working life of a university librarian just got one step easier.

Alexandra Reed is a BA English graduate from the University of Exeter and is currently communications executive at the Copyright Licensing Agency.