Beginning in January this year - 1997 - Umeň University Library was commissioned by BIBSAM to make a preliminary investigation of possibilities and problems concerned with implementing electronic course reserves in research libraries with holdings of reading list literature for students.
BIBSAM is The Royal Library's Department of National Co-ordination and Development and the principal task of BIBSAM is to help ensure that the resources of the state research libraries are used and developed in the best possible way, and to enable the private individual to use the services of these libraries on reasonable conditions.
This project was a three months' study initiated by the BIBSAM study (Studenternas bibliotek. - Stockholm 1996) of students' attitudes and usage of their university library and the purpose of the project was to check out what is happening world wide, with a preliminary report set to be presented by March 31. Mats Almkvist and Kerstin Olofsson at Umeň University Library were project leaders and a reference group were formed with representatives from six other research libraries.
The reasons for this study are of course, the rising number of students doing university studies and thereby the increasing demand for relevant and current literature. In this picture there is also the issue of the reduction in library fundings. In short - how can we supply our students with relevant literature within the given framework of the library resources?
In this study we have explored some of the technical, legal and practical issues. We studied a lot of what had been published up to date at that time, preferably in the United Kingdom and the US, since these countries seem to be the pioneers within this area. We also visited a couple of the e-Lib projects in England - for instance the ELINOR, ERCOMS, On Demand Publishing in the Humanities, QUIPS, EDBANK and ACORN projects.
To get some idea of how our own university teachers and faculty would deal with this issue we sent out an inquiry to them as well. The result of this inquiry was in a way what we already had suspected - some people are very interested and have already started developing course material for digitizing, whereas others are not interested or have never even considered it a possibility.
The toughest and ever changing issue concerning electronic course reserves is of course copyright. We have for instance looked into the different aspects of fair use and library privilege, but since this is such a huge area of interest with so many parties involved it is hard to get a full view of what is happening. It is obvious that there is a strong need for some kind of guidelines, but at the same time it is of great importance that these will not be written in such a way that they prevent access to essential readings for students. The balance between copyright owners and public (in this case - students') interests must be maintained. Society has a right to information resources and rights owners have a right to intellectual property protection.
The next (and in many respects even the present) generation will be more into using technology in different ways for their university education, which will force libraries and writers/publishers to adapt to the new ways of presenting and supplying reading list material to students.