Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Going the Distance with Distance Learners

Distance learners--college students who are taking classes online at academic programs far from home--are bringing new expectations to local library service. Distance learning evolved from correspondence courses, where students received study materials by mail, completed assignments, and mailed the materials back to instructors. Today's distance learning is more sophisticated, with courses taught on the Web, class discussions conducted in chat rooms, and course materials emailed back and forth. These programs are just as challenging and rewarding as traditional in-classroom ones, as two of my colleagues who earned a distance MLS can attest.

For public libraries, there are challenges and opportunities to serving adult learners, both traditional and distance. With their colleges in remote locations, they come to us for academic library materials. Through our interlibrary loan system, we are usually able to furnish what they need. Most of what they request can be found right in New Hampshire's colleges, but we can also search out of state. In-state borrowing is free and out-of-state borrowing costs are covered by the requester. The value of this service is immeasurable to the serious student. In a notable example, a doctoral candidate, who is defending her dissertation this month, requested an essential document available only at a state library in Australia. After many emails through myriad time zones, and upon receipt of her payment for copying and mailing, the library sent her material to us from the other side of the world via Singapore and Paris. Now that's interlibrary loan. We are honored to be acknowledged in her dissertation. We are proud to have played a part in her academic success.

Another service libraries offer distance learners is exam proctoring, which involves a librarian receiving and administering exams to a student in the library. The student makes arrangements with one of the reference librarians, who fills out all the certifying paperwork. A mutually agreeable date and time are set, and the exam is mailed, faxed, or emailed to the librarian. On the exam date, the student identifies themself to the librarian, who seats the student in a relatively quiet area and determines that only allowed materials and tools, such as a calculator, are used. At the end of the alloted exam time, the librarian collects the exam and returns it to the college. The student covers any nominal costs the library incurs for printing and postage or faxing. The proctoring service is free.

If you or a family member are studying through a distance program, we'll be happy to work with you to find online and print resources to support your work, as well as to proctor exams for you. Please visit, email, or call the reference desk at 424-5021 to discuss your academic needs. We'd like to be part of your academic success too.

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