Helping students get the most from their library

Bath Spa University traces its origins back to 1852 but has its sights firmly set on the future. In keeping with the university’s innovative approach to student services, the library team is always looking at ways to improve the student experience.

Moving to the Soprano library management system from Education Software Solutions (ESS) was key to this vision. Richard Taylor, Deputy Director of Library Services (Digital and Research), explains. “With around 7,500 students who rely on the library to access content they need for their courses, we wanted to make it as simple and intuitive as possible for everyone.”

Streamlining searches

A top priority was to provide students with one, easy-to-use search tool. “Previously, students had to search our library catalogue to find physical printed books, and another separate discovery service to access electronic books and journals,” says Richard. “This was confusing for students who just wanted one search engine for all the materials they needed.”

ESS enabled us to bring these together into one place, so students can look for everything they need, whether it’s print or electronic, from a single screen. As a result, students can be sure they won’t miss any resources that could be important for their assignments.”

The library intends to streamline the experience even further by offering a wider range of e-books through its student search tool. “Through the LMS we can provide access to e-books from a vast number of sources, and the library only pays for the ones borrowers use,” says Richard.

“ESS will help us give students a much greater choice of e-books, focussing our budget on the most relevant resources.”

Click and collect

When the pandemic disrupted normal services and everyone moved to remote working, it was vital for students and researchers to continue accessing the books and journals they needed.

“ESS enabled us to introduce a click and collect system where borrowers log on at home, select an item they want from the library catalogue and place a request,” says Richard. “The system sends them an automated message to say when the item is available, and it’s ready to collect from the library the next day.

“The frequent easing and tightening of Covid-19 restrictions meant we had to keep changing the reservation rules for click and collect, such as how quickly an item could be requested, when it could be collected and how long it could be kept. We simply told ESS whenever the rules changed and they implemented them for us.

“The click and collect system has been well-received by students and we recently issued our 13,000th item.”

Flexible loans

Another aspect of the student experience which has been overhauled is the loan and recall system. Soprano has enabled the library to provide more books, longer loans and fewer fines.

“Students sometimes need to keep a book or journal for a longer period of time than they’d anticipated,” says Richard. “But our previous system automatically issued a fine if the student returned an item late. ESS has helped us introduce a more flexible approach to loans, where a student is only fined if they return a book late that someone else has asked to borrow and is waiting for.

“This not only gives students more freedom to use materials for longer, it helps to encourage borrowers to return items when someone else needs them, resulting in a fairer circulation of resources.

“If a student gets a fine, it’s much easier for them to pay it now too. Rather than having to come into the library as before, they simply pay online. There are now far fewer fines and we’re happy with that because it means students are getting what they need from us, when they need it.”

Joined up systems

To develop a better service for all its users, the library needed a system which would integrate seamlessly, as Richard explains. “We wanted a supplier who could help us integrate their product with other university systems like student records, single sign-on and finance, automating time-consuming workflows like the paying of invoices and the removal of leavers’ library accounts. Students can now access their library accounts with their normal university login, rather than having to remember a separate password.”

“Linking the Soprano LMS with other university systems has given us better quality management information. Now we can see, for example, the most heavily borrowed items at a course level. Information like this helps us understand how we can improve our services.”

Next in the pipeline are plans to integrate the LMS with a resource list management system. This will allow a tutor who wants their students to read a certain e-book to simply press a button in their browser to add it to their list from the Soprano catalogue.

“It’s a great way to give students exactly what they need to do well in their studies,” concludes Richard, “and it’s another important step towards ensuring our library continues to deliver a positive student experience for the digital age.”

Online pivot

Richard recently joined us as a guest speaker at our CILIP Showcase where he discussed how technology has kept the library at the heart of the student experience during lockdown. If you missed the webinar you can watch the recording on-demand.