Law students are in the midst of exams and, in law school, exams are often open-book. In theory, open-book exams allow students to refer to their thoughtfully-prepared outlines, summaries, CANs—whatever the local term for their study aids—during the exam. In reality, during what is often a stressful time, many students also appreciate the comfort of their coursebooks, required texts, and, for extra reassurance, recommended texts often borrowed from the library.
Those who studied law might remember arriving early at the library reserve desk to check out one of a few copies of a useful recommended text in the days leading to the exam or during an open-book exam. This practice no longer centres solely on the loan of print books. In many law schools, students have access to ebooks hosted online by the library through licensing arrangements with publishers and ebook lending platforms.
However, the terms of these licenses can change after libraries have decided to subscribe to a set of titles, and after libraries make corresponding decisions about supplementary reserve room print edition purchases. In the context of student practice and expectations, particularly during exam periods, dramatic license term changes can result in surprise to the students and difficult decisions for the library. The worst case is that the surprise comes during an exam.
Here's a hypothetical scenario:
- Last year Lalita Lawstudent used a library network-hosted contracts law ebook during an exam.
- In fact, she, Barry Bizzaz, Tate Tortfinder, Sylvie Securitizer, and Darius Defender all used the same contracts ebook during the exam.
- This term, Barry, Tate, and Sylvie all accessed a corporations law ebook via the same publisher and platform during a final exam.
- Lalita had planned to use the library's reserve print copy for this exam, but found that it had just been reported missing.
- When Lalita tries to access the ebook during the exam, she sees this message: "All copies are in use." She is flustered but carries on the best she can without the book she'd hoped to use.
- Lalita learns later from the librarians that the publisher's license terms changed last year and now limit access to three simultaneous users. She tells the librarians she was far too busy with her coursework to be able to read every library notice about access changes.
- Further, she wonders whether the "missing" reserve copy really just was a classmate's way to ensure his or her own access to the book.
The scenario reverts to the law school library. How can we ensure the access students need, while keeping the reserve collection budget from spiralling? Do faculty need to add more titles to already costly required texts lists? What, if anything, can publishers do?
A temporary removal of simultaneous user restrictions during exam periods is one idea. Is that workable? What thoughts do others have?