“No more office supplies? No more actual books? The Medical Library will turn into an internet café without any waiters.” This is just one of the reactions left by students who have signed the petition. In response to all the changes taking place at Erasmus MC’s library, the Medical Library’s student staff members created a petition. So far it has been signed by some three hundred students and lecturers.
Because the disappearance of virtually all hard-copy books is not the only thing students have had to get used to since 1 December. For starters, what few compulsory textbooks the library still has can only be borrowed for one day at a time. Furthermore, certain e-books can only be inspected by three persons simultaneously. In addition, the library has stopped selling favourably priced office supplies and photocopying vouchers.
The initiators of the action created their petition not just to reverse the changes, but also very much to express their dismay at the way in which the books and other services disappeared. The transition was rather sudden to the great majority of students, says Jacqueline Lu, a medical student and former ML staff member. “In August the plans for the ML’s future were announced to staff. The students on the team immediately voiced their discontent with the plans, but their objections fell on deaf ears. There were no further communications about the decisions to the students.”
In the months following August, books gradually began to disappear from the library, much to many students’ dismay. “We, the people working at the loans desk, received all the complaints, because no one understood why [the books were no longer available],” says Lu. It was not until 29 November that most students understood what was happening, following the posting of a message on Sin-Online. “It said that the changes would become effective on the 1st of December – in other words, a few days later. Obviously, that was impossible. I encountered so many angry students that I decided to start collecting responses and signatures.”
Lu hopes her action will make it obvious to the powers that be that both students and lecturers are unhappy with the situation. “We object to the fact that the library was turned into an e-book-only library in one fell swoop, rather than subjected to a gradual digitisation and assessment of the collection. Of course digitisation is inevitable, and it’s great that some books can now simply be downloaded, but the whole thing was done way too quickly.”
This week Lu submitted her petition to the Student Council, the information services specialist and the programme director. “In this way we hope to generate some discussion on the problem and to obtain more clarity on how this happened and whether some of the changes can be turned back.”
Frans Mast, the ML’s Information Services Adviser, understands that students would have liked to be notified of the changes taking place at the library sooner, but is keen to place people’s impressions of the last few months ‘in a broader perspective’. “The digitisation activities are part of the Medical Library’s reorganisation plan. The advisory board did not approve our plans until 31 October 2017, so we could not start buying e-books until then.” The renovation work carried out at the ML also contributed to the abrupt changes. “If we had implemented the transition to e-books only more gradually, students would have had to wait much longer for their quiet work stations.”
The adviser still supports the decision to switch to e-books only. The transition was informed by borrowing stats, and Mast says that the study of these stats shows that the switch to e-books will not cause a great deal of inconvenience to students. “If we purchase e-book copies of the one hundred or two hundred books that are borrowed most frequently, or similar books, we are serving our customers well, and we will be able to terminate the lending of hard-copy books in a responsible manner.”
In conclusion, he wishes to emphasise that all other departments of Erasmus MC were notified of the upcoming changes in time. For instance, the Medical Faculty Association, the Student Council, the programme director and the Teaching Service Centre were involved in the decision-making process ‘in 2017’, according to Mast.