I studied Environmental Science for my undergraduate degree and have since gone on to study Environment and Sustainable Development for my Masters. For both my degrees, access to high-quality research and information was essential in order to achieve the academic success I was striving for. But, during my studies, I found access to some content was restricted and it presented a challenge to find all of the resources that I needed.
At both universities I attended, I accessed the majority of content required for my course through reading lists located on a virtual learning environment. Typically, a reading list might point me towards certain texts I could find in the library, PDFs of book or journal chapters, and some video content. This content made up the core of information I accessed regularly. However, I thought the reading list was detached from the library itself; until conducting research on their formation I didn't understand there was a dedicated team of staff at the library who worked towards managing those lists of content and ensuring that everything I needed was available. I think universities should make this connection clearer, so that students really appreciate all of the things that the library provides.
While reading lists delivered a good foundation of information, I was only provided with extracts from texts. I now know that this was due to extent limits set out in the CLA Higher Education Licence, but as a student this passed me by. I noticed that extracts are prefaced with a copyright notice, but I would often skip past this and straight to the content - I don't think I am the only student guilty of this! Having researched copyright law and licensing schemes for the purpose of this blog, I understand the rationale of extent limits, but during my studies I found myself frustrated. If universities were able to introduce a single mandatory copyright session for new students, I think they would be more appreciative about the extent limits for content and the reasons why they are in place.
Because of the extent limits I found that, to further my studies and to produce my best quality work, I needed greater access to additional content. The libraries at both universities were able to provide me with some of the content that I was looking for but, like many students today, I often preferred to access content online. This was mainly because it meant I was able to find the content I needed at any time, whether I happened to be on campus or at home. It was also due to the seemingly bottomless well of content that can be located on the Internet, although accessing it was another issues altogether.
Unfortunately, a lot of papers and journals I found independently online were only accessible for a charge, and not one that fitted in with my student budget! I really appreciated that some of my lecturers and other academics had made their papers open resources so that a greater audience of people had access to their valuable content. I believe that open resources are a good thing, both for students such as myself and for the academic world as a whole. Open access to content and the sharing of ideas can only be beneficial for the development of knowledge and understanding. From my research, I can now see why many people charge for access to content - ultimately they're seeking fair reward for the use of their work. This was not something that I thought much about or recognised while at university, but can appreciate greatly now that I am about to enter the working world.
Although I can only speak about my own experience, I have to say that, while I was hungry for content as a student and spent a lot of my time seeking it out, I did not recognise the complexities behind content access. I knew nothing of the CLA Higher Education Licence, extent limits, or the fair payment of authors and publishers. I also had a limited understanding of the library staff role in delivering content to me, not just in the building itself, but via reading lists. I think that the universities could do more to educate students about how their content is delivered and also about the different types of content access and what they mean.
About the Author
Marie Cavanagh is currently studying for her Masters in Environment and Sustainable Development, and holds an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science.