UC Berkeley to continue digital course reserves for fall 2021

Photo of doe library
Madeleine Fruman/Staff
Students sit across Memorial Glade in front of Doe Library. The UC Berkeley Library plans to continue providing digital course reserves for the fall semester in efforts to alleviate students' financial burdens.

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When campus closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the class materials provided through the UC Berkeley Library’s course reserves program became inaccessible to students.

UC Berkeley Library staff saw a need to expand the course reserves’ digital collection as many students were impacted by financial burdens during the pandemic, according to Elizabeth Dupuis, senior associate university librarian for educational initiatives, user services and strategic projects.

Staff began scanning pages and purchasing digital copies of texts in summer 2020 to provide a fully online service for the first time in the 2020-21 school year, according to Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, university librarian and chief digital scholarship officer. The UC Berkeley Library plans to continue providing digital course reserves for the fall semester and potentially in the future, MacKie-Mason added.

“Course reserves is something the library has done forever. It is a way of making course materials available to students through the library so they don’t have to purchase all of them,” MacKie-Mason said. “Libraries were closed, so we pivoted to an electronic reserve service.”

When the UC Berkeley Library first made the switch to digital services, the materials were available through the HathiTrust Digital Library, according to Salwa Ismail, associate university librarian for digital initiatives and information technology.

This semester, the UC Berkeley Library launched its own platform for the materials, called the UC Berkeley Electronic and Accessible Reserves System, or UC BEARS, Ismail said in an email.

The average campus undergraduate is expected to spend $1,118 on textbooks and course supplies during the 2021-22 academic year, according to Ismail. However, Ismail noted that UC BEARS will significantly reduce the costs for students.

“We have chosen to continue to support the e-reserves program at this time because this is the best way to ensure students will have easy access to these important resources even if the campus needs to shift back to remote instruction at some point this semester,” Dupuis said in an email.

Among the course materials that are made available through the program are books, media and articles, according to Dupuis. Faculty members may request that the UC Berkeley Library reserves certain materials for a course, she added. 

MacKie-Mason said another reason why the program was continued was that many students preferred the convenience of digital materials. Students using the digital course reserves could access the materials 24 hours a day without going to the library and were able to keyword search within virtual texts, he added.

However, MacKie-Mason noted that the digital service is expensive to maintain. The UC Berkeley Library will always provide course reserves but it may return to an in-person service in the future, he said.

“We want to provide the most convenient format for the students, but there’s always the question of cost,” MacKie-Mason said.

Contact Emma Taila at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @emmataila