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How to compile an effective reading list

Options:     Print Version - How to compile an effective reading list, part 2 Print view

Article Sections

  1. Introduction
  2. Problems faculty, students and librarians face regarding reading lists
  3. Creating an effective reading list
  4. References

Problems faculty, students and librarians face regarding reading lists

There are a number of issues commonly raised about reading lists.

The amount of time needed to create and update a reading list

One of the major obstacles to faculty in providing a good reading list is that it takes a significant amount of time to create the initial list. And, with increasing technological advances, the compilation of a reading list has become highly complex:

"An encyclopaedic knowledge of the top books in their subject is no longer enough. They [academics] also need to keep up to date with copyright laws, advancements in technology and agreements affecting access to the Web by university libraries, not to mention new websites" (Swain, 2006).

The compilation of the list also requires ongoing maintenance, and tutors will need to change or amend their original list on a regular basis.

In addition, the timing of the compilation of the list is often at odds with established workflows. Librarians need the information early enough to order the necessary texts, whereas faculty may wish to leave the compilation of the list as late as possible to get the most up-to-date information, or there just may simply be more pressing deadlines to attend to.

The limited availability of key resources in the library

Inability of libraries to provide sufficient key texts for particular modules – exacerbated by high student numbers and short time periods – is a major issue. It leads to frustration among students, and also among librarians when their user surveys show dissatisfaction on availability of key resources despite excelling in other areas.

Negative feedback from student surveys over a long period of time at Nottingham Trent University pointed to deficiencies in the library's resource list workflows. Students were complaining that resources listed – including those indicated as essential reading – were frequently unavailable in the library (Talis, n.d.).

Better engagement between academics and librarians would help to limit this problem, for example, only a minority of academics ever send their reading lists to the library making it incredibly difficult for librarians to manage stock (e.g. the acquisition of new material, putting items into the short loan collection, etc.) to support the teaching needs of students (Brewerton and Knight, 2003; Talis, n.d.).

The changing reading and information seeking habits of students

Education has become a means to an end and is no longer seen as a journey in itself (Martin and Stokes, 2006). This shift in learning is due to a number of reasons, not least the fact that an increasing number of students are under financial pressure and many have no alternative but to work to support their studies. Brian Chalkley, Professor at the University of Plymouth says that the increase in term-time paid work among students means "one has to be a bit realistic about the extent to which they can engage with the literature" (Chalkley, quoted in Swain 2006).

The student's goal has therefore become to complete assignments and pass exams with as little pain as possible.

Subsequently, there is a tendency for students to rely on Google, without being sufficiently critical about the source of information, and ignore the reading list completely (Martin and Stokes, 2006).

The limited budgets of both students and libraries

Lack of money (of both students and libraries) is another problem.

Few students can afford to buy more than one book per module, if that. In her column, Swain (2006) cites Professor Jonathan Tonge of the University of Liverpool:

"Tonge argues that lecturers cannot expect students to buy books in the way they once did and that library provision is more crucial than ever if students are not to turn up to seminars with the excuse that they could not read a text because no library copies were available. Like many academics now, he is reluctant to recommend a book costing more than £20."

Similarly, librarians are struggling with dwindling budgets and cannot always make up for this deficit as there is considerable pressure to increase the value realized from expensive learning resources.