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Affordable education with a little help from the library

Diane Sotak (Clark Library, Public Services, University of Portland, Portland, Oregon, USA)
Jane G. Scott (Clark Library, Public Services, University of Portland, Portland, Oregon, USA)
Tillia R. Griffin (Clark Library, Collection Services, University of Portland, Portland, Oregon, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 22 July 2020

Issue publication date: 25 November 2020




The purpose of this paper is to describe the design, creation and outcome of a pilot project to provide additional course reserve materials to students. The goals of the project include off-setting the rising costs of higher education and providing equitable access to materials.


This case study describes the process of library staff co-creating a workflow to efficiently identify, order and process print and electronic books for 100 and 200 level courses at a small, private university. The project was influenced by an exploration of library services in the context of library ethics. The authors evaluate the impact of the project and determine continued need after a two-year pilot.


This paper demonstrates the usefulness of the course reserves service in providing accessible and cost-effective resources. Increased usage of course reserve materials by students, along with a reduction in money spent over time by the library to support the service, has resulted in a program that is deemed viable to continue and potentially expand.

Social implications

This paper seeks to address the added challenges often placed on low-income college students in accessing, paying for and using assigned course materials. Libraries can use course reserves to enhance student success by providing them with an alternate to purchasing course materials.


The project addresses constraints of cost, staff time and cross-departmental workflows in managing a course reserves program at a small university and provides a template for other libraries to use.



The authors would like to acknowledge the dedicated staff of the Clark Library who assisted with the development of the course reserves service. The authors are also grateful for assistance from Tricia Chua, Metadata Technical Assistant and José Velazco, Digital Lab Coordinator in creating Figure 1.


Sotak, D., Scott, J.G. and Griffin, T.R. (2020), "Affordable education with a little help from the library", Reference Services Review, Vol. 48 No. 3, pp. 457-471.



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