Library’s Role in Support of Teaching and Learning
through Web-based Courses

Xue-Ming Bao

This presentation will address a central question: What is the library’s role in support of teaching and learning through web-based courses on the Internet? The presentation consists of the following three parts:

I. What is the current status of teaching and learning through web-based courses?

With the development of Internet technology, more and more universities and colleges have started to offer web-based courses. The CASO’s Internet University Course Catalog ( listed 2,167 courses from 62 accredited course providers as of September, 1997. The CASO (Cape Software) claims to be the Internet’s most complete source for online college courses by accredited providers. The sixty-two course providers include public and private universities as well as community colleges. The 2,167 courses are divided into the following 24 categories:

    Arts - 95
    Avionics - 15
    Business - 146
    Composition - 163
    Computers - 105
    Economics - 58
    Education - 99
    Government - 55
    Health - 55
    History - 141
    Humanities - 93
    International - 46
    Languages - 32
    Legal - 108
    Literature - 124
    Management - 114
    Mathematics - 121
    Miscellaneous - 49
    Municipal - 20
    Online - 61
    Personal - 32
    Psychology - 148
    Science - 98
    Sociology - 189

Searches through "InfoSeek" and "Alta Vista", two of the most popular web search engines, by using key terms such as "Internet University" or "Virtual University" can yield thousands of web links. Sifting through all these web links to find the information that serves your needs would take forever. However, the CASO’s web site provides systematic and comprehensive information on universities and colleges that offer web-based courses. The sixty-two universities and colleges listed in the CASO’s web site are a small number in comparison with the thousands of colleges listed in the Peterson’s Four Year Colleges directory. However, it is expected that the number of universities and colleges offering web-based courses will increase dramatically in the near future. For example, the governors of western United States have created the Western Virtual University as a potentially powerful means to address the increased demand of post-secondary education on their state systems. The Western Virtual University is a collaborative initiative among universities and colleges in the western states, which recognizes the exploding availability and capabilities of advanced technology-based teaching and learning.

II. How do students get their resources to accomplish their web-based course assignments?

An e-mail survey was sent to the sixty-two universities and colleges listed in the CASO’s Internet University web site in September, 1997. The survey asked two questions:

1) How do your students get their resources to accomplish their web-based course assignments?

2. What do you wish your campus library could do to better support web-based courses?

I received 10 responses within two weeks after I e-mailed my questions and one response in December, 1997. Even though the response rate (18%) was not as high as I had expected, the responses demonstrated how students taking web-based courses accessed their resources for their course assignments and what a library needed to do to support web-based courses.

Students got resources from a combination of sources including the Internet, textbooks, library circulating books, video and audio tapes, and faculty handouts. Teachers and students communicated through e-mail and message boards. Remote access to campus networked resources was a top priority for students taking web-based courses.

One responder’s library offered e-mail reference to students in their web-based courses, consisting of answers to short, factual questions and up to 10 citations on a topic.

One college offered web-based courses to 300 students. Almost all of its students live in the college’s service area. Many come to campus for information. For those who don’t, the college is putting links to many resources on its library web site.

III. How should libraries play their roles in support of teaching and learning through web-based courses?

Libraries play an increasingly important role in support of web-based teaching and learning. Some responders indicated that their libraries created new positions such as "distance education librarian" or "web administrator" for web-based courses to facilitate the information needs of their students.

The responders indicated that the Internet was a major source of information for their web-based students. However, students can easily get lost in cyberspace. We all know that the information we need is out there. It is the librarians’ role to help students find the information as quickly as possible. Librarians need to learn both how to search effectively on the Internet, and how to evaluate web sources. Librarians then need to teach these skills to their students so that the students themselves can search effectively both on the campus and at home.

Librarians and instructors need to work together to provide their students with a list of useful web site addresses for each course offered through the Internet.

Libraries need to develop Internet reference gateway links to meet the curriculum needs of their students. The gateway reference links will save students’ surfing time on the Internet and help them get right into the information that they need.

Libraries need to subscribe to web-accessible full-text electronic periodical databases for web-based students.

Libraries need to offer Internet reference services to web-based students to provide citations for factual types of questions.

Libraries need to send out circulating books, video and audio tapes based on remote requests from web-based students.

Libraries need to develop reciprocal borrowing relationships with other university/college libraries, and local public libraries. This will provide convenience for their students in accessing information needed for their coursework.

Libraries need to strengthen their interlibrary loan (ILL) operations to meet the needs of web-based students.

In conclusion, libraries face new challenges in order to support teaching and learning through web-based courses.


     Corrigan, D. (1996). The Internet university: College courses by computer. (1st ed.). The U.S.A.: Cape Software Press.

     Western Governors’ Association. (1996). Goals and visions for a virtual university . [online]. Available:  

      Bao, Xue-Ming. (1998). "Library's Role in Support of Teaching and Learning through Web-Based Courses," in 1998 National Conference on Stop Surfing - Start Teaching Proceedings. Columbia:
University of South Carolina. pp. 88-91. (Refereed).

      Xue-Ming Bao is an Assistant Professor and Reference/Digital Librarian & Library Web Master at University Library, Seton Hall University, 400 South Orange Avenue, South Orange, New Jersey 07079-2671.
Tel: 973-275-2399/Fax: 973-761-9432.  E-mail: