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Academic Reserves: Request for Comments (RFC)

  • Version 0.2
  • Date: 2008/07/12
  • Author: Dan Scott, with significant contributions from Heather Martin (Guelph University), Stuart Miller (University of Chicago), and Jennifer McKinnell (McMaster University)
  • Status: Proposed


This RFC proposes the implementation of an academic reserves system. In academic institutions, it is customary for instructors to request that specific materials be placed "on reserve" so that their students can consult those materials within a reasonable period of time.

Instructors also request that certain materials be made available electronically. Known as e-reserves, these materials introduce special considerations for copyright compliance over and above physical reserve materials. Where appropriate, requirements that pertain only to e-reserves will be flagged separately in this document.


A reserve item is associated with one or more courses. Each course has the following properties:

  • One or more instructors (for example, "Dr. M. Orr")
  • Zero or more proxy instructors, as instructors may ask a teaching assistant or administrative assistant to add reserve items or update course enrollment lists
  • A course name (for example, "Theory and Criticism")
  • A course code (for example, "ENGL 4105EL02")
  • A course period (for example, "Winter term, 2007-2008")
  • A reserve location (for example, "Course Reserves (JN Desmarais Library)") that defines the default location for any physical items.
  • A course enrollment list. This supports e-reserves by enabling monitoring of compliance with copyright and licensing agreements. It also enables students to receive alerts when a new item is placed on reserve for a course, or when an item has been returned to the reserve desk.

The system should enable bulk loading of course data - most importantly enrollment - from campus registrar systems.

Reserve item properties

An item from the regular library collection that has been placed "on reserve" normally has the following properties:

  • the item is associated with one or more courses
  • the item may have a general description to relate the item to the course syllabus (for example, "Problem 1" or "Unit 3a")
  • items may be grouped in containers that complement the course syllabus (for example, "Week 1", "Week 2", "Week 3")

Physical items

Physical items that are placed on reserve typically have the following properties:

  • the item's loan period is abbreviated; four-hour loans are common. Patrons are not normally requested to prove that they are enrolled in the class for which the item has been placed on reserve.
  • the item's fine schedule is altered to reflect the shorter loan period
  • the item is placed in a special reserve section:
    • "closed reserves" may be held behind the circulation desk so that patrons must request the item by name or reserve item number
    • "open reserves" are held in a section directly accessible by patrons
  • to facilitate patron requests for items, the reserve item may receive a temporary ID - often just a low integer (for example, "4201")
  • items may require additional statuses:
    • "pending reserves" status when they have been added to a course list but have not yet arrived at the reserve desk (or if they are waiting for permission to be cleared)
    • "temporarily unavailable" status when removed by the instructor for classroom use or similar reasons

When an item is no longer on reserve, it should revert to its previous circulation rules, and location.

Note that instructors often request for ephemeral items such as photocopied articles to be placed on reserve. After the course finishes, these items may be recycled and their records deleted. In addition to photocopied materials, instructors often make their own copies of books, computer software, audio-visual materials, and other materials available on reserve. Many items are used semester after semester so their records may be suppressed and re-used rather than deleted. When not currently in use, materials may be stored in the library for reactivation in subsequent semesters.

e-reserve properties

Each e-reserve item has the following properties:

  • A URL that provides access to the e-reserve item
  • A statement of copyright / license / terms of use for the item
  • Copyright clearance fees (if applicable) per item

Note that for e-reserves, unlike physical items, patrons typically have to be enrolled in the course and authenticate themselves before being able to download or access the item.

The system could offer additional copyright compliance features, such as enforcing limits on the number of times a given e-reserve may be downloaded before invoking copyright fees.



Students must be able to retrieve records for reserve items from the catalog:

  • if they are logged into the system, by browsing through a list of the current courses in which they are enrolled
  • by searching for any of the course properties (instructor name, course name, course code, course period) if they do not have a list of the reserve items at hand; searches should default to the current course period if none is specified
  • for known reserve items by any of the normal bibliographic properties (title, author, subject, etc)

Students must be informed of any copyright information relevant to their use of specific reserve materials.

The system should be able to be notify students via email and RSS feeds when an item has been added to a course.

  • Students should should have the option of disabling email updates.
  • Students should be able to subscribe to a single feed that represents their enrolled courses.


Instructors must be able to place items on reserve with minimal effort. For example:

  • to place existing physical items on reserve, an instructor should be able to simply search for the item in the library system and add it to one of their courses with a specific loan period. The rest of the applicable workflow (recall item, generate a reserve pull list, place the item on reserve with the new location and / or loan period) should be hidden, with the exception of being able to see the status of each item in their course list
  • to place an existing electronic item that is available through the institution's normal electronic licenses on reserve, an instructor should be able to add the URL for the item to a course with a simple form for basic metadata (title, author)
  • to place a new electronic item on reserve, the instructor should be able to upload the item and fill out the same simple form for basic metadata (title, author) - this feature may be disabled or mediated by institutions for purposes of copyright compliance

Instructors should be able to define and edit their own courses. They should also be able to designate a proxy user to submit course lists and items on their behalf.

Instructors should be able to add courses and items for future semesters, to be activated at a later date.

As courses that repeat often have significantly similar content, it would be helpful if instructors could easily recall a prior course and course reserve materials to place on reserve again.


Staff must be able to place items on reserve for instructors with minimal effort as some instructors will prefer to simply send an email with a list of items to place on reserve.

Staff need a minimal cataloging interface for ephemeral items (title, author, journal or book title) when instructors send photocopied materials to be placed on reserve.

Staff must be able to easily tell when reserve items that have been returned to the circulation desk need to be routed back to the appropriate reserves location rather than "Stacks".

To support efficient workflows:

  • Staff must be able to generate a batch list of items that have been requested to be placed on reserve so that they can efficiently move items from the stacks to the reserve location.
  • Course reserves which are checked-out when placed on reserve should generate a notice if the item is returned at a configurable point in time before the course begins
  • Course reserves should be recalled automatically at a configurable point in time before the course begins

The reserve item description editing interface should include the ability to add URLs and copyright permission information.

Staff should be able to easily manipulate (place on reserve, take off reserve, copy) entire lists of items, and move items from list to list.

Staff should be able to create terms (course periods).

The permissions to perform these tasks should be granular, so that not all staff can perform all reserve-related tasks.


An item's reserve circulation statistics should be kept separately from its regular circulation statistics.

Statistics should include use by item type, by course, by instructor, and by semester.


Statistics for e-reserves should include usage of electronic reserve documents (ideally distinguished by access initiated by the reserves module rather than general access), as well as cost data on a per use, per course, per instructor, and per semester basis.


The reserves module should offer general integration with other campus systems:

  • for push integration with systems like course management systems, the reserve materials for a given course should be able to be accessed via various methods; for example, as RSS or Atom feeds
  • for pull integration with systems like a registrar system, the reserve module needs to be able to import bulk data or query live data from heterogeneous sources

The reserves module should support integration with third-party reserves systems such as ReservesDirect or Ares.

Implementation proposal

We'll get to that when we've nailed down the requirements, mmmkay?

feature/academic_reserves.txt · Last modified: 2022/02/10 13:34 (external edit)

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