European students are border-hopping to get the best value in courses and literature. Sylvia Simmons reports.
For French, German and Swiss students in the Rhine valley, one simple, user-friendly interface is opening up exciting cross-border study and research opportunities. Working from their own campuses or home PCs to search the holdings of the universities of Strasbourg, Basle, Karlsruhe, Freiburg and Mulhouse, students and researchers span the Rhine valley on the web. They find out which member library holds the material they need, then take the train or a scenic drive to retrieve the item, often preferring this as a cheaper, quicker alternative to inter-library loans.
The online public access catalogue (Opac), with a German menu, is an initiative of the confederation of universities known as Eucor (Europaische Konfoderation der oberrheinischen Universitaten/Confederation europeenne des universites du Rhin superieur). Eucor is not limited to a union catalogue, inter-library loans or student exchange: it has developed a multi-campus, pan-European higher-education institute whose students take courses in any, or all, of the three countries.
The Ecole Superieure de Biotechnologie is based in Strasbourg, a city historically, politically and linguistically at the crossroads of Europe. Students are expected to work in French, German or English, depending on the location of the course module and the lecturer's preferred teaching language.
Jean-Marie Steible, head of the science and technology library at Universite Louis Pasteur, Strasbourg I (ULP) stresses that Eucor is driven by geographic proximity and the desire to maximise the potential of academic expertise. Journeys between the cities involved may take as little as an hour, and postgraduate or research opportunities may simply not exist on a student's home campus. The differences of language, culture and political boundaries are of little importance to specialists in inorganic chemistry, genetics or biotechnology.
ULP and its associated institutes have some 18 libraries in the Strasbourg area, covering natural and applied sciences, medicine, technology and social sciences. The libraries' central information service brings together on one server the library catalogues of the city's three universities (Universite de Strasbourg I, II and III), offering access to bibliographic information as well as online databases, networked CD-Roms, and 150 full-text electronic journals. The collections vary in size from 159,900 volumes, 351 current journals and 2,460 archived journals in the principal science and technology library, to the more modest collection in the Centre for Applied Physiology.
The science and technology library's information technology resource centre offers students access to this vast network. It also helps them to improve their information-seeking skills using computer-aided, self-learning packages and web-based learning materials developed by Formist, an initiative supported by the Ministry of Education, Research and Technology and developed by France's Higher Education Institute for Librarianship and Information Science.
The ULP's main Opac serves as a structured gateway to bibliographic information internationally, including the Opacs of other francophone universities in Canada, Switzerland and Belgium. A further example of catalogues crossing boundaries can be found in University Libraries Meuse Rhine Euroregion, which spans the Belgian, Dutch and German borders, giving information on holdings at Aachen, Diepenbeek, Li ge and Maastricht.