Sneaking into Fall

Fall semester always sneaks up on you. Summer is often spent catching up on projects and days tend to be far less structured. The realities of a full semester start to sink in with about two weeks left as the calendar fills with meetings, classes, and other obligations. This week is our last before the Fall semester starts, and I’ve managed to get some great work done in the last two weeks to prepare.

I’m fortunate to be working with one of my colleagues on a research project using Project SAILS, and we’ve been working to create marketing materials and get buy in from faculty. We’ve already scheduled 5 minute project intros in several classes, and should meet our target of 200 students taking the assessment. I’m sure I will share more details on this as the work unfolds.

I’ve also been lucky to have the support of faculty from last year who were happy with the instruction I provided in their class. I have already been asked to teach in four classes within the first month of the semester, and all of the faculty are giving me as much time as I need during a whole class period. Three of the four are classes I’ve taught before and already have solid plans and supplementary materials.

Our library transitioned to the new Libguides over the summer, and I’ve been working to assist one of my colleagues with that process. I’m channeling my library school self with CSS coding! I think all librarians should take a class in basic HTML/CSS coding, it’s been extremely useful for me in this job and in my previous role.

Another initiative I’ve been working on is creating new marketing materials for students. Here are some of the handouts/posters/flyers I’ve developed. I’m posting them as PDF but would be happy to share the Publisher files or websites I used to create them.

Easy Button Flyer – this one I have posted at the main administration desk for my institution on my campus, and by the free student printers.

Hot Mess Citation – I saw a comedic version of this out at a store and turned it into a handout that can be used when I work with students on correcting citations. As you can see, I appreciate humor!

Library flow chart – I intended to turn my “Top things about the library” handout into an infographic, and got distracted by the idea of making a flowchart instead. This was developed using the easelly website.

Student newsletter – I create one of these at the beginning of each semester.

For my faculty I created personalized emails for each person based on the interaction I’ve had (or not) with them in the past. Being on a regional campus is nice that way – 30ish emails felt very doable! I included information about all the services the library or I could provide them and their students during the semester. I’ve gotten a bit of feedback so far, but expect to get more when the semester starts on Monday.

I have come to look forward to this time of year, apprehensive, but still excited about the great work I get to do!

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Search vs. Discovery

Search vs. discovery is a phrase seen often in library circles. I’m sure there have been hundreds of conference session, poster presentations and articles on the topic. I try to read widely and broadly to see where knowledge from other areas can creep into what I do in the library. One of the blogs I read for that purpose is Seth Godin’s blog, and he posted an entry with the same title at the beginning of the month. You should go read it, it’s short.

He ends with a challenge “Are you working to help your clients, patrons, customers and colleagues find what they already know what they want? Or teaching and encouraging them to find something they didn’t know they needed?”

This seems to be a key shift in our new information economy. Users think they can find what they need online, and often see libraries solely as storehouses or providers of online content (if that!). I think we have an opportunity to use this to our advantage and show our users how the library can enhance discovery. Many public and school libraries get to do exciting things like story time and makerspaces that cater to this role, but it can be trickier in academic libraries.

Academic libraries often have the mission of supporting the research needs of the university/college, and it can be hard to justify more creative ideas that are difficult to assess. I’m currently reading inGenius by Tina Seelig as an attempt to foster creativity both within and outside my library work. I think discovery is akin to a creative form of searching – we are still trying to meet an information need but may not have the words or tools to communicate that need.

Our most effective form of encouraging discovery is likely to happen when we are actively engaged with a user in a classroom, at the reference desk, in the stacks, or in communications online. I like to explain the LCC Classification system by selling students on how great it is that books on the same subject sit near each other on the shelf. I’ve found that at least half of my trips to the stacks with a student result in them checking out a book we didn’t start out looking for – either to fill the requirements of their expressed need or to fill a need they discovered when they saw that book on Buddhism or quitting smoking as they walked by.

This experience is hard to replicate online, but it is still doable. I am embedded in several Nursing research classes who have to find research for very specific questions with very specific requirements. I spend a lot of time crafting emails to students explaining the importance of going from broad to narrow and in being flexible with their queries. When I run into questions that aren’t being addressed in current nursing research I often point them to systematic reviews or articles from other fields to introduce citation searching. This kind of lateral discovery is often new to them and even if they don’t replicate my steps I know they at least have been exposed to a new way of solving their information need.

A library’s strongest selling point may be that it offers a central location for people to work alone or in groups in a space that is dedicated solely to assisting them. Libraries are not trying to sell anything or push an agenda. Libraries are simply dedicated to helping people meet their needs through whatever means we can reasonably provide. One way we can do this is to find those opportunities to foster discovery.

Customer Service

My first job after finishing my undergraduate degree was a customer service representative for a company that sells comic books and comic paraphernalia from the major publishers to the stores. Depending on your level of interest in comics, this may or may not sound like a great job. I have limited interest in that world (although I am glad now to have learned about the industry), and for me the job was pretty miserable. It was high pressure and there were a lot of silly corporate rules to follow.

It did teach me a lot about interacting with people and with making quick decisions about which tasks were a priority and which could be tabled for later. I made great friends and looking back I am glad for the experience. My next job was as a crisis coordinator for a domestic violence resource center. This job required a more intimate level of customer service, and took priority management to a new level. Working with people whose lives were literally in danger has permanently shifted my outlook on what defines a crisis.

These past lives have made an enormous impact on how I approach librarianship. In fact, I’m talking about this in an upcoming presentation at my institution for MLIS Information Day 2014. I think our ultimate goal as librarians is to meet the needs of our users. This is a simple statement but it can be applied to all libraries and all users. Their needs may have nothing to do with a traditional view of what a library does, but I think it’s our responsibility to provide users with information about how to meet their needs even if we are not the answer.

Aaron Schmidt wrote about a similar concept in his blog post this week titled “Earning Trust”. He discusses the premise that our users must develop a level of trust (that we can meet their needs) in order for us to be useful. He then discusses a few key areas in which we can make that happen. My goal is always to leave each person I interact with during my library hours with a sense that the library is a helpful place. If I can meet their actual need while they are there it’s icing on the cake. This translates well to online interactions and doesn’t change if I’m interacting with students, faculty or staff.

This doesn’t mean we always have to be sweet or go over the top, but simply that each person who comes to me feels like they could do so again. I watched the recording of a webinar from ASERL that took place on Tuesday called “Successful Faculty Outreach Strategies in ASERL Libraries“. The focus was on scholarly communication, but each example given by the panel was really about getting people comfortable with you and showing them how you can meet their needs. Many of the presenters viewed their success in terms of who reached out and how that initial meeting/workshop/interaction led to more of the same.

I feel more fulfilled when a student comes to find me after a workshop than when I get them to show up for extra credit. I recently had a faculty member send me a PowerPoint file to ask me how the authors put together their slides. This is something I’m fairly skilled in so I offered to sit down with her and show her how to do something similar. It may not be filling the traditional librarian role, but it’s meeting my goal of being helpful and providing excellent customer service. That interaction could easily lead to in class library instruction or an invitation to a faculty meeting.

Customer service is a term that’s been over used, but at its core it’s meeting people’s needs to the best of your ability for the context. It’s easy to forget how important the concepts of good customer service are within the library setting because they become automatic. I hope that as a profession we can continue to focus on helping our users and providing value to our communities because we wouldn’t exist without their trust and support.

Spring Break + Social Capital

Last week was Spring Break for my institution and for the partner institution where I am physically located. This created an interesting situation: my institution requires me to work during this time, but my partner institution closes completely. Fortunately, there is an administrative office for my institution located in the same building as the library that is home to roughly ten staff and the faculty offices that was kept open during the break. This gave me a good opportunity to build relationships with the staff in that office (assistant director, office manager, front desk, faculty coordinator, IT, advisors, and student services).

I spent the week working on long term research projects, playing with data, catching up on professional development, and communicating with students and faculty online. On Monday I happened to read a post by my current favorite library blogger Sally at Librarian Hats titled “Cashing In: Social Capital and the Informationist”. The post was about how we can use social capital to build relationships between libraries and faculty. I found it to be a good reminder of one of the benefits of spending the week in an alternate location: strengthening my social capital.

I know I am fortunate to work with a small body of faculty within a much larger group. I have spent quite a bit of time in my first ten months here in building those relationships. I email about what I can do for them, what I can do for their students, and new resources in their discipline. I visit offices and classrooms to give them helpful materials and have short conversations about what issues they face with their students. I attend faculty meetings that are both social and productive in scope. Through all these interactions my goal is to listen to them first, and then try to identify a way that I or the library can solve their problems. I was glad to read about social capital because to me that sums up what I am doing.

I haven’t spent as much time working on my relationship with the staff members located at this campus. I feel that I’m well known to our faculty by now, and staff is my next focus area. They often see students who don’t come to the library, and building their knowledge about how I can help students will only encourage them to send students to me. Our faculty coordinator has become a good friend, and he fills me in on relevant conversations that happen so I can follow up with individual faculty.

In light of the new ACRL information literacy standards I discussed in my previous post, I wonder if we should begin to use social capital within our instruction and reference work with students. It’s always my goal to provide a long view of the skills I’m teaching, and I think it can be valuable to let students know that they will be regarded more highly in the workplace if they can apply information skills to their work and to building relationships that will lead to better opportunities.

Mindfuless and Unorthodox Roles for Librarians

I was drawn to librarianship for many reasons. Although I couldn’t have expressed it at the time I chose to start my graduate work, I know now that one of the things that keeps me excited about librarianship is that I get to wear many hats in the course of my normal work day. I also get to work with people ages eighteen to eighty (with some outliers) who have vastly different goals and motivations. I can teach the same class or workshop two days in a row and have completely different experiences.

This week has reminded me why I enjoy my job so much. I dusted off an old workshop I used to do at my last library on plagiarism and citations, and offered two sessions this week. One of our Psychology faculty offered extra credit for attendance and I had 9 students total show up for both workshops (bear in mind that I’m at a regional campus with only 450 of my institution’s students). The first session went well. I like to use personal examples, especially for a topic that’s dry like plagiarism and citations.

I have my BA in Psychology and the students were all very interested in my educational background. They were engaged throughout the session and asked relevant questions. When I wrapped up they all lingered for a few minutes to ask more questions about the workshop, their major, graduate school, and other library questions. It was amazing! Two of them stayed even longer, and then one came back to my office to get assistance with an assignment. When I finished with her she told me that I was more helpful than anyone yet, talk about an ego boost! I got a feeling similar to runner’s high when I finished the session, and I find that instruction and interacting with students often leaves me feeling this way.

In our work as librarians we can step out of the traditional role of information conduit to offer support, counsel, and direction to our students. Library anxiety is a very real phenomenon and I am thankful for my background in counseling that helps me get the most out of my interactions with students. I often think about how challenging it is to be a student: the application process, registration, financial aid, navigating a campus, picking good classes, completing the massive workloads, etc. One of my goals as a librarian is to find ways to step in and offer assistance, even if it’s something as small as walking a student to the academic advising or financial aid office.

Information seeking in academic libraries is about more than research and supporting academic coursework, and we should all strive to connect students with whatever it is they need. I’m also trying to be more proactive with identifying information needs and designing a realistic intervention. I know that three Psychology classes on my campus require students to find peer-reviewed articles, and that their faculty assume that they have this skill before coming to class. I also know the reality of our student’s skills and knowledge doesn’t meet this expectation, so I decided to create a two sided worksheet that walks them through the process and rationale with my contact information.

I looked up the course enrollments, made enough copies for every student, and hand delivered them to each of our Psychology faculty members to ask them to distribute them in class. I am hoping this will encourage students to reach out for help, and to feel less anxiety about that part of their work. Similarly, I am embedded in five online courses that each have intense research requirements. I am making active use of the discussion board to identify weaknesses in their work and then provide targeted information on the Library discussion board. I’ve gotten more thank you emails and comments in the last two weeks than for the entire previous semester!

I am actively cultivating a mindset of being grateful in my life, and it has been easy this week to connect to that experience in my work. Mindfulness and meditation are tools I’ve been exploring for almost a year and I think they’ve made a significant impact on my work. I am more aware of problems, have more focus when working on projects, and am better able to communicate with my colleagues and students. This week has been very affirming, especially in the face of a more hectic schedule than I faced before the break!

Quality Information

The higher ed world has been focusing this week on the “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review” article/expose written by John Bohannon that used a fake paper to investigate the validity of the peer review process. There has been heated debate over the validity of his methods and conclusions, which is summarized well by Barbara Fister’s latest post “The Sting” .

One of the recurring themes I’ve been exploring in my own work is how to teach people the ethics of information use and the skills needed to determine the validity of a source. I have been listening to a lot of podcasts recently, mostly focused on healthy living, but I am open to suggestions! My go to podcast is the Rich Roll podcast. Rich Roll is a plant based ultra endurance athlete who wrote a book about his journey from an out of shape 40 year old lawyer to an ultra endurance athlete. He interviews a wide variety of people, and I have been catching up on old episodes.

One of his guests was Dr. Garth Davis, who is a plant based bariatric surgeon. His interview was fascinating because he discussed his medical school education and training, and the gaps that existed in what/how he was taught. He talked a lot about how people on the Internet argue about diet/health by using snippets of research without having the skills to actually evaluate the full spectrum of research on that issue. At one point (about 1 hour and 20 minutes into the interview) he said: “The sad thing is PubMed is online, right. So PubMed you can look up any article. So the big thing to do in these little Internet websites is to reference an article from PubMed and all you get is the abstract. And that’s what people are referencing, so no one has the first clue about how to read an article or how to analyze whether an article is realistic. For me, in the surgery world I gotta know the author to know if I believe the study. You know. And I got to sit in the meeting and question them, you know? They’re not doing any of this. They’re just like “Oh, I searched on PubMed and found this one article and I’m gonna make this argument”.

I’ve been saving this quote for a few weeks to write about because I thought it was so interesting to hear library related issues leak into my other life as a healthy, plant based, amateur athlete. I used this example in a class this week when I was talking about using citations to contribute to the scholarly conversation and build your reputation in a field. I told them about how Dr. Davis said he only believed information from a study in his field if he knew or knew of the authors. They seemed impressed by that, and I try to use real world examples like this as often as possible. I think it makes the conceptual knowledge easier to assimilate to real world contexts.

I’m more convinced than ever that we need to be teaching our users about the information landscape, and how to navigate it effectively. Bohannon’s piece makes it clear that this landscape is changing and that it will make our jobs more difficult but also more essential. As an academic librarian, an essential part of this goal is to work with faculty to understand their disciplines and to keep them abreast of these issues as they publish their own research and create student assignments that require research components.

Motivating Students to Go Past Google

This week has been busy and productive. Long weekends typically make a week feel more compressed and frenetic, but it’s been a good energy this week. I’m embedded in two Nursing Research classes, and students have to complete their library assignment by the 7th or 14th depending on the section. The library assignment has four open ended questions that I grade manually, so I’ve been busy grading for most of this week. Nursing students on average seem to be more engaged and more highly motivated than typical undergraduates which seems to increase their academic anxiety. I’ve been drawing a lot from my counseling skills in my communications with the students over the last few weeks.

I inherited the assignment and the Libguide that accompanies the course, and I am one of four librarians embedded in the Nursing Research classes this semester, so I don’t have the option to modify anything. Fortunately, I like the assignment but I think the Libguide can use some work. Three of the questions are grouped together, and require the student to locate an original research article written by a nurse. I love the question because it is sufficiently difficult but allows them to use their own search terms and methods, and it is actually testing them on the skill of locating articles related to their research question.

Most of them have been very successful in this, but I still wonder if we’re teaching them in the most comprehensive and efficient way. In my two years as an academic librarian it’s become obvious to me that students typically equate library resources with meeting needs of a specific assignment, and don’t see them as fulfilling the greater ideal of locating quality information. I wonder if our library instruction is often too mechanical, but when working inside the limitations of a roughly 60 minute single session it’s difficult to not focus on mechanics.

Yesterday one of my nursing students sent me this message: “I have to do an assignment on religious and spiritual beliefs of the people of India and right now I’m not sure where to start. If you have any suggestions besides Google, I would appreciate it.” My initial reaction was that I was thrilled that she accepted my offer for help with any of her classes. After I digested her request I was a bit taken aback because she already completed (an excelled) at her library assignment which required her to use several different databases to locate articles and analyze her results lists. She learned the mechanics of using CINAHL and Medline without understanding WHY she was using them and the concept that databases collect “good” information for other disciplines as well.

I referred her to some of our sociology focused databases and to the library catalog. She replied that her sources needed to be credible, so she did recognize that Google may not have given her the most credible results but did not connect that back to what the library had to offer. Students may  have a sense that Google isn’t the best source but they can’t articulate why and don’t seem to be motivated to go past Google. This is troubling and is something I’m trying to focus on in any instruction and reference that I do. Another goal is to teach students how to locate credible information once they are working in a career. For our nursing students, they will likely have continued access to medical databases but students in other fields need to be made aware of the scholarly/trade publications and online resources unique to their field.

In between my grading and communicating with nursing students, I’ve been planning a Psychology instruction and a workshop on presentation skills. They have both been exciting and I hope to report that next week’s Wednesday night Psychology class will be a success! The last new thing I’ve thrown in the mix is the Hyperlinked Library MOOC from San Jose State University. I didn’t make the first cut of invites, but got an email on Tuesday that some people had dropped out. So far I love the course and will be blogging there as well.