All posts by Maura Smale

About Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian and Department Chair, Library, at New York City College of Technology, City University of New York.

Digging Into Institutional Data

I have both a professional and scholarly interest in how the students at the college where I work do their academic work, and (of course) whether and how they use the library. In my own research I’m much more likely to use qualitative than quantitative methods. I prefer interviews and other qualitative methods because they offer so much more depth and detail than surveys, though of course that comes at the expense of breadth of respondents. Still, I appreciate learning more about our students’ lives; these compelling narratives can be used to augment what we learn from surveys and other broad but shallow methods of data collection.

Not *that* kind of survey
Not *that* kind of survey

But even though I love a good interview, I can also be a part-time numbers nerd: I admit to enjoying browsing through survey results occasionally. Recently I was working on a presentation for a symposium on teaching and technology at one of the other colleges in my university system and found myself hunting around the university’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment website for some survey data to help contextualize students’ use of technology. My university runs a student experience survey every 2 years, and until last week I hadn’t realized that the data collected this past Spring had just been released.

Reader, I nearly missed dinnertime as I fell down the rabbit hole of the survey results. It’s a fascinating look at student data points at the 19 undergraduate institutions that make up the university. There’s the usual info you’d expect from the institutional research folks — how many students are enrolled at each college, part-time vs. full-time students, race and ethnicity, and age, to name a few examples. But this survey asks students lots of other questions, too. How long is their commute? Are they the first in their family to attend college? How many people live in their household? Do they work at a job and, if so, how many hours per week? How often do they use campus computer labs? Do they have access to broadband wifi off-campus? If they transferred to their current college, why? How do they prefer to communicate with faculty and administrators?

My university isn’t the only one that collects this data, of course. I imagine there are homegrown and locally-administered surveys at many colleges and universities. There’s also the National Survey of Student Engagement, abbreviated NSSE (pronounced “Nessie” like the mythical water beast), which collects data from 1,500+ American and Canadian colleges and universities. The NSSE website offers access to the data via a query tool, as well as annual reports that summarize notable findings (fair warning: the NSSE website can be another rabbit hole for the numbers nerds among us). There’s also the very local data that my own college’s Office of Assessment and Institutional Research collects. This includes the number of students enrolled in each of the college’s degree programs, as well as changes through time. Retention and graduation rates are there for browsing on our college website, too.

What does all of this student data collected by offices of institutional research have to do with academic libraries? Plenty! We might use the number of students enrolled in a particular major to help us plan how to work with faculty in that department around information literacy instruction, for example. The 2012 annual NSSE report revealed that students often don’t buy their course textbooks because of the expense (as have other studies), findings that librarians might use to justify programs for faculty to create or curate open educational resources, as librarians at Temple University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst have done. And at my library we’re using data on how and where students do their academic work outside of the library, both the university-collected survey results as well as qualitative data collected by me and my colleagues, to consider changes to the physical layout to better support students doing their academic work.

Have you ever found yourself captivated by institutional research data? How have you used college or university-wide survey results in your own library practice? Let us know in the comments.

Photo by Farrukh.

Appreciating Open Access Advocates

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Happy Open Access Week, everyone! Though maybe it’s not the happiest of weeks this year… Last Friday the news broke about the appeal of the Georgia State University e-reserves case. It looks like many of the rulings in favor of fair use from the initial suit may be overturned, though it’s not certain exactly how things will shake out yet. Kevin Smith, Scholarly Communications Officer at Duke University, shared a few early thoughts on his blog, and Nancy Sims, Copyright Program Librarian at the University of Minnesota, wrote a longer post discussing the ruling. I’m sure we’ll see much more conversation about this in the coming weeks.

I’m disappointed about the ruling, for sure, but in some ways this just makes my support of open access and open educational resources that much stronger. The academic and textbook publishing model we have cannot be sustained. Students have already pulled way back in buying textbooks and required readings for their courses, and libraries can’t purchase these materials (or pay copyright fees) infinitely or perpetually. I work at the City University of New York, the largest urban public university in the U.S. Forty-seven percent of CUNY students live in households with an annual income of less than $25,000. My library does purchase textbooks for reserve and they are used so heavily by our students that many are beyond repair by the end of the academic year. Textbooks can represent a significant portion of students’ expenses, any many of them just can’t buy the books.

As these forces continue to converge, I’m hopeful that faculty and administrators will be ever more receptive to open access and open educational resource advocacy. We’ve been talking about this for many years at my college and university, and while it’s sometimes frustrating to have to say the same things over and over again, we’re definitely starting to see results. Some are department or college level initiatives, like the precalculus textbook that two members of my college’s Math department wrote. It’s available as a printable/downloadable PDF (which students can print for free in the library and other computer labs on campus), or as a print on demand book for $13.00. All sections of the course are now using the book, and the authors are sharing it throughout the university.

At the university level, this fall the central library office at CUNY is sponsoring an OER course on OERs (so meta!). The course runs online over two weeks and includes materials and discussion, and aims to teach faculty how to create or curate OERs for their own courses. Faculty receive a small stipend for completing the course. The response to this course offering has been huge, and there’s already a waiting list for the next time the course will run. I was delighted to learn that the faculty response and interest from my college was particularly strong, and added those folks to my mental list of folks who might be open to further advocacy efforts or partnerships with the library.

So even with the disappointing news from Georgia, I’m feeling optimistic this Open Access Week. And I want to share my appreciation for everyone in libraries who does this hard work of open access and open educational resource advocacy all year round, not just for one week. Thank you, and keep up the good work!

Image by Biblioteekje.

Handling It: Under New Management

I’ve recently moved into a new role at the college library where I work. Our former Chief Librarian retired, and I applied for the job and was appointed as the new Chief at the beginning of the semester. My new job is exciting and challenging — I’m fortunate to continue to work with my terrific colleagues in the library and at a college in which the faculty and administration view the library as a valued partner. While I miss the teaching I did as Instruction Coordinator, I hope to be able to add some instruction back into my days once I get more settled. As Steven has blogged here, it can be hard to move into an administrative position that affords fewer opportunities to work directly with students. I do have one reference shift this semester, and I’m also looking forward to more opportunities in my new role to make good use of what I’ve learned in my research on how students do their academic work.

Any new job comes with a learning curve, even one in the same institution you’ve worked at for a while. Some days I feel a little bit like Atta in this scene from the movie A Bug’s Life:

And other days I like to channel Manfried from Adventure Time:

Luckily there haven’t been any literal (or even metaphorical) grasshopper infestations or fires to extinguish (…yet?). But I’ve been a bit surprised by how busy I am. In other new jobs I’ve always had some breathing room as I learned the ropes, some down time in those first couple of weeks in which there wasn’t anything immediately pressing to do. But moving into a new job in the same place has kept me nearly constantly busy with meetings, planning, and other duties.

I’ve got my eye on a couple of books to read about academic leadership and library management, but with my time so short I haven’t been able to carve out a space for reading them yet. Instead, I’ve been collecting shorter reads — blog posts and articles — about library management and leadership in general. Here are some that I’ve found really helpful so far:

Jennifer Vinopal’s blog post My job? Make it easier for employees to do their jobs well was published at the perfect time for me, right before I was interviewed for my new job, and I’ve kept it in mind ever since. It pairs well with an article published in the May issue of C&RL News: Start by interviewing every librarian and staff member: A first step for the new director, by Scott Garrison and Jennifer Nutefall. Even though I’ve worked with most of my colleagues for 6+ years, I’ve adapted these questions and am meeting with everyone one on one to learn more about their jobs and goals.

I’m also learning from several folks who’ve been doing this for longer than I have. At the end of last summer Karen Schneider posted her reflections on five years of being a library director, a post chock full of characteristically level-headed and wise advice. I’ve been reading Jenica Rogers’ blog Attempting Elegance for a while now too, even before the thought that maybe I would be interested in being a Chief Librarian entered my mind, and I’ve always appreciated her transparency about the large and small tasks that come with being a library director, and the highs and lows.

One of the things that’s been occupying my time this semester is working on hiring in two faculty and two staff positions. While I’ve been on search committees at my library in the past, this is the first time I’m acting as chair of these committees. I thoroughly enjoyed this well-written post about orienting new staff by Megan Brooks — Hospitality and Your New Staff Member — on Jessica Olin’s Letters to a Young Librarian blog last week. This post provides a great reminder about what to do (and the reverse, what not to do) when bringing new folks on board.

Do you have a favorite or recommended reading of the shorter-than-a-book variety for busy new library managers? Let me know in the comments!

All the News, In Print

My household recently started getting the print edition of our local newspaper again. I know what you’re thinking: Really? Print? In 2014? When everyone in the house is fortunate enough to have a device on which they could read the electronic version (if they were so inclined)?

I’m old enough that I’ve spent most of my life getting the news from a print newspaper until relatively recently. When I moved into an apartment with friends halfway through college, ordering up daily newspaper delivery made it seem like we were truly adults despite a diet consisting mostly of boxed mac and cheese. My partner and I kept getting the paper delivered when we moved to graduate school and jobs, even as the paper got somewhat smaller and slimmer. And then it suddenly seemed like too much — all that paper to haul downstairs to the recycling every week, especially on the weekends, with sections we didn’t even read. The newspaper website had the same content and didn’t cost anything, so we canceled our subscription. Eventually the paywalls went up so we bought a digital subscription.

And there we stayed until recently. About two weeks ago, to be exact. What changed my mind? My kid is finishing up middle school this year, and I wanted to see if he would pick up and read the newspaper if it was left physically around the house. He could read it digitally, as do my partner and I, but he doesn’t. We tell him about big news stories, and he sometimes has to find a newspaper article or editorial for school, but that’s about it for his encounters with the paper. And since we don’t tend to watch the news on TV, he doesn’t have any regular exposure to news other than what he seeks out (while he reads a lot online, he tends to gravitate more to video game news than current events news).

It’s been really interesting to go back to the print newspaper. Some things I’ve noticed:

  • I now read or skim a larger number of articles than I used to when I read the paper solely online, and in (some) sections that I often would more or less skip. But that also takes longer, and the result is that I typically can’t get through the entire paper at breakfast and have to leave some sections for the evening.
  • It’s much, much easier to browse through the newspaper in its physical form. This is good for my kid, because his science teacher has requested that he and his classmates each find a science article in the paper every week. The images are better too — there are more of them, and you don’t have to click to embiggen like on the website (which often means I don’t take the time for that click).
  • In general I hate advertising, but I appreciate the ads much more in the paper paper than online. It seems like there are ads that don’t make it to the website — mainly political ads — which is interesting. And the juxtaposition of news and ad content can be fascinating: my favorite was a recent story about New York City’s “poor doors” — an awful proposal for separate entrances in apartment buildings with both market-rate and affordable housing — right across from a full-page spread advertising a new luxury building. I know these kinds of contrasts occur on the website too, but I find it easier to tune out the ads online so I guess I don’t notice them as much.
  • Some of the non-news content that the paper (still!) runs was a complete surprise. Weather I can see the value in, though it seems like the weather’s so changeable now that even printing the forecast the night before could be of limited use. But TV listings! For all of the channels! Movie times! At all of the theaters! Who knew they’re still in the paper? I’ve been racking my brain for a use case for those listings — it seems unlikely to me that there are folks out there who’d only have access to or would rather get that information from the print newspaper.

All of this means that I’m suddenly finding myself very nostalgic for the age of paper newspapers in our academic libraries. I know they’re impractical for a whole range of reasons (so I’m not really serious about their return), but I do think they’re better for students in a number of ways. Yes, our students can browse and search the websites for their local newspapers, and they’ll often get the full text and at least some of the photos that accompany the article. But they lose the context provided by the layout of the physical page and the section and location in which the articles appear. And if they use a library database to search multiple newspapers simultaneously they’ll get lots of content but even less context: no images, and no visual cues as to what audience the newspaper seeks. I can’t imagine that print newspapers will ever come back to academic libraries, but I wonder what we can do to bring the positive aspects of the print experience to our students’ use of online newspapers?

Serendipity’s Not Just for the Stacks

The past week or so has been filled with the rush and excitement of the beginning of the academic year, new and returning faculty and students arriving on campus, a huge change from the quiet days of summer. I’ve just finished up a couple of commitments at my college and university that seem quite different at first glance, but have similarities that I find especially interesting at the beginning of a new semester.

One is a large collegewide grant that focuses on General Education at the college of technology where I work. A core activity of the grant is an annual professional development seminar that draws in full-time and adjunct faculty from across the campus to read, work, and learn together, and ultimately redesign the courses they teach. In the four years of the grant thus far we’ve seen participation from faculty members in nearly every department: from English to Nursing, Hospitality Management to Architectural Technology, and Biology to Computer Systems Technology, just to name a few.

The other commitment is a course that I co-taught last semester at my university’s graduate school in a certificate program in technology and pedagogy. I taught the class with fellow CUNY faculty member Michael Mandiberg, who has a background in art, design, and media culture; my background is anthropology and LIS, and we complemented each other well in teaching the course. Our students were also drawn from a range of disciplines in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Most were near the end of their coursework and preparing for their exams and dissertation proposals.

The biggest raves from faculty participants in the grant project at my college were about the opportunity to work with colleagues in other departments. Again and again, faculty have told us that they appreciate having the time and space for interdisciplinary conversations about teaching and learning. And it was fascinating to me to see the same enthusiasm in the graduate students I taught as well, their desire for conversations outside of their disciplinary silos happening before they’d even finished their degrees.

In libraries we often talk about offering opportunities for serendipity in the stacks, recognizing that sometimes browsing can suggest productive tangents or reveal connections that aren’t obvious. Reflecting on the end of my work on the grant and the course I’ve been thinking about serendipity of people, too: human resources, not just information sources. Laura wrote about this a couple of years back when she described a colleague who moved from a crowded building to a new lab, which, while spacious, was no longer in the thick of things, and how much she missed running into colleagues.

Small college libraries like the one where I work are all about students from different majors working and interacting: the library is an inherently interdisciplinary space. Can we encourage the serendipity of interdisciplinary conversations for faculty, too? A dedicated faculty area of the library is one option, though that may be a challenge for smaller libraries where space is at a premium. At my library we’re also thinking about forming a faculty advisory group to encourage regular discussion between librarians and faculty at the college, which may also provide opportunities for interdisciplinary conversations. Partnering with other offices on campus like the Center for Teaching and Learning or the Writing Center to offer workshops or brown bag discussions is another possibility.

Have you found success in fostering interdisciplinary opportunities for faculty in your library? Let us know in the comments!