Tag Archives: Faculty

Browsing, Searching and Finding

January always brings lots of discussion about the future, and probably even more so this year now that we’re a decade into the second millennium. Collections are central in much talk about the future of academic libraries, which naturally leads me to thoughts about browsing.

I have a confession to make: I don’t browse through academic library stacks much anymore. There seem to be a few reasons for this:

  • I work at a small college library which is part of a larger university system that includes over 20 schools, each with its own library. Many of the books I need I borrow from the other colleges in the system via our shared catalog.
  • The discovery methods I use have shifted away from browsing. Typically I learn about new books through association news, ads in library science journals and magazines, or via blogs, Twitter or other internet sources. (It’s hard to say whether there’s a feedback loop here: if I worked in a larger library would I browse more?)
  • I also read across a wider range of disciplines than I did before I was a librarian. When I was an archaeologist there were a couple of call number ranges in close proximity to each other that I’d occasionally browse through (good old CC and GN), but if I tried that now I’d be all over the library.
  • And, I sheepishly admit to a bit of browsing fear: I always seem to have plenty to read, from journal articles to the biblioblogosphere to the three work-related books sitting on my desk right now. So I’m somewhat scared to spend time browsing in case I find more than I have time to read.

Though they definitely use the library, I don’t typically see faculty at my college browsing our stacks, either (maybe their reasons are similar to mine?). But I have noticed that students often want to browse in the library. Many students, especially those new to the college, stop by the reference desk and ask “Where’s the psychology section?” or “I need to look at the architecture books.” It’s easy to forget how opaque an academic library, even a small one, can seem to undergraduates. Last semester a student said to me, in an awed whisper, “the library is so big.”

All of this leads me to wonder about the future of collections at my library. If faculty don’t browse much anymore, how would they feel if we were to propose moving some of the lesser-used materials to off-campus storage? Though common at many college and university libraries, faculty may not agree with this strategy, as we saw late last year with the faculty protest at Syracuse University.

On the other hand, if students are still browsing, how can we make it easier for them? We have those nifty bookmarks from ALA with the Library of Congress call number ranges printed on them, and I like to pass those out to students who ask about broad subject areas. Would it be helpful to students if we added signage that displayed the subject names next to the call number range signs on our shelves?

Whatever happens, I’m sure that the next decade will bring lots of change for our collections, and I’m eager to see what’s in store for the future.

Encouraging Engagement

Right now we’re in the midst of our busiest time in the semester for instruction at my library. I coordinate our information literacy program so instruction is always a big part of my job, but it looms even larger for me at this time of year. If I’m not teaching a class, I’m probably thinking about the classes I teach.

Like many other colleges, most of our library instruction program consists of the single required library class for all English Composition I students. Much has been written about the challenges of the humble one-shot, and I think we do a good job with these sessions given their constraints. Still, over the past couple of weeks I’ve begun to target on a few things that frustrate me. The more I’ve thought on this, the more I realize that a critical factor is engagement.

Student Engagement
It’s no secret that students often find their library sessions to be less than inspiring, and are often more engaged with the computers and each other. Some of these are classroom management issues, though we do require that professors attend sessions with their students, which usually encourages students to pay attention. But relevance is a factor, too: do students see the material covered by librarians as relevant to their coursework? There’s lots of evidence that students are more engaged when their library session is scheduled at the point of need, just as they are starting research on a paper or project. (Anecdotal evidence from the sessions I’ve taught supports this, too.)

One solution is to schedule our English Comp sessions just as students receive their assignments and are beginning their research. We’ve tried a couple of different scheduling strategies, including spreading the sessions evenly over the semester, and concentrating the classes in the few weeks just after midterms. But speaking with students and faculty and our student evaluations reveal that sometimes the sessions are too early, sometimes too late.

Next semester we may try contacting all English Comp faculty just before the semester begins to ask when they’d like to schedule the library session. We’ll need to be sure to emphasize that the best time for students to visit the library with their class is concurrent with their research assignments. Ultimately this scheduling method may not be possible because of sheer numbers: we’re a small library, and this semester there are 126 sections of English Comp. But given the real increase in student engagement that I’ve observed in my classes that do have a research assignment, it’s probably worth a try.

Faculty Engagement
I’ll admit that when I first started teaching library sessions I vastly preferred the classes in which the instructor sat quietly in the back of the classroom while I made my presentation at the front. I was nervous about my own teaching skills, especially covering all of the material in the session, and it seemed easier to go straight through it all without diversion.

Now that I’ve been at this for awhile I really value my library sessions with involved, engaged faculty. I can appreciate many of the reasons that faculty may sit quietly through the class. Many faculty appreciate that librarians have specialized training in research skills and information literacy, and are happy to give us space to teach in our discipline. But when an instructor engages with the librarian and the class — offering additional examples of relevant topics, search strategies, and keywords; reinforcing the need to critically evaluate sources; etc. — these sessions seem to be the most valuable for the students (and also more enjoyable for me).

Encouraging faculty engagement seems like it might be a bit more difficult than with students. A colleague suggested that we maintain the same pairings between librarians and instructors across multiple semesters. This would allow us to develop a closer relationship with faculty teaching English Comp, and help us tailor the library session more closely to the assignment in each class. Again, we may hit a snag because of the large number of sections, though with the increase in enrollment this semester we’ve got a new crop of adjunct English Comp faculty, so this may be a good time to try.

I’m sure there are lots of other strategies for encouraging student and faculty engagement in library instruction sessions. What methods have you used successfully? Which haven’t worked so well?

Celebrating Open Access Week

Last week was Open Access Week, and my library hosted an afternoon program for faculty. We started things off with a brief introduction to open access scholarly journal publishing. After a quick review of the origins and history of OA, we discussed the benefits of OA journals for faculty, students, libraries, universities, and the general public. We also demonstrated how to find open access journals in the library and on the internet, using an article written by one of our own faculty members as an example. Next, a faculty member from our Nursing Department spoke about her experiences publishing two articles in an open access journal.

We kept the presentations short to allow plenty of time for discussion (fueled by coffee and cookies, of course). There was a smallish group in attendance with a nice mix of newer and more seasoned faculty from many different disciplines across the college. Many junior faculty members (including me) are concerned about how articles published in open access journals will be regarded in the promotion and tenure process. It was great to have a forum to share the information that there are open access journals with prominent scholars on their editorial boards that employ a rigorous, double-blind peer review process, just as do subscription-based journals.

We also spent a fair amount of time discussing the means of production for open access journals. At the beginning of the program my library colleague mentioned the Open Journal Systems platform, an open source system that can be used to publish an open access journal, including managing the peer-review process. As the discussion progressed we began to consider the feasibility of publishing an open access journal at our college. It was a fascinating (and enjoyable) direction for the conversation to take, one that I hadn’t really anticipated when we planned the program.

I’m hopeful that our lively discussion indicates an growing interest in open access scholarly publishing at my college. Recently we’ve seen an increasing emphasis on faculty research at the college and university, and perhaps open access scholarly journal publishing will have a role to play. We’re pleased that our Open Access Week program was a success, and are already thinking ahead to planning for next year’s event.

Did your library plan any events to celebrate Open Access Week? Did you learn anything new about faculty attitudes towards scholarly communication on your campus?

Teaching Students, Teaching Faculty

Over the past few semesters we’ve ramped up the number of faculty workshops we offer at the library where I work. We’re a small library in a fairly large college, and it can be tricky to balance our faculty initiatives with student instruction. Faculty sessions usually take longer to prepare, and since we only offer one workshop on a topic each semester, we can’t economize on prep time the way we can with some of our library instruction for students.

While library instruction to students is an important mission for our library (and a huge part of my job), we only have the students for a relatively short time before they graduate. Faculty, on the other hand, tend to stick around for awhile. So I think there are several good reasons for continuing to offer as many faculty workshops as we do:

  • In my experience many faculty members are actively interested in learning more about the resources the library has to offer. Some of my faculty colleagues have mentioned to me how fast the research landscape is changing, and how difficult it can be to keep up. Offering workshops on advanced search strategies for the catalog and databases encourages faculty use of our books, databases, and other materials, which makes good sense for the library.
  • Faculty workshops are opportunities for outreach and to raise the library’s profile in the college. We’ve met lots of new faculty members recently, as well as faculty from departments that aren’t traditionally heavy library users. The library has partnered with the college’s new center for teaching and learning to offer our workshops through their faculty development program. This partnership has given us additional visibility on campus, and their talented intern has created beautiful posters for us to use to advertise our workshops.
  • Anecdotal evidence over the past few semesters suggests that many faculty who come to our workshops request library instruction for their classes, too. Thus, faculty workshops also provide opportunities for us to promote student library and information literacy instruction. Our workshops are open to all faculty at the college, and it’s especially nice to have a chance to connect with adjunct faculty, who can be harder to reach than the full-timers.

Does your library offer workshops or classes for faculty? What strategies for faculty workshops have you found successful? How do you balance the instructional desires/needs of faculty and students?

We Have To Add The Value

You may have watched the video of the Dean who explained his rationale for removing computers from the classrooms at his school. His primary concern was that faculty would simply show PowerPoint slides and deliver boring lectures to accompany them. While I don’t entirely agree with his perspectives on the merits of teaching “naked”, I definitely understand his concerns about the future of instructional technology in higher education and the role that faculty play in making smart choices about which technologies they select and how they use them. I see a similar challenge facing academic librarians.

My point isn’t about the pros and cons of using technology in the classroom. I think that academic librarians are totally on board with the concept of using technology purposefully for teaching and learning. I certainly hope we have gotten away from subjecting our students to PowerPoint slide shows over which we drone on about the virtues of appropriate database search techniques. Now that many of us are teaching in hands-on classrooms we can get more creative with methods for activating the students and really engaging them in learning how to think critically about their research responsibilities, how to work effectively with their fellow students, and even how to efficiently capture, store, retrieve and cite their resources. Of course, like the Chronicle article states, there are students who don’t want to be activated. They would prefer to just sit there and have a librarian-instructor talk at them for 50 minutes, which they can tune out and then get on with what really interests them. So just like our faculty colleagues we are challenged to leverage technology that gets students thinking, working, and maybe even enjoying their time in the classroom with us.

But here’s my point. I get what Dean Jose Bowen is telling us about being overly dependent on technology, especially when the focus is on the technology rather than the educator in the room. It’s all about adding value to the learning process. He is spot on when he says that students can now go anywhere to simply hear a lecture by a talking head that is attached to a series of slides. That describes a good deal of online learning and open education resource experience. You go to a web site or a course delivery system and just tune in to a lecture/presentation. But where’s the added value that comes from the dialogue between the teacher and the student? I believe what Bowen is really afraid of losing at his school is what makes the learning experience truly unique – the engagement between the instructor and the learner.

Academic librarians need to be mindful of the same challenge. We know that while we offer high quality information resources, our students and faculty can obtain information from a wide variety of resources. And there are times when they are accessing our subscription content through free search engines and are not aware that the content is delivered by the library. Those are well known issues. If the boundaries between information sources are becoming increasingly blurry to the end user, what is it that distinguishes what the academic library does for them? Finding the answer to that question is part of the challenge we face, just as our faculty colleagues will need to make clear to future students the value that they add to the learning process. Otherwise why bother with the huge investment in a traditional college education. I will continue to be writing about these challenges and possible solutions here and in other venues. I hope you’ll be a part of the conversation in helping us all to figure out how we add value for our students and faculty.