Practicing Pre-emptive Reference With Student Blogs

ACRLog features occasional guest posts by academic librarians who wish to share their commentary on popular issues, or in this case, have an idea they’d like to share with colleagues. Today’s guest post is from Brian Mathews, Distance Learning Services & Mechanical Engineering Librarian at the Georgia Tech Library & Information Center. We often hear the phrase “be where the students are”, and Brian has found an interesting way to apply this at his institution as described below:

It’s that time of year again! That time when students “discover” the library, seeking those last minute resources for a paper due tomorrow. This is a major challenge that we face. Despite classroom instruction and outreach efforts, many students are unfamiliar with the library and the available resources.

In an attempt to be proactive, I started following student blogs in search of educational opportunities. Popular online journal sites, such as LiveJournal and Xanga, allow users to identify their college or university. By subscribing to their RSS feeds, I am able to monitor them in Bloglines and use a keyword crawler to sift through new entries for terms, such as paper, assignment, library, or class.

While academics may not be the predominant theme in student journals, it does come up. Students will often share classroom experiences and express frustrations with assignments. This channel provides a meaningful and timely opportunity to interact with them. Rather then waiting around for students to approach me, I can provide intuitive assistance by responding to their posts.

Preliminary findings are available here: Intuitive Revelations: The Ubiquitous Reference Model.

4 thoughts on “Practicing Pre-emptive Reference With Student Blogs”

  1. This is a really interesting idea, but have you gotten positive feedback from the students? It seems like some of them may not like the idea of having their blogs read by school staff members – though they of course shouldn’t be posting anything that they wouldn’t want the general public to see.

  2. I had a similar concern, but what’s interesting in the paper is that when Brian used a generic “library” identity it wasn’t nearly as welcome as when he was an individual, himself – the examples he provides show how positive the encounters then can be.

    Blogging is for the general public (even though folks do forget) and invited comments from anyone or anyone with an account, which is open to anyone – more of a public space, I think, than Facebook is. What gave me pause reading this originally, I think, was the negative connotation that attaches itself to words like “monitor” and “pre-emptive” both of which sound like something the Pentagon might do.

  3. I think it’s accepted in the social software culture to post / interact randomly. That is why services such as facebook and myspace are so popular. I’ve only had one negative encounter and that was due to a student thinking I was someone trying to trick her. However once I cleared up my identity everything was fine.

    I actually like the term “pre-emptive” and told Steven I was going to steal that. I used terms like intuitive, ubiquitous, and anticipatory which are a little softer, but it is very voyeuristic or a form of eavesdropping. However, I prefer to think of it as an ethnographical study in which I am living and participating in their world.

    Thanks for the interest!

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