Office Hours?!

I just completed a semester-long experiment in which I held a office hour over in my department’s building, which is a 10-minute walk from the library. The dean gave me a converted janitor’s closet, my own key, and the administrative assistant made me a door sign to match everyone else’s. Now that the semester’s over, I’m evaluating that experience, wondering if I should do it again.

I officially saw 8 people during the semester, a mix of undergraduates, grad students, and faculty. Unofficially, the stats are much higher: I ran into people in the hallway, bathroom, and going in & out of the building. Some faculty popped their heads in & said “oh! I didn’t know you were here! great!” while others apologized for the janitorial-closet nature of the space. I confess that I worked some librarian magic. My favorite example was when a grad student came in looking for an “unpublished dissertation;” her advisor suggested she get in touch with me, and she’d been so busy, blah blah blah, but now that I was *here*, did I have any ideas for her? She was getting frantic! I efficiently pulled up ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, asked for the author’s name, and … found the dissertation. Disbelief and joy on the student’s part. She copied the pdf dissertation onto her USB drive and went on her way. A few minutes later, the advisor came in and repeated the story. I told her I’d just met with the student and given her the dissertation. More disbelief and joy.

So yes, the office hour was definitely a success – especially combining the actual work with the PR value of being in the building on a regular basis. If I do it again (hopefully I’ll still have time next semester), I expect more business.

I was curious if traditional faculty were talking about office hours in their blogs and was pleasantly surprised to see a bit of discussion about it. (How did I find out? I created a Google Custom Search Engine for the faculty blogosphere, which is in early beta) Tenured Radical struggles with how to get students to know when her office hours are, and how to avoid the last minute rush: “I will sit in my office reading for two and a half weeks, give or take a student here and there, and then seventy or eighty people will try to see me in a window of about 72 hours and/or try to make appointments when I can’t possibly be there.” There are 25+ comments from folks offering support and advice.

Many commenters mention putting office hours in your sig file; another says he tells his students in EACH class when his office hours are; others require students to sign up in advance and giving preference to those who do. I like Lesboprof‘s suggestion of creating an online calendar for students to access and set up their own time to meet with you; that’s on my list of things to try out this summer. The best set of comments, though, are those from Tenured Radical’s students at “Zenith University.” It’s great to see their side of the office hours conundrum; most striking is one from a student who reminds us all that college students are right out of high school, and in high school, you only went to see the teacher if you were “bad” — explaining why first-year college students might have an aversion to meeting with their professors. (The student comments are towards the bottom of the comment section)

There are other interesting posts about office hours as well. Over at Tomorrow’s Professor Blog, which is a partnership between MIT and Stanford, they’ve excerpted an article called Teaching in the U.S. Classroom (from Stanford’s Speaking of Teaching newsletter) that discusses the difference between office hours in the U.S. and in other countries:

“The U.S. model differs from more traditional uses of the office hour as a tutorial in which the instructor takes more of an authoritative role, lecturing and guiding the conversation, rather than letting the student’s needs set the pace for the interaction.”

At the end of the article is a handy set of guidelines for international students about holding office hours.

And Dean Dad, at Confessions of a Community College Dean, talks about office hours in the context of online courses. Anonymous comments “I feel I am more available for students and have more contact with them online than in my office;” her/his comment contains some additional ideas about communicating with students online, which might resonate with librarians … Dr. Free Ride comments

My online students come to my “live” office hours in much greater numbers than my “live” students ever have. And, they don’t just come when they’re desperately confused; they actually come just to shoot the breeze about the issues raised by the course.

As a librarian, do you hold office hours? Do you get involved in your faculty’s office hours?

12 thoughts on “Office Hours?!”

  1. In fact, when I was hired into my position, I was given two offices, and told to split my time roughly 25/75 between my office in the College of Natural Sciences, and the library itself. I had a converted copy room, a computer, and a phone, and much like you I “officially” met with a few people (as in, they scheduled time to meet me) and unofficially, had quite a few drop-ins (mostly students). The arrangement lasted for 2 and a half years, but eventually the Dean of Natural Sciences decided the converted copy room was going to be given to a new hire in the sciences, and if possible, could I relinquish the office?

    Given that I actually conducted the vast majority of my work with the science faculty by appointment at my library office, or via telephone and email, it seemed that it would not be a devastating blow to my work. It has not been, although I am slightly more disconnected from my “constituency” than before. We currently also employ an Education Librarian with the same dual-office setup – she still has the second office, and in discussions we’ve had, we’ve found that the results are generally mixed – there’s a great chance to integrate into the college you serve, but there’s also a level of skepticism among both our colleagues and the faculty of the “other” college – not to mention the inconvenience of two offices.

    But anyway, on topic: with regard to maintaining office hours, I do publish my schedule online, I try to remember to put it in the BI sessions I teach, and when I was advising students, I used an online calendar to schedule appointments – it was very handy. I’m usually in my office anyway, most of the day.


  2. Wow–what a great idea! I work at a small liberal arts college, and am assigned to various departments–but I love the idea of getting to these individual departments in the way you describe. I actually spend a lot of time outside the library. I can’t wait to see what the other reference librarians think of this! I’m really stimulated by thinking about it!

  3. Erin,
    You may be interested to know that VA Tech was a pioneer in this area (based on what I’ve read) … they have a program called the College Librarian Program. There have been a few articles published on their program’s successes and what they’ve learned, which you may want to look into. Although VA Tech has a much larger staff to implement such a program, I think their “lessons learned” are relevant for any academic library considering this model.

  4. The comment about VA Tech is right on – I co-produced (wrote? created?) a poster session on our program here with the Education Librarian, and IIRC from our research the VA Tech program was started in 1996. Unsurprisingly, the pros and cons my colleague and I identified were pretty much exactly the same as VT’s.

  5. Several years ago when I was a business librarian I held office hours in the College of Business and most of my interactions were on the casual nature, just a few scheduled appts. But I would deem it a success because I would prowl the halls and get pulled into offices by faculty who just had a quick question or comment. They even started including me in college meetings and events. They felt like I was “their” librarian. I managed to get my foot in the door in several classes by offering to drop in and introduce myself to the students at the start of their classes. At the end of my time there they had started an electronic newsletter and asked me to be a regular contributor. All in all a success!

  6. I can appreciate what Ms. Brown went through and is excited about. For the past several years I have conducted an “office hour” per se in the graduate computer lab of the History Dept. at Texas A&M University. While I have never been overwhelmed with people needing assistance, sometimes just being visible, personable, and “in-the-flesh” is a real help. I would suggest giving it a couple of years before declaring it a complete success/failure. As with all services, it takes that long for the awareness to permeate through and folks to realize “yes, this is real; I am here for a reason, and that is to help you.”

    When some “life issues” about a year ago prevented me from holding these hours regularly, the students were understanding, but they noticed and missed when I was not there. They do know that they can always schedule an appointment to meet with me at a more convenient time and place if needed, but the office hour assures them that they can find me at a set day, time, and place for research/library support.

    On a related note, since I arrived at Texas A&M in 1997, I have made it a habit to get out of the Library and cruise the halls of the History Dept. frequently. I will often take advantage of faculty members’ office hours to clue them in on new resources and services that would be of special interest to them. Is it efficient? Not at all, an email blast to the entire department would be faster, but sometimes a face-to-face meeting builds a lot more trust and goodwill. I have answered numerous questions, shown countless tips and tricks on navigating the Library’s websites, and developed a very close working relationship with a number of them that have translated into more library instruction sessions and in-depth research consultations than I can count. Often when I knock on their door, the first words out of their mouth are, “I was just thinking about you!” I try not to be a pest and if they have other more pressing matters, I will respect their time. But I believe getting out of the building and meeting with a major library user population on their “turf” is a fantastic way to understand their library resource (materials, services, etc.) needs.


  7. I work at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a small public liberal arts college, and my experience is comparable to some of those described by others. I am the liaison for departments in science, math, and computer science. For a number of semesters (with a couple of missed semesters) I have had an “office hour” each week during the semester in a conference room located in what was our only science building (a second adjacent building recently opened that now houses the chemistry department) across from the departmental office associate offices. While I have also had relatively few formal extended reference sessions, the value of interacting with faculty and being seen outside the context of the library by students and faculty has to my mind proven extremely valuable. Since the conference room obviously serves other purposes, on occasion students are in the room studying, and faculty stop in to converse. One ground rule for my using the room is that I know that I can be “bumped” should the room be needed by any of the departmental faculty – most often that occurs at the end of the semester when the room is scheduled for student presentations. Now that the chemistry department has moved, I’m not sure what impact will be, but overall I think this is something worth continuing. I’ve also considered trying the same kind of thing at our athletic center, as there is a conference room near the primary entrance, and I expect that as I am a frequent user of the gym who the students know or recognize, that some students who don’t frequent the library might be more likely to work with me there.

  8. .: During fall and winter term, I maintain “office hours” in the University of Alberta’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, every Thursday from 12:00-14:00. I have offered the service since Sept 2006, and it has been received quite well. I document each two-hour session on my library’s intranet-based blog. One of the benefits has been that over the two year period, many professors have stopped by to chat, and in many cases this would lead to research and information questions. In one case, a discussion with a professor resulted in him inviting me to speak to his class each term.

    While the service, called “Librarian in Residence”, has been designed for faculty and graduate students, undergraduate students are also welcome to come by, and many of the students working in the mechanical engineering design courses do stop by to consult, usually in groups of 2-4 students. Fortunately, the room I am in is the Mech Eng conference room, and has an overhead projector, which allows for an easy consultation with a group – they can watch the screen rather than hunch together over a small laptop.

    The engineers are very supportive of this service, and a small number of them wait for me to appear each Thursday, and at that time bring any questions or concerns to my attention.

    The service is valuable on many levels, not the least of which is that in being Librarians On Site, we bring the library and its services to where our users live – in their departments. That we are made to feel so welcome, and as collaborators, speaks to the importance of what we do.

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