Student “Ownership” of the Library

You’ve met them: the students who feel more comfortable in the library than most. They walk in confidently, they know where to find amenities and the section that houses their favorite topic or author, and they have no qualms about approaching a service desk to ask for information or assistance. We love these students! Many of us were these students. What I want to discuss is how we might be able to get more of these students.

I think that these confident, comfortable students feel like they own a little piece of the library in one way or another. They know someone behind the desk, or they contributed in some way to how the library looks or functions, and they truly feel that it is their library. If more students had these opportunities for “ownership,” they would also feel good about using and being in the library.

Some examples of what I mean by “ownership” include but are in no way limited to: interactive displays that ask for input (via Post-It notes, whiteboards, or more digital means like hashtags); being invited to curate and manage displays themselves; comment boxes (in-person or online); student and faculty art galleries or murals; dynamic spaces where students can rearrange the furniture without fear of scolding; or having their input solicited (via social media, in-person ballot box, etc.) on library matters, like naming everything from the repository to the fish. Events, contests, and programming also make students feel more connected to the library; if they attend a casual, fun program in the library space, they will likely feel more comfortable using that space later when they need help with research or a place to study.

An interactive display at Tidewater Community College, soliciting students’ answers about sports. The display also includes a variety of circulating materials about various sports-related topics. Some students answer seriously; others inject a little humor into their responses. Other themes on this display in the past have been books you would recommend to others, favorite foods, and where you’d like to travel.

There is also an opportunity to give students ownership whenever they feel comfortable enough to reach out and make a specific request. If it is heeded, that is demonstrable proof that a student can have direct impact on the library. (For example, right now, I am working on fulfilling a request from a class representative to install hand sanitizer dispensers in our library. It’s a simple request, but it’s important to these students. When they see the dispensers installed, they will know that they had a direct hand in improving the library for everyone in some way.) Even if a request cannot be fulfilled, assuring the student that their request is being seriously considered and you appreciate their input can make them feel respected, heard, and more comfortable with the library in general.

Some of these examples are reactive, where the library waits for students to say that they want something and then gives it to them (or doesn’t), and some are proactive, seeking students’ input or participation. Both are valid and useful, and a combination of the two would be an ideal approach.

There is, of course, a downside to students feeling too much ownership of the library. For example, they might get territorial about a favorite study carrel or study room, vandalize furniture or other library property, feel too much “at home” and act inappropriately or leave a mess, or get too loud and interfere with others’ use of the space. It is important to maintain a balance where students feel like they belong in the library, but not like they are the only ones who belong there.

How do your students take ownership of your library? Do you actively encourage it? If so, how?

(Academic) Library of Things

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I get really excited when I see an article about “The Most Interesting Things You Didn’t Know You Could Check Out at Your Library,” or some similarly clickbaity title. It’s a sure way to get me to click on a link, if I’m being honest; Libraries of Things fascinate me. But these articles are always about public libraries.

Not that I mind terribly; I’m an avid user of public libraries, too. I just wish more academic libraries were hopping aboard this particular bandwagon.

That’s not to say that there are no academic libraries circulating anything “unusual” or interesting. At my library, we circulate headphones, four kinds of chargers, a compact video camera, packs of dry erase markers for our study room walls, board games, and bone boxes (I should take this opportunity to remind you that I’m at the College of Medicine, so that isn’t quite as weird as it sounds). Some of these things are fairly standard; many libraries circulate headphones, for example. There probably aren’t as many with banker’s boxes of numbered bones on the shelves, but I highly doubt we’re the only ones. Many college and university libraries circulate iPads, laptops, or Chromebooks, or audiovisual equipment (though sometimes this falls under the umbrella of an IT department or elsewhere).

The reasoning behind the Weird Things Your Library Circulates (or, more formally, the Library of Things) is to provide access to something that library users would not otherwise have access to… like we already do with books and DVDs and articles, but with physical objects. The “Things” in “Library of Things” are often a piece of technology (like video game consoles or telescopes) or a luxury that would be prohibitively expensive for a user to buy outright (like sporting equipment, museum passes, and musical instruments) or an item that is intended for infrequent or one-time use, and therefore not worth the money for an individual user to buy (like specialty cake pans, Santa suits, or prom dresses). With the popularity of living minimally and the KonMari method, the last thing most people – even the ones who can afford these items – want is a large, infrequently-used, expensive item taking up valuable real estate in their living room. Some of the more specialized “weird” collections include seed libraries (check out seeds, grow the plant, and bring back new seeds), art lending libraries (borrow wall art to hang up at home for the duration of the checkout period), and human or living libraries (borrow a person and have a conversation or hear their stories).

Some of the “unusual” things public libraries circulate would not make much sense in most academic libraries: American Girl dolls, for example, would likely not have a high circulation rate at your average university. Snow shovels and tools might not be as popular among a population of students living in dorms who don’t have to do their own maintenance work. But this brings me to two points: One, some of the things they circulate would likely be popular at the right college or university. (Video game consoles and board games immediately come to mind, but kitchen appliances where dorms have kitchenettes, musical instruments, and sports/recreation equipment or passes appropriate to the local area would also all have piqued my interest as a student, personally.) And two, we don’t have to circulate the same “unusual” stuff as public libraries (though, honestly, it’s getting hard to think of something they haven’t tried already).

So why don’t more college and university libraries circulate “unusual” items? I can’t answer for everyone, but I have some guesses. One big one (that seems to be behind the answers to most “why don’t we…?” questions) is probably budget. It might be hard to explain to students and faculty why they can check out a ukulele and a Rothko print for their wall when we don’t provide access to their very expensive math textbook, or a full classroom set of The Tempest. Another reason I find pretty likely is that most colleges and universities have other spaces that are intended to fill these kinds of roles for students: Student centers might have game rooms, event spaces, and clubs that can provide leisure activity items, the music department often provides lender instruments for their students, and the gym has exercise and recreation equipment, so for the library to do something similar might seem redundant or out of place. The student center at my previous institution loaned out board games to students, so if the library had started to loan out board games, it might have been confusing or unnecessary.

What does your library loan out that isn’t your run-of-the-mill library holdings? How do you feel about it? What do you wish your library loaned out (either for selfish reasons, or in the interest of your students)?

From MLA to MLA: Citing at Different Libraries

Alex Harrington has recently moved from her Reference & Instruction Librarian position at Tidewater Community College in Virginia Beach, VA, to take the position of Access Services & Instruction Librarian at Penn State University’s Harrell Health Sciences Library in Hershey, PA.

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Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite library activity: citing your sources!

Citation is woven throughout the Framework. “Information Has Value” reminds us to give credit to others for their original work and addresses other issues of information ownership. “Research as Inquiry” makes sure we know to “follow ethical and legal guidelines in gathering and using information.” “Scholarship as Conversation” starts by telling us to “cite the contributing work of others.” I’ve also used many of the Framework’s bullet points about credibility and authority to explain to students how to read citations in a way that helps them select more appropriate sources. So what I’m saying is, if we’re talking about information literacy with our students, we’re addressing citation in some way.

I joked with colleagues at my former library that I, a self-professed citation nerd, would forget all I knew about MLA and APA style, and have to learn AMA, and join the… well, MLA. What I didn’t realize at the time was that, no, I probably won’t really learn how to cite in AMA from scratch, because we use citation managers here.

It just so happened that, shortly after I started, the former liaison to one of the departments I was inheriting was going to speak to that department about citation management programs. I tagged along, of course. While waiting for the meeting to begin, the former liaison asked me about which citation management programs we typically used at the community college, and I just sort of shrugged: “We didn’t.” The students were taught to cite from scratch, or (more often) use the databases’ built-in citation builders, and double-check them when they copy/paste into Word. I told him that we never had students using citation managers. Then I started to think about why that was.

Part of it simply comes down to a question of volume. Teaching the community college students to set up and use EndNote would take more time and effort than it would be worth for the three to five citations they need in their paper.

The lack of longevity of the need for those citations is another point. The community college students are far less likely to need to keep track of citations of sources on the same or similar topic for a long period of time, whereas medical researchers will likely want to refer back to citations they’ve used before, or keep track of them over the course of months or years. Similarly, the medical researchers may be publishing, and in multiple places, so it would be very time-consuming to rewrite the citations for each style they need, when a citation manager does it in seconds. The community college students likely only need to cite a given source once, in one style, for one class. If they have to switch to another style, they probably won’t be using the same sources they cited in another style. (For example: their history paper in Chicago style and their biology paper in APA usually won’t have any sources in common.)

In my experience, at the community college, it was also important to explain to students why citation is necessary. Many of them seem to think of it as something between unnecessary busy work and torture invented by cruel teachers. So explaining the concepts of “Scholarship as Conversation” and “Information Has Value” in a context that is relevant to their work is needed. At the medical school, that doesn’t need to be addressed in much detail, if at all. Most of the people who are citing things here are trying to get published, and if “correct citation is necessary for publication” is all they know, it’s a good enough reason for them. (If nothing else, the majority of the students at the medical school already have other college degrees, and have been through the citation talk that the community college students are getting.)

I think the other big difference and its reasoning can be compared to math. In elementary school, you learn basic mathematical functions, like subtraction, where they tell you that you can’t take a bigger number from a smaller number. At some point in middle school, you find out that is possible, because negative numbers exist, but you can’t take the square root of them. But in high school, you discover that you can, because imaginary numbers exist. You get the point. I’m seeing citation the same way. My community college students were taught the parts of a citation to make sure they know the fundamentals (like what all the pieces of information are, and how to read some of the common abbreviations), and if they wind up in a more advanced academic situation like med school, they become the students I have now, who know what a citation should look like (so if EndNote spits out something that looks totally wrong, they can identify that).

So I’m curious to hear about your experiences with citation at the different types of academic libraries you’ve worked in. Are your students using citation management programs like EndNote, Mendeley, and Zotero? Are they expected to cite “from scratch”? What is the attitude toward copy/pasting the pre-built citations from databases that provide that tool?

Displays in Academic Libraries

Whenever I’m running low on display ideas, I have my favorite go-to methods for finding ideas and inspiration: Consult Chase’s to find interesting or relevant upcoming holidays or anniversaries! Refer to my (admittedly, somewhat neglected) Pinterest board of ideas I wanted to remember for later! Or, when I’m really at a loss… just Google it (“[month] library displays”). I generally find plenty of good examples that way, but I’ve noticed that a lot of them come from children’s and teen librarians, and public libraries in general.

I worried for a while that this meant I was doing this part of my job wrong… Isn’t there a difference between public and academic displays? Shouldn’t there be?

I’ve heard a wide variety of opinions on the role of displays in academic libraries, including that they should…

  • …provide leisure or extracurricular reading for students who want a break.
  • …encourage involvement in student clubs, volunteer activities, or civic engagement.
  • …be directly related to coursework through a partnership with teaching faculty.
  • …encourage student success by promoting study skills and time management.
  • …be interactive.
  • …make users say, “I didn’t know the library had that!”
  • …be big and flashy and catch attention; if they go viral, you’re nailing it.
  • …be funny and light-hearted.
  • …be serious and scholarly.
  • …include handouts or other freebies / takeaways.
  • …tie into online research guides on a related topic, with QR codes or posted URLs.
  • …be used as a recruitment tool and encourage enrollment / registration.
  • …consist only of items that can be checked out.
  • …showcase archival or rare items (preferably under glass, lock, and key).
  • …target current students OR potential students OR everyone OR a specific club/group.
  • …be archived online for digital engagement with users who weren’t there in person.
  • …be the result of input or work from users themselves along with the library.

All of these are good suggestions in the right context, and I think a mix of these makes for a better collection of displays. I always like having a few “fun” displays and a few “serious” displays at the same time, to reach a wider audience and to show more of the types of things the library can provide. The only restriction should be fitting a need of your users, but users have a lot of needs, so you have a lot of options.

After being “the display person” for several years, I see displays as a visual place where you can see all of Ranganathan’s laws in play, and have tried to keep these concepts in mind when building displays. Books are for use: let them take a vacation from the shelf and get a little fresh air! Someone might pick them up serendipitously, when they would never have gone looking for them on the shelf. Every person their book: not only should collections reflect the needs and interests of the people, but the displays should too, in a more narrowly focused and temporary way. Every book its person: I find that displays are one way of checking on the interest in a topic or a specific item; if it doesn’t get used on the shelf and it doesn’t get used on display, you may want to reconsider its place in the collection. Save the time of the user: if you’re making timely displays with wide interest, the display may provide the user quicker access to the items they’re looking for. The library is a growing organism: use displays to highlight new items, or showcase interesting library services like 3D printing to remind users of all we have to offer them.

Note that, in the advice above, I didn’t mention anything exclusive to academic libraries, or exclusive of them, either. What that means, to me, is that I can unabashedly borrow ideas from public and children’s library displays, as long as they’re relevant to my library’s users as well. And when something doesn’t work, at least I learned from that idea. (Example: I have always been hesitant to do a “blind date with a book” for an academic library, because I worry that someone might go looking for a specific book that happened to be used in the display, and not be able to find it, whereas the public library (1) is more likely to have multiple copies of fiction titles, and (2) has more of a browsing collection, while we have more of a “searching” collection.)

What kinds of displays have you put up in your academic libraries? What have you had success with, and what did not work out so well? (Bonus points for sharing photos!)

How Vs. Why: A New Way to Look at Incorporating the Framework

This piece started out as my attempt to figure out how to write about the difficulties my community college colleagues and I have encountered when trying to find effective ways to incorporate the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education into our one-shot library instruction sessions. As I sorted out my thoughts on that topic, I saw a different, but related, question we should answer first: what is the balance of “library instruction” versus “information literacy instruction” we can and should achieve in this instruction session?

If I define “library instruction” as “teaching students about how to use the library’s resources and services” (whether that’s a point-and-click demonstration of a database, an explanation of what can be found in a subject-specific research guide, or answering questions about what services are provided at the reference and circulation desks) and “information literacy instruction” as, well, teaching what is found in the Framework (identifying authority, considering information’s value, understanding scholarship as a conversation), then I don’t think I’m making a bold statement by saying: “Library instruction is not the same as information literacy instruction.” To over-generalize a little, “library instruction” is the “how” of research, and “information literacy instruction” is the “why.” This is something we probably all already knew, but I had not thought about it in the context of answering the question of how to incorporate the Framework into my one-shots.

Both “how” and “why” instruction are important, and a student needs both to thrive in their research. If a student doesn’t have the nuts-and-bolts information of how to access a database in the first place, how are they supposed to apply the information literacy concepts that help them choose a high-quality, reliable, scholarly article from that database? On the other hand, if we don’t allot enough time to evaluating one’s sources, the student might just choose the first article that pops up in the database, without critically considering its authority or value. We need to strike a balance between the two, but what is the right balance? There is, obviously, no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. It will vary based on the course, the instructor, the students, the assignment, and the librarian.

The next question, for advanced users, is: can I fit both “how” and “why” into the same activity? For a little further reading, this is the article I was reading when this new question clicked for me. I realized that I do the things that Shawna Thorup describes, such as doing on-the-fly searches for the students’ suggested topics without knowing what the results will be. This squeezes “Searching as Strategic Exploration” into the same activity that used to be just demonstrating the use of a tool. You get a two-for-the-price-of-one experience if you use your demo time to explain why a student might want to use limiters like “peer-reviewed only”: they know how to do it and they also know why they should do it. (Bonus points when they understand if they should do it!)

I know that none of this is revolutionary, but for me at least, it is a new way of looking at an old question, and I hope that it might help you approach that question in a new way in the new year.