Engaging in Outreach Efforts & Meaningful Community Building

As a MLIS student at San Jose State University (SJSU), I often read about the importance of promoting library services through outreach efforts. During that time, I ran across the following quote that illustrates this point, and it continues to resonate with me:

Gone are the days when libraries can simply open their doors and expect to be perceived as the number one option for information services. With fierce competition for funding and more people assuming everything offered by a library can be found online, libraries are feeling the pressure to blow their own horn (Hallmark et al., 2007).

Last year, I started as a Lecturer Librarian at CSU Northridge. Since I began in the summer of 2023, I did not immediately have instruction requests or deadlines for collection development. Instead, I directed my attention to outreach opportunities, which continued to be part of my priorities throughout the fall and even now in the spring. I work closely with the Outreach Librarian to deliver outreach programming to keep patrons abreast of upcoming library events, and to promote library collection materials by designing book displays. I have collaborated with faculty, staff, students, and community members to make these events successfully happen. So far, I have remained committed to outreach efforts by participating in the “Ask a Librarian” tabling events, the Resources & Services Fair, the New Student Orientation, CSUN Open House, National Transfer Student Week, and library tours for K-12 students. I am particularly proud of my involvement in creating virtual and in-person book displays for Latinx Heritage Month and Black History Month.

While the outreach opportunities mentioned above have been quite rewarding, I was curious to participate in wider campus efforts centered on outreach and community building. Late last fall, I was selected to be a Library Liaison for the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) at CSU Northridge. This office strives to enhance academic experiences through community-based (service) learning, engaged research and sustained partnerships within the San Fernando Valley, and the greater Los Angeles Area. In my role, I support faculty members as they develop community-engaged projects and/or courses. Faculty members receive support in creating syllabi that outline community-based learning outcomes centered on equity, diversity, and inclusion. I expect that I will also recommend community-engaged readings, and activities for their syllabi.

Since I’m serving in the inaugural cohort, the other Library Liaisons and I have been working on recruitment. During our last departmental meeting, we offered our librarian colleagues a brief overview about the OCE, and we introduced them to grant opportunities designed for faculty members committed to community-engaged courses, projects, research, or creative activities. Additionally, I have been spreading awareness about the OCE to professors and lecturers in the department of Central American & Transborder Studies. After I teach my information literacy sessions, I’ll typically pitch an elevator speech to these faculty members. Usually, faculty members teaching Ethnic Studies already incorporate community-building into the design of their courses, which makes them great candidates.

Overall, I’m hoping my efforts evolve into effective partnerships, so that I may further engage in meaningful practices centered on community building and social justice. I’m definitely in the early stages of developing my own approach towards outreach and community service. I was hoping to hear from experienced academic librarians. Would anyone be willing to share their own strategies?

Dwindling Reference Questions

“If you build it, [will] they will come[?]”

As another season of baseball is just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about ways to get hits and avoid strikes—so decided to break out a classic quotation from Field of Dreams and apply it to academic libraries. In recent years, our library has seen dwindling reference questions. We’re not getting nearly the number of students at our front desk asking questions, nor making as many appointments with librarians, compared to pre-pandemic.

I’m not totally sure what to make of this. I can’t imagine students not needing library services, such as help with literature searching, questions about using databases, or help with citation management software. Not to pump our tires up too much, but these skills typically don’t come intuitively or out of thin air—at least at the level academic librarians support students. Our help is still needed, but without students seeking us out to get that help, we’re missing out on a huge number of opportunities to make students’ lives easier. We want to help.

I suspect that in our post-pandemic era, a ‘generation’ of students don’t have the same familiarity with libraries as they did in previous generations. Did these students miss out on using their high school libraries when they were completing high school largely from home? Did social interactions change post-pandemic? Do students prefer online reference questions and consultations, rather than in-person? And is this affecting the number of questions we’d normally get?

While this is a problem, there’s also opportunity; opportunity to devote more time to seeking in-class instruction—where you seek students out and not vice-versa; opportunity to work on offering enhanced library services; opportunity to plan library events; and more.

I’ve thought about how to address shrinking reference questions. If you assess the number and type of reference questions you’re getting, and it’s different from before—such as fewer or simpler questions—in broad strokes you can approach the issue from a couple perspectives:

  • You can make decisions reactively (e.g. less library staff at the front desk, shorter library or front desk hours), or
  • You can make decisions proactively (e.g. broad, university-wide promotion strategies to inform students what library staff can do for them, reinforce there are no stupid questions and it’s worth getting help from library staff).

Whichever approach you take, you need to think about your goal: are you reacting to fewer reference questions to maintain the status quo or are you proactively trying strategies to ensure students are getting the help they need, and meeting them where you are?

I always think that if we build it, they will come. But maybe we have to tell them what we’ve built. And one thing’s for sure: we must think hard about what to build.

Unveiling the Deceptive Duo: Inclusive Access and Equitable Access – A Threat to Student Choice and Library Reserves

Academic libraries have a new battle on the horizon: inclusive access and equitable access. These two models are the newest ventures of bookstore vendors to get students to purchase costly textbooks and other course materials. Stealing library jargon to disguise the truth, bookstore vendors are advertising inclusive access and equitable access as being a positive move for universities. These models, however, are far from it.

Inclusive Access

Bookstore vendors market this option as being convenient for faculty and students as students are guaranteed access to course materials on the first day of class. Sounds great, doesn’t it? At first glance, it appears to be truly inclusive; however, this option is deceptive. When faculty choose to use inclusive access, they select their textbook and/or access codes for homework as they normally would. Then, instead of students purchasing these materials on their own, students are billed an additional charge for their tuition to include the cost of the course materials. This means students lose the ability to buy used versus new as well as shop around for their course materials (e.g., Amazon). According to these vendors, they do provide students with an “opt-out” option. The problem with this “opt-out” option is two-fold. One, the ability to “opt-out” is not communicated clearly to students. Bookstore vendors tend to use intimidating language that ultimately prevents students from opting out. Two, if students “opt-out” of an access code needed to complete their homework, they are unable to submit their homework; therefore, they will likely fail the class. How is that inclusive?

Equitable Access

While I had heard of inclusive access, the equitable access model was unbeknownst to me until recently. According to bookstore vendors, equitable access is a model that, like inclusive access, ensures that all students have access to their required course materials on the first day of class. Prior to classes beginning, students would receive a box of all of their needed materials. Again, this sounds great, doesn’t it? The catch is found in how students are billed for these materials. Once faculty make their textbook and course material selections, the university divides the total cost of all faculty-selected items amongst all students. Then, every student is charged the same “textbook cost” fee as part of their tuition and fees. While this may be beneficial to students majoring in subjects such as chemistry or accounting, majors notorious for high textbook costs, this is a huge disservice to majors with historically low textbook costs, such as English or history. This model also takes away the ability for students to shop around for cheaper alternatives to new textbooks and provides zero transparency in how much their materials actually cost. This means that a student who could purchase all of their textbooks used for a total of $30 could instead be charged $600. How is that equitable?

Contract Limitations for Academic Libraries

In addition to the effect inclusive and equitable access models have on students, the contracts to implement them can severely impact and even eliminate libraries’ efforts in providing course reserves and other textbook support to students. For instance, one bookstore vendor’s contract explicitly prohibits libraries from purchasing a copy of a course textbook to place on reserve in the library for students to check out. With the equitable access model, libraries would be completely written out of the textbook equation. If universities began shifting towards these models, my position as an Affordability and Digital Initiatives Librarian, as well as similar positions, would be eliminated, and the major strides made in providing true equitable access to textbooks through academic libraries would come to a halt.

Federal Intervention

The good news is that the Department of Education is aware of and currently discussing these misleading models. As the Biden-Harris administration works towards adopting more open policies, they have turned their focus towards higher education. More specifically, on January 2, 2024, the Department of Education released six issue papers with proposals for more student-friendly policies. One of these papers propose to “eliminate the provision allowing institutions to include the cost of books and supplies as part of tuition and fees.” If passed, this proposal would be a huge win for academic libraries.

You can find out more information about the Department of Education’s movement to restrict these models at https://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/reg/hearulemaking/2023/program-integrity-and-institutional-quality-session-1-issue-paper-cash-management-final.pdf

Supervising a Makerspace: Musings from the Fall

This semester, Stego Studio, our library’s makerspace, moved into the department I oversee. This makerspace opened up around the time I arrived at my institution (fall 2021) and I’ve watched, from a distance, as the studio has grown and evolved. I was excited but also slightly overwhelmed when I was asked to oversee this space (and supervise our makerspace coordinator). It has been a semester of learning and stretching and I’m excited for what’s to come. As we wrap up this year, I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve had this fall as the makerspace takes up more and more of my work brain.

My past experiences with makerspaces

Before Stego Studio, when I thought about makerspaces, I thought about my graduate work. During my first year in graduate school, I was part of a grant that focused on digital literacy in the local community. One of the partners on the grant was the local FabLab. I myself worked at a community space and would negotiate with the FabLab about technology the community space needed. As I got started on the grant, I spent some time in the FabLab, trying to learn more about their technologies and space. In particular, I had no knowledge of 3D printing and couldn’t quite wrap my mind around what you do with 3D printing. During those first visits, I felt excluded in the space. I didn’t have the expertise to join the conversations happening around me and I didn’t feel like my own making experience was valued. In the end, I stuck to more work around using the Cricut and using a laser cutter. This level of making ended up working best with the community center and students in that space.

Since that first experience with a FabLab, I’ve continued to make in my own way. I embroider and I make zines and I learned more about makerspaces that contained textile equipment like sewing machines and other paper crafts. I also learned more about 3D printing when I worked at Penn State and was working next to our Media Commons (which housed over 30 printers!). I still couldn’t quite see the use case for me, but I finally started to have a better sense of how the technology worked and the language I needed to be a part of the conversation.  

I’m thinking so much about my past experiences because now I have a chance to help shape how our community interacts with our makerspace. I want to help folks understand the power of these spaces and be able to understand what they can do in this space. And I want to make sure the work of the makerspace is communicated in a way that resonates with folks. I think my past experiences help guide me in how to talk about this work and how to connect it to folks who might be new to this area. 

Information Literacy & Maker Literacies

As we wrap up the semester, I’m thinking a lot about the intersections between makerspace instruction and one-shot information literacy instruction. How do we as a department weave these two instruction programs together? How do we collectively talk about teaching that spans from discussing Google’s algorithm, to slicing a 3D model before we print it, to using keywords to find peer-reviewed sources, to evaluating the worthiness of an article or even a design we might print or laser cut? And how does the team of educators in this department learn from our makerspace coordinator and vice versa? I see a long runway here and am itching to really dig into these conversations and connections and ideas.  

Student Impact

Our makerspace has also had some great news coverage recently (story 1 and story 2). Stego Studio has been collaborating with an Honors class and a local community organization, Clovernook, to 3D print objects that help tell a story to blind and visually impaired students in Africa. For these stories, I was down in the makerspace, listening to our students talk about their work and their learning. Many students had wanted to learn about 3D printing but hadn’t had the chance to learn. This class not only provided them an opportunity to support a larger community, but also gain those skills through trial and error. As I watched one student explain, in-depth, how they took different models and modeled them together, I was reminded of the impact this space has. And the potential this space has if we are able to create more learning opportunities, both curricular and co-curricular

What’s Ahead

It’s time for me to jump more fully into makerspaces in 2024. We’re building infrastructure, processes, and expanding our awareness across campus. Those things (infrastructure, process, and outreach) feel like skills I have and am good at. What I’m less confident in is my language around what happens inside makerspaces. I am grateful I’m entering a niche within the field where so much has been done and discussed. I’ve picked up Re-Making the Library Makerspace: Critical Theories, Reflections, & Practices  and look forward to engaging with the ideas presented in the chapters and learning from folks across the field. I’m grateful for an enthusiastic and creative makerspace coordinator who I’m learning from each day. I’m also grateful for a supportive supervisor (whose work is featured in a Re-Making the Library Makerspace chapter) who has experience in this area and is coaching me on how to do this work. I’m excited to have gotten the chance to work with makerspaces again and look forward to what’s to come in the new year.

Generative AI & the Evolution of Academic Librarianship

During my first week as an academic librarian, many faculty discussions on campus were regarding the issue of generative AI software, such as ChatGPT. A majority of the faculty at a panel discussion held on campus about AI expressed concerns over plagiarism, copyright, academic integrity, etc. Those on the panel, however, commented on how beneficial using AI was. When asked more specifically on what faculty should do to combat potential cheating from using generative AI, the panel seemed in agreeance on an answer: educate your students on how to responsibly use AI.

I will admit; prior to starting my career as an academic librarian, I had never used generative AI. Of course, I saw generative AI blasted all over the news and saw updates on sites and apps like Snapchat, but I never understood what generative AI was. I did not have any interest in learning about it either. After attending the panel discussion, however, I was reminded of a book I read called Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson. I was assigned to read Who Moved My Cheese? by a professor in graduate school and often refer back to it (I highly recommend reading it if you have not already done so). The book explains how change can happen unexpectedly, and when it does, it is better to adapt and move forward than be left behind. Feeling like I was being left behind while other faculty embraced generative AI, I decided to learn as much as I could about it.

Although I read numerous articles and watched hours of YouTube videos, I was still confused as to how generative AI worked. Near the end of August, my dean notified the library faculty of a course offered through ALA’s eLearning platform. The course was titled Exploring AI with Critical Information Literacy and taught by Sarah Morris. I enrolled in the course and learned about the development and usage of generative AI and machine learning, current discussions around AI, opportunities and challenges for AI usage in higher education, and how to engage AI as an academic librarian. Throughout the course, we examined AI through a critical lens and discussed strategies for AI to be incorporated at our own institutions. I enjoyed the course and found the lesson on prompt engineering to be the most intriguing.

One of the ways in which academic librarians can enter the generative AI realm in higher education is through teaching faculty and students prompt engineering. Prompt engineering is strategizing your generative AI input to obtain your desired output. While one can simply ask ChatGPT a standard question, prompt engineering recommends telling ChatGPT through what lens to answer the question. For example, if I was wondering how to craft a lesson for my class on implicit bias, I could plainly input:

“What lesson on implicit bias could I give my college class?”

Using prompt engineering, a better input would be:

“Act like an Academic Librarian teaching a college course on critical thinking. Design a lesson about implicit bias. Include topics for the class to discuss in small groups.”

While the results appeared similar, the detailed prompt elicited a result more applicable to my course by covering topics such as bias in information sources and media literacy.

Another way academic librarians can educate faculty and students on generative AI is on responsible use. More specifically, we can create lessons and workshops around copyright, academic integrity, and the reliability of the output. I tried this with my critical thinking class. I first introduced the university’s academic integrity policy, including definitions of cheating and plagiarism. Because the majority of my class was unfamiliar with generative AI, I briefly explained how generative AI worked. Afterwards, I had the students discuss the potential benefits and challenges of using generative AI. Using my personal account (my university does not support the use of ChatGPT), I asked ChatGPT and had the students read the output. I stressed that when used responsibly, ChatGPT can be a great resource for brainstorming; however, I cautioned my students from using it for writing assignments due to plagiarism, copyright infringement, and incorrect information. To illustrate this point further, I informed my students of the two attorneys in New York who acquired case law through ChatGPT. The attorneys did not fact-check the case law, and the judge discovered that the case law actually did not exist. The cases ChatGPT cited were made up. Overall, the lesson was a success. Many students chose to explore generative AI in more depth for the final projects.

By embracing generative AI, academic librarians can increase their skillset and become a useful resource for faculty and students navigating the rapidly evolving world of AI. It will be interesting to learn about how varying universities respond, if they have not done so already. I imagine we will see new policies implemented on campus, positions established, and roles altered.