5 Things I Didn’t Realize I’d Be Working on…

… When I Decided to Become a Librarian
(The alternate title for this was: Thank Goodness I Went to Syracuse’s iSchool)

For some time now there has been talk of how the roles of librarians are changing, and recently I find myself working on a variety of projects that I imagine are a bit removed from what librarians of yore might have been up to. Perhaps the fact that I find these projects 100 percent relevant to the academic library where I work, and am happy to take them on in my capacity as a reference and instruction librarian, further reflects the changes in the profession. So I thought I’d share some of those projects and see if anybody’s with me:

1. Authentication
Students log into programs (i.e. for course management, registration, email, etc.) run by their school, and then they need a separate authentication to access library resources? This actively discourages them from using the library. A single login is a usability priority. Once users are authenticated as enrolled, active students, they should be able to access all of the services the college provides to them — including all of the library resources and services.

2. Mobile Platforms
A few weeks ago I had my first patron complain about how she couldn’t connect to library databases with her Blackberry. (Our authentication system doesn’t allow it. See #1.) So now I am learning about mobile platforms. Luckily there are lots of librarians already working on this.

3. Course Management Systems
Online students may never come to the physical library building, but they can still benefit from the library’s array of online resources. Putting these online resources seamlessly into their classrooms is the next step. Students no longer have to go to the library for the materials needed for their classes — the library can come to them. We can put reserve materials, information literacy activities, catalog and database search boxes, etc. DIRECTLY into their class spaces. This is why instructional design is so important to me right now.

4. Unofficial Student Technical Support
Daily, I find myself solving common technical problems of students that are not just limited to printing and word processing. Even if I am not officially tech support, I am an adult sitting at a desk in a public space surrounded by computers, so guess what? I am going to answer a variety of computer questions. I know some librarians resent this, and I am never happy when a technical problem interrupts a research question, but most technical problems are things I have encountered myself and can solve quickly, or are ultimately relevant to my own computer use.

5. Making and Editing Videos
If we do not get to work with our students in person, we need to provide online help. And ultimately how would be best to do this? With fun and exciting video tutorials, naturally! Maybe I should have gone to film school after all. There is a lot of relatively inexpensive software available now to make and edit your own videos for the purpose of training. It is true that these can take a lot of time and thought, but when done well they can be extremely effective, provide help 24/7, and replace the need for repeated explanations of simple instructions from librarians.

I am sure there are plenty of other examples, but these are what I have for now. Please feel free to chime in!

Adventures in Wonderland

Here’s an interesting blog post that was recently brought to my attention.  Olivia (my fellow first-year-blogger) and I were going to both make comments, because there’s lots of great stuff here that is useful both for long-time librarians and newbies like us.  Unfortunately Olivia had to bow out of this joint project, though she did provide many of the links. (Thanks, Olivia!!) And she’s promised another great post soon, so I’m looking forward to that as well.

So let’s head down the rabbit hole…

First off, here’s John Dupuis’s post at Confessions of a Science Librarian.

So he’s got 29 reports listed in the link above.  And to make it easy here are all the links to posts by our own bloggers about the same reports

1. The question they forgot to ask
2. Sudden thoughts
3. Is this new OCLC report worth it?
4. Takes more than blogs
4. Some thoughts on privacy
6. Renting keys to walled gardens
16. Real faculty in our minds alone
20. Digital scholarship reconsidered
22. Three new things
22. The more we know
22. Learning from the work
23. Waste of time
26. Digital scholarship beyond the sciences
28. Transformational times
29. Academic research a painful process

 It’s amazing to me the wealth of information available about the future of our profession.  For example: I was considering starting a library blog.  It wouldn’t be anything fancy, just a way to let students know what’s new and interesting, and maybe provide a review or two.  But in November I read the post StephenB made about the report Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World. (#4, above)  It made me rethink *why* I wanted to start a library blog, and *what* I thought it would do. 

 

Last semester, our first semester in operation at this branch campus, I taught a lot of “intro to the library” drop-in sessions.  This semester I’m doing other things, most notably with the English and History classes, about library research.  And I proceeded to promptly hit the wall called IAKT (“I Already Know This”).  Since then I’ve read the 2008 ECAR Study, another offering by StevenB, (#23, above) and know I’m not alone!  Now I’m working on a plan to get the faculty more involved, and researching best teaching practices on the ILI-L listserv.  I might have just kept doing the “same-old, same-old” and not making any headway at all had I not seen this post and the link to this study.

So I’ve bookmarked John Dupuis’s blog post, and I plan to slowly but surely read my way through these reports and follow all the interesting rabbit trails.  Which only goes to confirm my nerdiness because I am definitely looking forward to it!

The Book of Dead Philosophers

I will continue with my silly-yet-very-librarianish method of naming my posts after books, just because I can.  Since my husband (a philosophy professor) enticed me with this book title the other day, it seemed very appropriate to use it for the post I was planning to write.  So, I ask, are books dead?  That seems to be a big question here on our campuses lately.  We’re under a huge budget proration right now, and of course the library got hit very hard (I can’t order pencils, much less books, these days!)  Somehow the administration doesn’t quite recognize [understand? acknowledge?] that libraries are not static collections.  We need to continually add books to our collection which will support our programs, as well as weed those titles that may be significantly out of date.  (Yes, this library has only been open since last August, but the bulk of my monograph collection came from another branch and contains many old, dusty, nearly useless books.)  So I desperately need to order new nursing titles, recent books on history and literature, and some fun-interesting-useful books for general consumption.  Alas, that may not happen this year, nor next year if the budget doomsayers prove correct.

 

I’m not completely without resources, though.  I have some generous donors who have given several boxes of general fiction, which I accepted happily and joyfully.  Even though Dean Koontz and Nora Roberts may not fit our academic programs, they play an important role here.  So many of our students need remedial work in reading and composition, and what better way to help them than by providing fun books to read and enjoy?  I find that students new to the library look surprised when they see Douglas Sparks, Tolkien, and Robin Cook face out on a display table, right next to resume and interview guides.  I’ve even had one or two ask, “Wow – do people still read?”  I encourage all my students to try a book or two.  Some take me up on it, and some don’t.  But those that do often come back for more, and that is a highlight of my day.

 

So I ask again… are books dead?   And if not, how can we get more books into the hands of folks who need to read?  And an even better question, how do we get the word out to the college administration and corporate bean-counters that library budgets actually do serve a purpose?

Life with Technology

Whether we enjoy it or not, all of us academic librarians work with technology every day — assisting patrons, providing new services, and completing the myriad tech chores that are part of working in libraryland. I’ve starting noticing some technology patterns at my workplace and have summarized them below. Please share other insights and examples.

#1 Technology functions best when it doesn’t feel like a lumbering intermediary between you and a task to be accomplished. Technology is the means of doing something, not the ends. Often when technology really works, it is due to the design. You can have the smartest underlying program in the world and it won’t matter if the user interface is terrible.

Twitter, the Flip camcorder, and google search are examples of technologies that are so intuitively easy to use that you barely feel their presence. For some people it’s a Blackberry, kindle, or ipod. A certain operating system comes to mind when I try and think of examples of technologies that seem to interfere rather than assist, but I won’t name names.

#2 There is a sweet spot of technology-related frustration people will endure before they give up. If a technology seems complicated, if it doesn’t work, fails too often, creates messes etc., people won’t believe in it, and so they won’t buy into it or start depending on it in their everyday lives.

Accessing the library online for course readings can be a real headache, for example, which is why I’m so intent on putting the library in the online classroom more seamlessly, and why I’m taking a class on instructional design right now. As I take this class, I’m noticing that if I can get away with not doing a reading because it involves an aggravating process of tracking down the full text, my impulse is to abandon it rather than raise my blood pressure.

Of course, the amount of frustration a person is willing to endure depends on the individual. There are some people who will stick with a technology just because they’re in love with a gadget or want to look cool. And then there are people who will give up with the slightest provocation, claiming they’re too old, don’t have time, are not good with computers, etc.

The other day I helped a student who was trying to print a document due for a class. It turned out that the network cable was broken on the machine she was using. She did not have a way to save the document. The first floppy disk we tried failed, at which point she stormed out of the library. I tried to catch her when the second floppy worked, but she was gone.

#3 People will persist with a technology even when it’s not working if forced, or if the fact that it’s superior is considered common knowledge. They will also persist if the technology allows them to accomplish the task faster: Speed trumps everything.

I’ve also helped students who have been wrangling with their online course management system for hours. Heck, typing a paper on a computer, printing it, and turning it in is an ordeal for many of the students I see, but they persist because they are required to for their classes.

Another example of this is cell phones: for all their patchy service & fees, nothing beats the convenience of having a phone (and that’s a low-end application of a cell phone) on you at all times.

#4 If you’ve wondered whether there’s a technology out there like the one you’re imagining, there probably is.

If I can think of an application I want, google is often two steps ahead of me. This is both comforting and a little scary. If not google, some smart tech-savvy person generally knows of a solution. At least, I never feel I am alone in my wrangling with technology — Thank goodness for online communities.

This is just a basic round-up of my thinking. Further thoughts are very welcome!

Purgatorio

I have a dilemma.  It is one that puts me in direct conflict with myself, and is remotely related to my post from November about where to draw the line when helping patrons.  We received a new printer/copier for student use back in October.  It has a document server that allows students to select the document they want to print and combines that with a coin-operated printing system.  For the most part, it works exactly the way it should, and should save me having to take printing payments every few minutes.

 

However, even after two months of usage, students still look on it with fear and trembling and ask my help over and over and over again.  I have a large sign with step-by-step instructions, complete with pictures of all the relevant bits.  It’s a four step process.  Put your money in.  Press the “Document Server” button.  Use the touch screen to highlight your document.  Press Start.  I even have instructions at each computer workstation: Print as you would normally.  Walk to the printer.  Follow the instructions printed there.

 

But this is what actually happens: the student prints, then comes to me at the desk.  “Did my syllabus print?”  I point to the large printer four steps to my left, and show them the instructions on the wall above the machine.  I continue my work (or my discussion with the student I am helping) and listen for the sounds of the printer.  As soon as I am free again, I look over.  The student is usually still standing there, staring at the machine.  I walk over, and ask them if they need help.  They have a panicked look, and say “I don’t know what to do!”  I walk them through, step by step.  “Oh – I didn’t see the instructions,” is quickly followed by “That was easy!” 

 

OK, I get that initial reaction.  New technology can be intimidating.  There’s a fear of breaking the machine, or messing it up somehow.  But the same student will come back two hours later and we will repeat the process, almost word for word.  I spent over *four hours* yesterday showing the nursing students – over and over – how to use the printer.  And they used it last semester!

 

However, even after two months of usage, students still look on it with fear and trembling and ask my help over and over and over again.  I have a large sign with step-by-step instructions, complete with pictures of all the relevant bits.  It’s a four step process.  Put your money in.  Press the “Document Server” button.  Use the touch screen to highlight your document.  Press Start.  I even have instructions at each computer workstation: Print as you would normally.  Walk to the printer.  Follow the instructions printed there.

 

So I ask those wiser than myself: how do you teach folks how to use the technology so they become self-sufficient? More importantly, is there some kind of trick to creating printed instructions that actually are useful to a new user?  I really do want to help, but I also can’t afford to spend half of every day just helping people print.