Test for E.C.H.O.

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Marc Mason, Library Undergraduate Services Associate at Arizona State University Libraries.

I had one of those days today. One of those rare ones, the kind of day where you walk around with a little more bounce in your step, your chin tilted a bit higher. It was a day where – hallelujah! – validation rained down upon my shoulders and washed away some of the frustrations I’ve felt lately on the job.

We could all use a few more of those days. Mine came about courtesy of our university’s International Students and Scholar Center. Prior to school starting, they held a day-long conference for all incoming international graduate students. This is the second time that the ISSC has put on this conference, and they have generously included me as a breakout session speaker each time. Last time out, around 20 students came to my talk, which I will admit was disappointing. I suppose the competition during that time slot was fierce, but my library-guy pride to this day still kind of believes it can’t have been that fierce and more students should have come to see me.

Arrogance? Sure. But I think libraries could use a little more swagger.

Because of that tiny turnout last time, I had little in the way of expectations going into this second conference. So it was more than a bit shocking when I arrived at my room to set up and saw that there were 240 chairs arranged in the audience. I can take a joke at my expense, but this had the look of something that was going to be embarrassing. I swear I felt my sense of pride start to shrivel. The time ticked down. The previous session finished. I held my breath.

A flood of people poured into my room. 180 of them as a matter of fact.

Floating on air, I did my thing, offering up the library services I wanted them to know about, and keeping them laughing all the way through. When I was done, over two dozen stayed to talk to me further. Like I said: it was incredibly validating. May each and every one of you have a day like that, and soon – that’s my wish for you.

I’ve been working with the international population for over seven years now, and in general, it is always my favorite part of my job (even when it isn’t one of “those” days). The opportunity to meet and teach people from all over the world is truly a gift. It has also put me in a position to speak at conferences on international student topics and to meet amazing colleagues from across the country in the process. It has given me the opportunity to see humanity in an incredible light, and to truly take a stand for tolerance. I would not trade it for anything. My job gives me the chance to continuously learn, both on an academic and on a cultural level.

I have occasionally been asked about best practices for working with international students, and with that in mind, I decided to put into words how I go about working with these student populations and their extraordinary cultural differences. I call it “Test for E.C.H.O.”

E stands for Empathy: The first thing you can do is show your capability for understanding. These folks have traveled thousands upon thousands of miles to be at your institution. Sometimes they have traveled for almost three days depending on long layovers. They’re far from home, they cannot get home easily, and everything is somewhat scary. The signage is in a second language. The odds of any random cashier speaking their native tongue is slim. Local foods may not sit well with their digestive systems for a while and they may get sick for the first few weeks of being here. Oh, and they may not see their families for a year or better. The whole process can be wildly intimidating, and all it takes is one bad interaction with a local to make them question their life decisions.

Don’t be that local. Keep some of the above in your mind and let it guide you in how you approach working with these students.

C stands for Care: After you have shown empathy, follow that up by demonstrating that you believe that they matter. That you care about them as fellow human beings. Don’t allow that physical distance they’ve traveled to become an emotional one as well. (Life need not always batter us with metaphors.) I can’t even begin to tell you how many students I have worked with over the last few years who responded to simple moments of genuine caring. Creating that connection grounds that student to the university and provides them a human connection to their educational experience.

Be that connection. It’s great for them, and I promise it’s great for you as well.

H stands for Humor: Different cultures have different senses of humor, that much is certain. But laughter creates a bond between you and the international student that will be of enormous benefit.

There is a tendency among many in our profession to take themselves very, very seriously. And I get that – we are the gatekeepers for information, freedom fighters against the tyranny of government overreach, yadda yadda yadda. However, that seriousness can also be rather intimidating, not just for our international students, but for all students. This sometimes places our expectations for students far out of reach for where their real capabilities lie. If and when that happens, students start avoiding the library, seeing it as a foreboding place where they do not belong.

We never want them to feel like they don’t belong. Right? So be silly. Tell a joke that revolves around a pop cultural artifact that has worldwide appeal. No matter where we are from, certain things are popular. Star Wars, Beyonce, Harry Potter… it isn’t difficult to find common ground. Use it to get some laughs, put their minds at ease, and create a learning experience they will never forget.

O stands for Optimism: And finally, help these students believe. When you are working and learning in a second language, particularly one as difficult as English, confidence is a fragile thing. Setbacks can be crippling, and doubts about one’s ability to succeed (not to mention the time and money put into coming to the U.S.) can set in quickly. Numerous students have shared their “I almost quit” stories with me since I started working with this population, and they all have pretty much the same plot: a failure of some sort, painful phone calls to friends/confidants expressing regret and fear, worries about how family may react when they go home in “disgrace,” and (for those who stuck it out) a eureka moment where they got the right help to carry them through their struggles.

A librarian can be that help. Be that help.

When working with an international learner, using phrases like “yes, you’ve got this” or “I can tell you understand this stuff” can make a massive difference as that student continues working through their assignments. The reassurance of an expert goes a long way towards solidifying confidence and building a strong mindset for success. And they’ll remember the part you played in that success, I promise you.

The world isn’t slowing down anytime soon, and neither is the influx of international students to U.S. schools. Cultural literacy and competency is going to become one of the most critical skills our library staff can possess. So as you find yourself working with this population – whether individually or whole classes – take just a moment to remind yourself to test for E.C.H.O. Trust me – you’ll be glad you did. And you’ll have more than a few of those kinds of days.

News From An Academic Library in Japan

It is now just over two weeks since the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. We have all seen the images of massive destruction, heard and read the stories of death and suffering, and witnessed the fortitude of the Japanese citizens as they attempt to return to normalcy despite the ongoing severity of the crisis in their country. There’s nothing I could say or tell you about what is happening in Japan that would be more insightful or eloquent than what Garr Reynolds shared.

In 2009 my library was visited by three academic librarians from Tohoku University. Even though we spent just one day together, we learned a great deal from each other. They were eager to hear about our information literacy initiative because that is something still rare among academic libraries in Japan. We were curious about the Japanese system of higher education, and how academic libraries were operated (for example, the Dean of Libraries is often a non-librarian faculty member). Tomoe Hanzawa was the lead librarian of the visiting group; she was the best English speaker and did the translating. In the wake of the news coming out of Japan my thoughts turned to Tomoe and her colleagues. She is the librarian at the Science and Engineering Library at Tohoku, which I thought was in the region where the earthquake struck, but I needed to check on that. Sure enough, Tohoku is in the Northern region of Japan, but not among the cities that took a direct hit from the tsunami.

I e-mailed Tomoe to try to get some news. I was hoping to hear that she and her colleagues were safe, and that hopefully her institution had been spared much damage. I heard nothing for a week. Then finally, last Tuesday I received a response. The good news was that she and her colleagues had survived the earthquake and were safe. Tomoe did not have access to e-mail until the electricity was restored, but she said she was glad to hear from me – and she was thankful that American academic librarians were seeking news about their fellow librarians in Japan. While Tohoku University was spared the complete destruction that occurred in other cities owing to its more Northern location, there was still extensive damage to the campus. Yesterday, Tomoe shared a few photos with me so I could get a sense of the damage at her library:

This first photo is a scene from the Reading Room:

Scene from the Library Reading Room. The stacks are still standing.
Scene from the Library Reading Room. The stacks are still standing.

The journal collection was hit hard:

Hardly a volume is left on the shelves in the periodicals stacks - but again - the shelves are standing
Hardly a volume is left on the shelves in the periodicals stacks - but again - the shelves are standing

As you might expect, given the first two photos, a great deal of clean up work will be needed in the main book stacks:

Significant damage in the library book stacks
Significant damage in the library book stacks

The severity of the damage appears worst in the microforms area:

Heavy cabinets tossed around like toys by the quake
Heavy cabinets tossed around like toys by the quake

Tomoe sent me photos that showed other damage caused by the earthquake including cracks in the interior walls of the Library, and cracks and other problems on the building exteriors. But given the severity of the earthquake it’s amazing that the buildings are still standing – and we’ve all heard much about how the Japanese engineer their buildings to withstand quakes.

I was glad to learn, that despite the physical damage at Tohoku University, Tomoe and her colleagues are safe and starting to recover – and that is going to take a long time. But things are far worse in other parts of Japan. I hope to learn more about anything specific that we can do to help our academic library colleagues in Japan. Right now, they are just trying to figure out the extent of the damage, and how they can restore some degree of normalcy. I will stay in touch with Tomoe to see if there is any way we can provide assistance. For now, the best way to help is to make a generous contribution to any of the several charitable organizations accepting donations. If you have any news of other Japanese universities impacted by the earthquake or tsunami please share what you have learned.

Many of us are headed to ACRL in Philadelphia to learn, to share and to enjoy each other’s company. As we have these experiences, let’s not forget that our fellow academic librarians in Japan are having a completely different experience – and let’s think about how we can help them as they seek to recover from what will likely be one of the worst natural disasters of the 21st century.

UPDATE – 3/30/11: I received an update from Tomoe in which she let me know she and her colleagues are already hard at work putting the library back to normal. See here. AMAZING!

Interest Group Advances Services To International Students

Did you know that the number of international students at about 3,000 U.S. colleges and universities rose 8% last year to a new high of 671,616. Big increases in students from China helped fuel the rise. As in other recent years, India once again sent the most students to the U.S., followed by China, South Korea, Canada and Japan. Or were you aware that U.S. receipts from international students studying in the United States reached $17.8 billion in 2008, the highest amount yet recorded. Those U.S. exports come primarily from travel by international students, who then pay tuition, fees, and living expenses to U.S. institutions. Students who come from abroad to live and study at our colleges and universities are not only vitally important to our institutions, but to the U.S. economy as well.

In our focus to serve mainstream American undergraduates, we sometimes overlook the increasing numbers of international students at our institutions, but they represent a unique population with perhaps even greater needs for library and research assistance. It suggests that we should be paying special attention to and developing programs targeted to this group. Only after I attended a meeting at ALA MW of the relatively new ACRL Academic Library Services to International Students Interest Group did I realize that we’ve never once written about international students here at ACRLog. We now correct that oversight.

The session I attended was led by Dawn Amsberry and Loanne Snavely, two librarians from Penn State University. Amsberry is the administrator of the international students interest group. While I’m relatively new to this topic it’s clearly not a new one for many academic librarians. In fact, at the session I learned that the earliest known publication on this topic is Sally G. Wayman. “The International Student in the Academic Library.” Journal of Academic Librarianship. v. 9 no. 6 Jan., 1984 pp. 336-341. Many articles and programs have followed since this article’s publication. A presentation by Amsberry and Snavely shared many of the program efforts made at Penn State to reach out to international students. From the obvious beginning-of-the-semester orientation to the special web page for international students, Penn State has tried many programs. For example, both international and American study abroad students participated in an essay contest about library experiences in non-U.S. countries. A student was hired to translate the library’s audio tour into Chinese. The library sponsors a global perspectives panel, and invites international students to speak about exposure to new cultures. I was impressed by the many efforts to involve international students in the library beyond the traditional orientation.

Why should we care about extra efforts to reach international students when so many of our domestic students are themselves in need of our assistance? My observation is that cultural differences and communication skills create unique barriers for international students. Domestic students, when they need assistance, know librarians are there to help (though they may not be sure who the librarians are), and can communicate their basic needs. International students, owing to their cultural traditions, may be reluctant to ask for help or may lack the language skills to articulate their needs. But those of you more experienced in working with international students are familiar with these issues. More of us need to pay attention to them. That’s why I was glad to become aware of the ACRL Academic Library Services to International Students Interest Group.

If you are interested in participating in this interest group, you can learn more by exploring their Google Groups page. You will also find some valuable resources, some of which were used in the session I attended. ALA members can also join the group via ALA Connect. Please use the comments to share something special your library does for international students.

From Russia With Blog

Editor’s Note: Over the past few weeks I’ve engaged in correspondence with Ekaterina Efimova, a reference librarian at the Scientific Library of the Ural State University in Russia – and Russia’s first academic librarian blogger! She has been working as a professional librarian for 3 years. Katerina, as she refers to herself, first contacted me to request permission to translate one of my recent posts for her own blog titled The Library Bat. Apparently my post on the myth of the information literacy class was better received by our Russian colleagues than it was by ACRLog readers. I was intriguiged by Katherina’s interest in information literacy and blogging, so I asked her if she would be willing to share some of her thoughts about these topics so that we might learn a bit more about our Russian colleagues.

Katerina, could you please describe your university and the library.

Our university is one of the largest and oldest universities in Ekaterinburg. It is usually called a “classic” university, as almost all the sciences are taught here from nanotechnologies to religion studies. And of course our library on, one hand, has books and other resources to meet all the possible educational and scientific needs of our students, faculty and staff and, on the other hand, we try to implement the newest information technologies in our work to offer our users a wide range of services, such as ILL, computers, Internet access, wifi and more. Our library is subscribed to world famous databases, such as Elsevier, Ebsco Publishing, JSTOR, Springer Verlag, World Scientific Publishing and many others. Some information about our library you can see on our web site (in Russian only).

In Russian academic libraries do you have a job position for “Information Literacy Librarian” or “Instruction Librarian”?

Unfortunately, we don’t have such job positions. As a rule, the role of “instruction librarian” is usually played by reference librarians (bibliographers). I think it is not bad, as reference librarians usually know a lot about information resources and information retrieval.

Do you use ACRL’s Standards for Information Literacy in developing your learning goals or program outcomes or has a unique set of standards emerged for Russian academic libraries?

In our library we try to use the experience of our colleagues, but as far as I know, we don’t have a special standard for information literacy. We have chosen a set of skills and knowledge, that our students should learn. Every instruction librarian (I will call them this way here, though we don’t have such position, as I have stated above) writes his or her own course outline, depending on the amount of hours that is given for the course (from 4 to 30), the department (the information given to students of the History department will be different from that given to students of the Chemistry department), the students themselves (are they freshmen or graduates) and so on. But there are some mandatory elements: catalogues search (OPAC and card catalogue), citation rules, database and Internet search. I have developed my own course for the first year students of the PR Department, though it is not perfect, of course.

What are your thoughts on the degree of influence that American IL has had on the Russian librarian’s understanding of IL programs?

Well, I cannot speak for the whole Russian librarianship, but US resources influenced me much. When I started teaching IL about three years ago, I studied ALA’s standards, different resources devoted to IL, read articles. A lot of information for my lectures and workshops I’ve got from my american colleagues. Maybe I was wrong and I should have searched better for Russian materials, but I (and my students) like the results.

Would you say that there is an established information literacy movement in Russian academic institutions or is this something fairly new that your academic librarians are just becoming aware of?

Well, I don’t think that information literacy is something new for us. In Russia it is called “information culture”. I may be wrong, but I think that the information literacy (or culture) movement in Russia has started about 10 years ago. N. I. Gendina is one of the leading scholar, who develops these ideas in Russia. But it seems to me that IL is known mostly to librarians, and not to the teachers at schools or IHEs, or common people. I’ve seached “information literacy” and “information culture” on Russian Wikipedia (I personally like this resource) and found our that there is no information on both these terms. To my mind, it is a vivid characteristic of undevelopment and uncertainty of IL notion in Russia.

How much do your faculty know about information literacy?

Maybe they have heard this notion. For me it is rather difficult to assess their literacy level. The faculty members, like librarians, are very different in age and research experience. Some of them are afraid of computers, some are advanced computer and Internet users. Of course we don’t teach computer skills, but we arrange meetings with faculty to tell them about library news, new databases or books, and give workshops.

How would you describe their state of knowledge or concern with student use of Google, Wikipedia, plagiarism.

It also depends upon a faculty member. Some will be satisfied with a ready-made work, downloaded completely from the Internet, the other will not allow to use Internet resources at all. Of course we have some “advanced” faculty, but the majority thinks that either “Internet is evil”, or “everything can be found in the Internet”.

Are they ready or open to collaborating with academic librarians to improve student research skills?

The classes in information literacy are taught at most of our departments. Some in administration do their best to organize such classes. Sometimes even faculty members ask us to conduct a class in information retrieval or to select some resources on a particular topic and to tell their students.
More often faculty members aks us to help them with their personal research. We help them to find relevant information, correct the citations, give advices for independent search. And of course very often students come with such words: Professor XXX told me to come to you. She/he said you could help me. And we do our best.
What are your thoughts on how American and Russian academic librarians could work together to improve our international collaboration and sharing of ideas? Can we overcome the language barrier?

I am for collaboration with both my hands! Sharing experience is always good. I know in some aspects Russian libraries lag far behind, but still we are eager to learn, and I am sure we can teach something useful. I think there are lots of possible ways: international conferences and workshops (e.g annual conference in Sudak, ScienceOnline etc.), international programs such as Fulbright or Edmund Muskie programs (btw, this fall I go to USA for a year thanks to Fulbright Faculty development Program). We also can establish individual contacts (through blogs of social networks). Of course the language barrier is a great problem, very few Russian librarians can easily communicate in English. But still if there is only one person in a Russian library, who has a good command of English, some interaction is possible (I am an unassuming result of it).

I know you read quite a few of our American librarian blogs. What are some of your favorites? Are these blogs widely read by your colleagues or as Russia’s first academic librarian blogger are you trying to create more awareness?

Yes, I have to read a lot blogs on library topics just to be well informed about what is happening around the world, or I’ll better say – over the ocean. It is difficult to chose the favorite. I like David Lee King’s blog, Annoyed Librarian, Digital Reference, L-net: Oregon libraries network blogs, ACRLog and many others. I also like LISNews much. I don’t know if my colleagues read them, it is rather difficult to “force” them to read and comment on Russian library blogs. The main reasons, to my mind, are 1. Very few librarians know English language, 2. Even less librarians know what a blog is or don’t want to waste time on such unimportant or silly things. That is why I try to share the news or ideas I’ve read in blogs, sometimes making translations, sometimes – on our meetings, or even in private conversations.

Finally, tell us a bit about your blog and what you try to accomplish? Are you focusing on any particular topic, such as information literacy? Do you think more Russian academic librarians will start their own blogs soon?

Well, my blog “Library Bat” or “Мышь библиотечная” in Russian, is relatively young – it is about 1.5 years old. At first I was blogging in English, but very quickly switched to Russian as I think it is more important and essential. I am not focusing on a special topic. I think that the Russian biblioblogosphere is too undeveloped for single-topic blogs. I try to tell about everything connected with libraries and books, do a lot of translations. Maybe some day I will make a blog, devoted to virtual reference services – my mostly loved library issue nowadays after library blogs. If to speak about the future of library blogging, it seems optimistic to me. Last summer I have written an article for InfoBib about Russian library blogs. The amount of blogs has grown three times since, but the problems still exist.

Many thanks to Katerina for sharing this information. I would have many more questions for her about academic librarianship in Russia but our space is limited. If you’d like to contact Katerina do so through her profile at Facebook or Library 2.0 profile.

The great international debate

My library has been working on updating our tenure and promotion policies. Yes, I can hear the collective groans from everyone out there, and it has indeed been a slow and painstaking process. But wait — lest I start out on a negative note I want to hasten to add that it is also a process in which I feel privileged to be participating.

As we’ve been combing through our potential new policy, I found myself tripped up by what I would formerly have considered the most standard of requirements: the ALA-accredited MLS degree.

Now here’s my thought process as we picked apart the document that my coworkers have worked so admirably hard on: an ALA MLS, sure, that’s the standard every librarian should have. Hm. Of course, ALA is an American organization, so what happens if the individual in question isn’t American? Do we want to immediately exclude librarians from other nations from ever getting a permanent job here? (Can you see the lightbulb going off?)

Personally, I thrive on diversity, the meeting of different opinions, backgrounds, perspectives. Don’t you? Part of what I love about our field is the fact that we do value those differences and gain such richness overall. So I decided to do my research and find out what the deal is on international librarian credentials that might fly in the US. My best find was an article in New Library World (v.108 no.1/2) entitled “International credentialing, certification, and recognition in the United States” but the article is an explanation of the problem, not an answer.

It did, however, lead me to ALA’s policy (54.2) on the issue:

The master’s degree from a program accredited by the American Library Association (or from a master’s level program in library and information studies accredited or recognized by the appropriate national body of another country) is the appropriate professional degree for librarians.

But this must be some sort of evasive maneuver. How on earth does one determine what the “appropriate national body of another country” is? Does someone out there maintain a list? I suddenly realized how complex all of this really is.

I don’t have any answers either, I’m afraid, but this issue concerns me greatly. The geography of our nation has always lent itself to a certain amount of isolationism when it comes to the world at large. If our field is based on an isolationist approach to the way we credential librarians, then I worry for our future in a world that shrinks by the day. Here’s a crusade desperately in need of a crusader. I know I, for one, will be thinking about the alternatives.