ASSOCIATES (2007, July, v. 14, no. 1) - associates.ucr.edu
Instructional Services/Reference Librarian
University of North Carolina at Pembroke
Card catalogs have gone the way of the dodo. Print indexes are being chucked by the wayside. The library as we know it has transformed. No longer do we rely on the physical space of the library as the sole provider for all of our information needs, yet interestingly enough, we are relying on it as more of a social space to relax, unwind, share ideas, and of course gain knowledge. With that said, it is no longer of utmost importance for library patrons to be physically oriented to the library in the traditional sense when using a library as an information outlet. Instead, our patrons have an increasing need for knowing how to get at what we have, not by looking at shelves, cards, or indexes, but by navigating their way through our collections in an electronic environment.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to overhaul a very important piece of our instructional program at the Sampson-Livermore Library on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke this summer. We have a freshmen only course here on campus properly entitled ‘Freshman Seminar’ that is required of all first-year UNCP students. This course serves as an introduction into college life for all incoming students, and includes things such as acclimating students to good study habits, familiarizing them with campus buildings and services, and a general education of what it means to be a student including social and cultural aspects. Some may say that the course lacks a certain level of academic emphasis and should include more to enhance students’ skills for academic success such as technology training and substantial writing/research components.
The role that the library has always played in the Freshman Seminar course has been to offer students an orientation of our collections and services. Given that there are roughly 40-50 sections of Freshman Seminar taught each fall, we generally have somewhere between 30-40 of those instructors bring their students over on a voluntary basis for a one-time library tour. The library tour involves one of our librarians escorting the group of students around the library pointing out the collections and services desks. Some of the highlights include the circulation desk, reference desk, computer research area, reference collection, media collection, stacks, periodicals area, computer lab, more stacks, and miscellaneous odds and ends along the way. There are no demonstrations on using the online catalog or any of the electronic resources that students and faculty alike would use to access periodical articles and other scholarly information. These resources of course represent what most of our patrons use when locating information for the purposes of academic research. The library tour is no more than a walk-thru of the physical premises with accompanying commentary. Within three months of my hiring date as the instructional services librarian, I had given the tour several times and observed a few of my colleagues giving tours as well. I almost felt as though I were a real estate agent showing an enormous family a potential place of residence that just happened to exceed their need for space. It took no longer than this period of time before I realized that our current method of orienting our freshmen to a whole new world of information far above and beyond anything they had experienced in high school, did not meet the standards of today’s information environment. And as a result, I knew that I would soon begin to do everything in my extremely limited power to bring forth change that could tie our orientation method more directly to the needs and habits of the modern day information seeker.
The first thing that occurred to me was that it didn’t make sense that almost all of our resources and services, including course reserves and interlibrary loan requests, could be accessed through some form of automation or other, but yet we were not educating our incoming patrons on the use of any of these online services and resources. We were effectively neglecting to educate our patrons on the use of tools that the majority of them would be using to access information materials. I felt that it came down to a question of what would be a better use of the students’ time. Considering the fact that most of these freshmen students would be writing a few research papers during their first semester on campus, their library orientation may be the only shot they have to learn about the resources that are available before being fed to the wolves. After all, which is less intuitive, being able to find where the DVDs and reference desk are located, or being able to navigate an electronic database with the goal of retrieving a peer-reviewed journal article on one’s own? Sure, every student needs to know where the print journals and microfiche are kept, but these are things that can be discovered with a simple inquiry at the circulation desk. Use of electronic resources requires a much higher level of thinking skills and experience with technology.
So my first order of business was to create an orientation that led us away from this antiquated physical walking tour and moved us into an electronic environment which we have available in our second-floor classroom. This classroom, with 20 desktop computer workstations and space to accommodate additional laptops if need be, is where we have conducted all of our other library instruction sessions from freshman English up through senior biology courses. It made sense to me that because one would need an electronic database of one kind or other to locate all materials in the library, our incoming students should also begin with instruction from the electronic classroom. From here, I would be able to carry out an orientation program that meshed electronic resource learning with elements of information literacy to give students a better overall understanding on the selection and use of information sources. At the same time, it would still be possible to give them the physical orientation they needed through alternative means, without telling them to walk around the library aimlessly.
I drafted the new orientation and called it the Freshman Seminar Information Literacy Program. Much like the library tour, participation in this program is not mandatory, but voluntary on the part of Freshman Seminar instructors. The program is different in that it offers two sessions in the library as opposed to the single session consisting of just the physical tour. The program is centered on information literacy, which is defined by the Association of College & Research Libraries as “the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information”. In achieving the goal of helping freshmen students to become more information literate, the students will get hands-on experience practicing these skills while becoming familiar with the library’s collection.
The two sessions will be facilitated in the library’s classroom with the first session consisting of an interactive lecture presented by a librarian. Librarians will teach students how to find physical materials through the library’s online catalog BraveCat. Students will also become familiar with different types of periodicals and how to locate full-text articles through electronic databases. Another portion of the first session will be designated for teaching students how to be good consumers of internet websites. They will be taught how to use a discerning eye when scouring the web for academic information.
After this first session, students will really have an opportunity to put what they’ve learned into practice by completing a list of assignments. These assignments will be retrieved from Blackboard, an online course management software product that enables instructors, librarians in this case, to post learning materials to the internet that students can view, complete, submit for grading, or print out. There are three elements to the Blackboard assignments that will allow students to apply their knowledge practically. The first assignment is to view a library tour video that hits all of the main points of service and gives students a brief introduction to the various physical collections. So while the students will not be participating in the traditional walking tour, they will have an online alternative that may be more engaging than following the talking head. The second assignment is to master the differences between types of periodicals by viewing some characteristics of what separates popular publications from those that are considered scholarly. The third assignment asks students to demonstrate their skills in critically evaluating a variety of web pages for academic content. After completion of these assignments, the class will return to the library between one to two weeks later for the second session. The second session is solely devoted to a group project where 3-4 students will be given a list of items to find in a variety of library collections using all of the tools they learned from the first session and completion of the Blackboard assignments. Once they have obtained the information they were seeking, they then come back to the classroom to share what they learned with the rest of the class. The two session experience will culminate with a test to find out how much students learned. Assessment of the program will be based on analyzing the difference between the information seeking skills that the students had before they came to the library, and the skills they have obtained as a result of completing the program. When all is said and done, the first-year students should have a good understanding of what’s available to them both physically and virtually.
While I have no doubt that this program will be a vast improvement from the single physical library tour orientation that we have been providing, I have further aspirations to create an even more interactive instructional environment that allows students to learn through of variety of mediums. I recently attended a presentation where classroom performance software was used to gain instant feedback on what students were learning during instruction. This could be a great tool for any learning environment, not just those inside of the library. I will also be experimenting soon with the creation of library video casts made available via iPods, that allow students to download and take with them information regarding library resources and their use. These are great for training purposes, much like the creation of online tutorials through software products such as Camtasia. As we plunge further ahead through this ever-changing technological era, we can be sure that there will always be new methods of doing things that we’ve been doing for years. By experimenting with these methods, we’re opening our patrons to a whole new world of information discovery.