Sally Bryant and Michelle Jacobs-Lustig, librarians at Pepperdine University in Malibu, exhibited a number of innovations at their library. As noted in their introduction, they’ve take a “perpetual beta” approach to library services and moved away from a one-size-fits-all model. As a result, here are some of their successes:
Think of these as glorified student assistants. In addition to helping to maintain library operations, these students become service points. They are trained for more than just direction inquiries. Each student is expected to complete a weekly training assignment that may include “how to cite properly” or require them to write a review of a database. They also wear personalized (and vibrant!) name badges, inspiring both a sense of responsibility, improving performance, and [anecdotally] increasing positive feedback from users.
All the pamphlets, flyers, and announcements were removed from the reference desk and replaced with a single Mac, a huge light bulb lamp, and an LED keyboard (all bright, shiny, and flashing). The light bulb became the de facto mascot of the reference desk (I don’t have a photo, but it is CUTE!). According to Bryant and Jacobs-Lustig, this has helped them move “from reference to conversation.”
Improved Digital Signage and Wayfinding
Convoluted signs were simplified. The library added screens displaying library services. Many colorful arrows were employed to direct students. Never underestimate the power of colorful arrows (reminded me of the hallways from the Battle School in Ender’s Game)
Dead Week Detours
During the week before finals, the library offered a numbed of activities for students, including: build your own cupcakes, yoga and stretch classes, and holiday card design. The materials for these classes were purchased by the library (very inexpensive) and the popularity of these events was driven by word-of-mouth (esp. Facebook).
Other innovative ways of improving public services included:
Allowing students to create their own work schedules and swap when necessary
Redesigned website to include more action words (instead of “Research Guides”, “Start your research here!”)
Relied more on word-of-mouth and less on pushy marketing
Moved scheduling and statistics to LibCal and LibAnalytics by Springshare (there was a lot of Springshare love in the room!)
Created “shush” cards for students to hand out (above photo). Apparently, librarians don’t do enough shushing, but the students were more than willing to take up the responsibility.
There are many exiting things happening at Pepperdine Libraries. Academic librarians, keep an eye on these folks!
I just wanted to take a late-week moment to highlight a video made by one of our librarians at MPOW. This is a spectacular outreach effort and all of us here are looking forward to future videos. Bravo!
Does it matter that students don’t know what academic librarians do? Should we care that they usually cannot differentiate between student workers, staff members, and faculty librarians? If the answer to these is “yes,” then what can we do to improve the situation?
These are the issues underlying the research of Rachel Bickly and Sheila Corrall, the authors of “Student perceptions of staff in the information commons : A survey at the University of Sheffield,” published in the latest Reference Services Review. They surveyed students of the Information Commons at the University of Sheffield in the UK and for the most part confirmed what many already assumed, though had never explicitly studied in an IC setting. Among the key findings were:
Students are more likely to notice and hence approach younger librarians (e.g. trusting people they perceive as peers)
Students are unaware of the educational background of academic librarians
Students do not completely understand the academic function of librarians
Students are generally unable to distinguish between different types of library staff members
Most importantly: These attitudes haven’t changed over time.
Before getting into how these perceptions could be changed, one could ask, “Does it matter?” Does it matter if librarians are seen and not heard, not understood, or not fully appreciated in a way that we (only we?) think is appropriate? Is it possible to be effective librarians and simultaneously be invisible to the students we serve?
I’m sure there are some who would say that it doesn’t. That no amount of information literacy classes will ever make a student appreciate fine-tooth cataloging, curated resources guides, or tiered reference, but by making these things available, we are helping their research process nonetheless.
There are others who might argue that we could do so much more if students only understood how hard we worked. If they only knew what skills we possessed and the knowledge we brought to the table. After all, most assessments of bibliographic instruction, especially those that happen one-on-one, show that students have a positive perception of the experience (see also J. Fagan, “Students’ perceptions of academic librarians.” The Reference Librarian, 37(78).)
I would argue that it does matter. It does matter knowing that my primary care physician is also an ENT specialist. As a result, I am confident asking him certain questions knowing that he has a unique understanding of the subject. It matters knowing that my co-worker is a native-born German speaker because I can bring specific, German language cataloging questions to him. Etc. etc.
So what is to be done? According to this study, we haven’t been doing it right. Each institution is unique in its users and their needs, but I would start by recommend the following. All of these are based on one simple idea: make first contact with as many students as possible and make it in spaces where they work.
Build relationships with grad students, especially TA’s. Knowing that students are more likely to talk to a TA than a faculty member, make sure your graduate student population knows the benefits of a strong relationship with a librarian. They’ll be the first ones to recommend you as an additional source of research help.
Get into the CMS and onto course web pages. This can be especially useful for courses that are repeatedly offered each semester. Even before going to Google, many students use course materials for their research (reading lists, syllabi, etc.). If there’s a link on their course page or syllabus, you already have an in where it’s most likely to be seen.
…Or create your own. Even if you can’t work your way onto a syllabus, you could create a research guide for a particular class. Again, this is also helpful for classes that are offered every semester. And if it’s popular, students are likely to pass along this information to their friends who are also taking the course.
Each of these requires building strong relationships with faculty and department liaisons. As this article and others have suggested (see Foster & Gibbons. (2007). Studying students: The undergraduate research project at the University of Rochester. ACRL, Chicago.), doing so increases the likelihood that professors will invite you into their classrooms and direct (or push off) students to you for additional research help.
Academic libraries have spent much of the past decade building their brand. We’ve seen some spectacular projects that raise students’ awareness of the existence of the library and it’s welcoming, always available services. Now let’s start working on building local celebrities.