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Monthly Archives: July 2015

Shakespeare never had to face 200 emails a day

“In an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention,” says Pico Iyer [SLYT], “and in an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still.” I’ve been trying to work more silence into my life, but in practice this only happens a few minutes a day for perhaps a couple days a week. For many librarians, making a living and making a life are often the same thing. I am undecided on the issue (and admittedly guilty of lacking any sense of work-life balance), but I would be content to have a set moment every day for reflection.

How does one determine the value of an education?

I have never regretted my liberal arts education. It has provided me with a substantial level of [mental, emotional, spiritual, financial] satisfaction in life. And while I constantly trawl the depths of Amazon for new STEM toys to buy my daughter, I fully intend to push her in that direction as well. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I get rankled when I see reports like Beyond College Rankings by the Brookings Institution that seek to improve “college rankings” (which in itself is a ridiculous concept) by focusing entirely on financial gain as if the sole purpose of going to college is to become an employable adult.

JSTOR Daily recently took up this topic by bringing in Newman’s The Idea of the University [public library]:

“The liberal arts rarely teach skills that one can immediately apply in a career. Instead, they impart a ‘habit of mind … which lasts through life, of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom.’ Newman counsels anxious parents that a philosophical habit of mind is the best aid to professional and scientific study. A liberal arts education does not directly train you to be a lawyer, physician, or businessperson, but it prepares you to succeed in any career where you have to think, speak, write, or converse with others.”

We don’t simply need more engineers and computer scientists. We need more innovators, communicators, and wise leaders.

See also:

Lauren Wallis on silencing in library instruction

“This particular silence doesn’t even register for subject faculty or students. It is simply what they expect of us.”

Lauren Wallis speaks powerful words in her post on the silencing of instruction librarians in academia. I’ve certainly had my share of “only show them these databases please” instruction requests, but I’ve also been blessed to work with a number of faculty who value my work and suggestions. I have no doubt this is due in part to my privilege, but I think much it also comes from the ethos of the liberal arts college where I work which places a high priority on collaborative pedagogy and critical thinking.

There’s more to reference

I, too, hesitate before telling a student my official job title, unsure of what associations the word reference may bring to mind, but I worry about the implications of stripping “reactive reference” from our service model:

“Taking a reactive position in our reference work doesn’t fit with our users’ desire for self-sufficiency. They don’t want to have to rely on us to get their research done. We are and should be a last resort.”

There is an assumption here that the only end game of reference is finding something, but there is our pedagogical role to consider as well. Every reference transaction is an opportunity to teach a student something deeper than “here’s where you search for articles”. By designing spaces that are perfectly centered around the needs of the user, do we push out important opportunities for learning?

Summer project #1: Reference revamp

picture of students at reference desk 1947, University of Illinois Navy Pier Campus
image credit: uicdigital on flickr (CC by-nc-nd)

Summer is a time for dreaming. Every year as the Spring semester comes to a close, I begin to lust for the coming months and all the free time they promise to provide for catching up on projects and starting new ones. Yet without fail, the daydream dissipates in a puff of smoke and before I know it the summer is half over. This year is no different but I have managed to squeeze in a few new projects, one of which is a redesign of our reference services model.

Currently, we primarily provide reference help via our Info Desk which is staffed by both peer mentor students and librarians (though, not at the same time). Our statistics show that over 90% of the questions that come to the desk are non-reference related which calls into question the judiciousness of staffing the desk with librarians. We additionally provide chat, text, and email reference but these services are rarely used probably due to a lack of awareness (we did surveys to determine this). All these things considered, I’m planning to make the following changes starting in the Fall.

Here are my objectives:

  1. Utilize librarian time and attention more efficiently.
  2. Properly train students to triage and refer reference questions to library staff.
  3. Increase the awareness and accessibility of library reference services among students.

My primary areas of focus are the Info Desk, our Libraryh3lp chat service, and a Research Consult by Appointment services (yet to be established). These are the three areas where I think reference services can have to most impact on student learning at my institution. I’ve also outlined specific goals for each:

Info Desk

  1. Develop a student training program  that includes the technical knowledge necessary to perform most common computer/printer-related tasks, how to properly triage and refer reference questions, and best practices for customer service.
  2. Develop a schedule the makes more efficient use of the time librarians spend offering reference services.
  3. Adopt a system for tracking reference statistics online that enables quick and easy logging but also allows for more complex information to be tracked.
  4. Purchase a new sign for the Info Desk.

Libraryh3lp Chat Service

  1. Develop a staff training workshop for Libraryh3lp that includes best practices and how-tos.
  2. Create a weekly staffing schedule for Libraryh3lp.
  3. Work with librarians to create questions and answers for the FAQ page.
  4. Add links to the FAQ to the Ask-a-Librarian page, LibGuides, and the chat module.
  5. Set up the 3mail functionality.
  6. Create marketing materials (esp. for txt service) and develop a marketing plan for the Fall semester.
  7. Create additional canned messages for common questions.

Research Consultations

  1. Create a mobile-friendly online form for scheduling research consultations.
  2. Develop a marketing plan to advertise research consultations to students and faculty during the Fall semester.
  3. Create a workflow that ensures a librarian will always be available for research consultations Monday through Friday between 9a and 5p.

I’ve only just now begun to focus on these projects, but I am confident that I can accomplish all my goals in the two months before the Fall semester begins. I’m also planning to meet with some of my colleagues one-on-one to get their feedback on these goals and how best to meet them.