Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lots of Laker Love

I could not be more proud of the Grand Valley Lakers.

Last week Monday (9/19/11), the GVSU University Libraries hosted Michigan Libraries for Life.  Over a six-hour period at all three GVSU Libraries we registered 97 people on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.  115 people showed us their heart on their driver's license, letting us know they were already registered.  Out of the 10 university libraries across Michigan that participated in the event, GVSU was on top in registration numbers.  Not that it was a competition, but I'm still so proud of my Lakers!

Take a second and check your driver's license.  Are you showing your heart?  If not, think about registering on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The best part of my day

As with any job, there are good things and bad things in my day-to-day.  Let me tell you about the best parts of my day.


Conversations with students, with professors, with the random person who is probably not one of "my" faculty members waiting for the elevator (and if you've ever waited for the elevator at CHS, you know it could be a while).

Take yesterday, for example.  I was on the elevator with a woman carrying a vase of beautiful sunflowers.  Struck up a short conversation about these gorgeous blooms and, later in the day, she was in the class I was teaching.  Turns out she is the faculty member who coordinates grants for RNs going back to school to get their BSN and had quite a few students in the class I was teaching.  Since she doesn't teach theory classes in at KCON, I have had little reason to find a need for interaction with her, but that small conversation we had on the elevator that morning created an immediate sense of rapport when she walked into the computer lab that afternoon.

Relationships are so important in academia.  Our students, especially here at GVSU, are expected to be well-rounded individuals receiving a liberal education.  We need to be well-rounded in ourselves - a university cannot provide the best possible experience for its students if its faculty and staff are sectioned off into their various silos.

As I continue my time at GVSU, I can't wait to have more conversations.  They are what makes me feel alive.

The Academic Library and the Local Community

Next week Monday I will be sitting at a table for most of the day with a laptop and a giant picture of a driver’s license asking people to get themselves on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry (administered through Gift of Life) for the Michigan Libraries for Life event.  Why?  Because I believe libraries, even academic libraries, are an integral part of the community around them.

When I was approached by a friend of mine from the University of Michigan about participating in this year’s event, I didn’t hesitate at saying I’d do my best to make it happen.  This is partially because it does relate to my subject area; I work in the health sciences building. It’s also because I think that academic libraries in a general sense could be better about being involved in the local community.

This idea began to surface for me when I was in a meeting discussing outreach and found myself a bit shocked that outreach in this culture meant interacting with students, faculty, and staff.  I needed to make a complete mental shift, as I was envisioning our conversation on outreach to encompass the local community - reaching outside of the university walls.  This is not to say working to make stronger our relationships with university affiliates is not a noble endeavor.  It is, but it is also just part of what we should be doing on a day-to-day basis as an academic library.

Perhaps the thought of our being a part of the Grand Rapids/Allendale community is not something at the forefront of our minds as an organization.  Working in one of the libraries in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, I likely see more community patrons than those out at the main campus.  I know the other downtown library sees even more than the health sciences library does.  This, however, is part of what it means to be a library at a public university.  Too often, I think the local community patrons are seen as a nuisance and not a “customer”; they are, however, customers, even if they are not our reason for existence.

The idea of the public as our customer comes as an even more important ideal as our university draws closer and closer to opening our new library.  The new library has been described as the “intellectual heart of campus” and rightly so.  There will be many new opportunities for intercampus interaction when we have our new space.  Yet, why can’t we also think of the new library as the “intellectual heart of Grand Rapids”?  We will have exhibit spaces, event hosting capabilities, and we will still be a public university library.  Let the public be enriched by our resources and programming as much as our university community.  We shouldn’t just let our major source of impact on our surroundings be our graduates.

While the new library’s ecological footprint will be light, I hope our footprint in the community will be deep.

Want to sign up to be an organ donor in Michigan?  Register here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Library and the University

During a recent library staff meeting, it became apparent that various staff members had differing views of what role the library served in the context of the university.  I think this is an issue that could surface at many academic libraries. I would almost say that we could call this a library identity crisis.

I had a bit of a pre-knowledge of this issue at my university due to my involvement in library marketing.  It is very difficult to market something that has a mission or vision statement that is vague or that is difficult to translate into on-the-ground action.  It’s also difficult to market something where those doing the day-to-day have differing opinions of how the work should be done.

In a much discussed recent article on InsideHigherEd, this very issue came up.  Are we working to help students “satisfice” or do we strive to push them to the next level of information literacy skills?  Do we give them fish or teach them to fish?  Is it bad customer service to say, “I can’t just give you a list of articles, but if you come to my office, we can work out how you search for articles”?  Are there different standards for undergraduate and graduate students?  Should there be?

I admit, I’m probably going to raise more questions in this post than provide any answers.  Part of that is because I’m young and new at this librarianship thing and don’t have the clout to say one way or the other.  The other part is that I haven’t exactly decided where I stand on these issues.  All I know is that the conversation must continue in order for us to be able to provide the best service possible to students, whatever that service may be.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Marketing Your Library’s Best Resource: Librarians

There has been a lot of talk around the recent InsideHigherEd article “What Students Don’t Know” and for good reason.  The experience in Illinois is not an isolated occurrence.  I know for a fact that at my university, many students don’t realize the library is a resource beyond just a place where the books sit.  In my social interactions with undergraduate students during my graduate program, I would say the same is true about the Big Ten university I was attending at the time.

I think that Kolowich, the article’s author, says it perfectly when he describes librarians as “academic expert[s] who [are] available to talk about assignments and hold [students’] hands through the research process” (para. 4).

So here lies my question: Why are we not marketing one of our best resources?  We can talk up various databases until we’re blue in the face and students will still not be able to use them properly.  If you’re thinking that in-class instruction is enough for students to understand librarians are there to help, think again.  Library instruction, while necessary and a great starting point, is rarely provided at the point of need for a student and, is therefore, most often not absorbed.  Library instruction is also not present in every single course every single term (nor should it be), so some students may make their way through without ever receiving library instruction.  I know I only had one library instruction session during my entire undergraduate career and that session wasn’t particularly helpful to me as a student.

Kolowich has some great points about bridging the gap between librarians and students.  I appreciate his candor about it not just being a problem on the students’ end, although student’s search skills are often less than adequate.  The question then becomes how do we, as librarians, get students to think of us when they are in the midst of an unsuccessful search?

The solution: Put a human face on librarians.  Kolowich states that “students seek help from sources they know and trust, and they do not know librarians” (para. 28). We librarians are a rare breed, to be sure, but we also are as diverse as the student body itself.  Students get a whole semester to get to know their professors as real people, getting to know their interests and life outside of the classroom.  Librarians don’t get that opportunity often, so we need to help expedite the process by putting ourselves out there with all our little quirks.

Next, we must make librarians identifiable in their subject areas’ departments.  As Kolowich points out, teaching faculty will be essential in this endeavor, but we can help ourselves by putting up eye-catching posters or providing a PDF or image professors can put on their course management site.  Something like this:

Clean.  Simple.  To the point.  A student could see this and realize that a librarian can help them with their research.  Plus, the librarian is humanized with a few random facts about her.  Will knowing that I’m a Doctor Who fan make students more likely to come to me with questions?  Maybe.  It certainly won’t hurt.  Neither will telling students you drive a supercar, love Metallica, or have a giant pet rabbit named Mr. Cadbury.

Now, of course, the services the librarian is said to offer may be up for discussion at your institution.  While Kolowich does touch on it in his article, that is a hurdle for another day.  For now, I’ll try to make our librarians as prominent as I can and I will look forward to reading the final ERIAL report, College Libraries and Student Culture: What We Now Know when it becomes available.