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.

No comments:

Post a Comment