How a LibGuide Got Me to Italy

OK, well that headline might be a bit of an exaggeration..but just slightly. Let me explain.

In 2016, a professor at the university I work at was offering a cross-cultural experience course (a short-term study abroad) in Italy–all about travel writing. He asked one of our library staffers to help chaperone. This library staffer then told the professor that I should make a LibGuide for the course.

Students meet once per week in the semester before the travel for an introduction into the culture and history of the place they will be visiting. In preparation for the experience, students gather outside sources about the culture.

So I had some fun and did a LibGuide. I gathered up articles, books, and websites on travel writing, Italian traditions and culture, and info on the locales that students would be visiting. I’m not yea or nay on LibGuides–sometimes they are appropriate, sometimes not…just another useful tool in my librarian tool belt. In this case, it was an appropriate venue to organize the information.

Italy course LibGuide

Italy course LibGuide

I worked with the professor to schedule an information literacy session. Students liked the resources I put together and I shared my own experiences of visiting Rome as a college student.

The professor was effusive about the LibGuide and thanked me for creating it.

“You mean if I find a resource that might be helpful for the students, you could possibly add it to the LibGuide?”

Me: YES!

So 2017 rolls around. This time, the professor was going to be doing two sections of his Italy course and wanted to know if I would be willing to chaperone one of them.

Umm…yeah!

So in Spring semester 2017, I visited the students again for an info lit session and used the LibGuide. I tweaked it based off of the new itinerary the groups would be doing.

The professor and another chaperone took the first group of students over to Italy for three weeks. Then the chaperone and the first group flew back to the US.

Then it was my turn. On June 8, I met students at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, distributed their Euro stipend, and off we went to Florence, Italy, connecting through Zurich. We met the professor at the Florence airport.

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Florence

Herding students? No problem. Try getting 50+ faculty to schedule their required info lit sessions!

I loved getting to know the students. It was nice to put a name to face. I often saw the students in the library beforehand, but didn’t necessarily know them.

The three weeks in Italy was an absolute blast. I did some blogging on my travel site. We were based in Florence and saw all the big sites like the Duomo, Uffizi Gallery, and the Michelangelo’s David.

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Florence: Duomo

One day in Florence, we took a cooking class. We got to eat the pasta that the students made! For some, it was their first time as cooks.

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Florence cooking class

Venturing out from Florence on day trips, we visited enchanting Venice, under-the-radar Bologna, and beautiful Siena.

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Rialto Bridge, Venice

Naturally, the wine lover in me enjoyed our trip to Chianti country for a bit of history and winemaking…possibly my favorite day of the trip.

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Chianti country

During some free time, I made a solo trip to Pisa, and then with a small group of students, toured Milan.

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Milan: Cathedral

In my role as chaperone, I handled administrative matters (paperwork, travel, tickets, chief counter of students…), so the professor could focus on teaching.

But after 21 beautiful Italian days, it was time to come home. Summer seemed a bit short after I returned, but you’ll get no complaints from me! It was a privilege to join the professor and students.

Here are some photos from the Italy trip:

For more Italy pics, check out my Flickr album.

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Academic Librarian: Week in the Life

TL;DR: Librarians do a lot of different things.

———-

“I love books, too!”

By now, most librarians are used to that response when someone asks what they do. To be honest, as an academic librarian, I rarely do readers’ advisory. I would probably break out into a cold sweat if someone asked me for the next great mystery or romance to read. In fact, you should probably take away my librarian card because I don’t often read for “fun” in this stage of my life–it usually ebbs and flows.

My favorite response to what people think I do was when I was taking grad classes for my master’s in education through my place of employment. During one class session we were asked to go up to the whiteboard for an interactive exercise. One of my classmates said:

“Send Joe up to the board. He’s probably a good speller since he reads all day at his job.”

Ouch! I didn’t let that one go unaddressed.

As an academic librarian, I find that people who even work on campus in other departments don’t understand what we do. Nope, I’m not the book shelver or the book stamper–unless there’s some sort of emergency or staffing shortage. That’s usually what we train our student workers to do.

So I thought I’d write about what I did last week. In my current position, I am the Reference & Instruction Librarian at a small(ish) academic library. We have a student population of 3,500. Our staff includes 5 FTE librarians, 2.5 FTE support staff, 4 part-time evening/weekend staff, and 50+ student workers.

In terms of general job duties, here what I do:

  • Coordinate the library’s research assistance services. I’m one of two primary “front-line” librarians here for general research help (if it’s subject-specific, the subject librarian for that area will pick it up from here). I’m also usually available for research help from chat when I’m not in a meeting or away from my desk.
  • In charge of scheduling and staffing for the first-year information literacy program. I share in the workload with the other librarians for the program, but end up taking a majority of the info lit sessions since it’s my coordination area.
  • Subject librarian for the education, graduate education, music, psychology, and diversity programs (so research assistance, info lit, collection development).
  • Manage the Curriculum Materials Collection and supervise one student worker.
  • Supervise the Information Commons and Classroom Manager (a support staff position).
  • Supervise the part-time Library Evening/Weekend Supervisors who are responsible for overall management of the building and research assistance during the evenings and weekends.
  • Manage 3D printing services.
  • Design/create social media posts/library graphics.

So it’s kind of a hodgepodge of duties, but that’s what I enormously like about working in a small(ish) academic library. No chance of getting bored!

My “official” workweek is Monday-Friday 8:00am to 4:30pm. Because I work in a “train town” and cross four sets of railroad tracks to get to work, I usually plan to arrive just a bit earlier in case I get stuck at the tracks. Generally, I walk in the library doors around 7:45am.

In outlining what I did for the week, I have color-coded my tasks into five main areas:

  • Research questions or Research for my job = red
  • Info Lit = green
  • Management/Supervisory = blue
  • Technology = purple
  • Marketing, incl. social media = pink

Here’s what I did…

MONDAY

  • Arrived at 7:45am. Went to my office. Logged in to my computer and glanced at my emails to see if anything needed an immediate response.
  • Today the university was hosting a visit from the Higher Learning Commission accreditors. At 8am, I walked through the library to straighten up any furniture/items so that everything was tidy for their visit.
  • 8:15am: Took less than 10 minutes and walked over to the Main Dining Room on campus for the free employee continental breakfast (I usually grab a coffee and banana to go). Hey, I take advantage of all our benefits here! Good way to see colleagues in other departments. I do this most work days.
  • Morning tasks:
    • Start responding to emails, including:
      • Requests from two professors for info lit sessions.
      • Professor looking for full-text of an article.
      • Opened a work order with the I.T. department about students having issues with their printing allotment (printing money).
      • Sent an email to volunteer for a staff committee position.
      • Approved vacation time for a position I supervise.
      • 3D printing request: clarification for more info from the client.
    • Updated the research assistance schedule to fill a couple vacant shifts.
    • Created a social media post on Constitution Day for Facebook and Twitter.
    • Prepped for an infolit session on Tuesday for an education class.
    • Helped a professor who was working in the Info Commons on how to navigate the new course management system.
  • Quick drop-by/chat questions from students…nothing too in-depth. 
  • Lunch from 12-1pm. I have a fishbowl-style office, so make a point of taking my lunch time away from it. I walked over to the Main Dining Room and used one of my meal swipes that faculty/staff can purchase for a discount.
  • Afternoon tasks:
    • Worked on budgeting (Excel stuff) for Spring semester for our Library Evening/Weekend Supervisor shifts.
    • Did a comparison of library hours at peer institutions. I’m using the data to see if I can re-work the budget to possibly extend library hours in the future. Sent info to my supervisor (the Library Director) and set up a meeting to discuss.
    • Developed a training schedule for a new Curriculum Materials Collection student worker position that I share with the Tech Services and Serials areas.
    • Updated the 3D Print Job Queue for the Library Evening/Weekend Supervisors (they run the 3D printer when I’m not here).
  • 3:30pm: Attended an open forum for staff hosted by the accreditation visitors.
  • Got back to my office at 4:15 in time to update the Library Evening/Weekend Supervisor on duty (she works 4pm-Midnight) and see what projects she could work on this evening.
  • Left work at 4:30pm.

TUESDAY

  • Arrived at 7:50am. Logged into my computer and glanced at emails.
  • 8:05am: Main Dining Room for free coffee and a banana. Chatted with a couple colleagues in a different department on campus.
  • Morning tasks:
    • Start responding to emails, including:
      • Asking a professor for her syllabus/assignment info so I could prep for her upcoming info lit class.
      • Professor requesting a “Library Needs Assessment” for two proposed courses (all proposed courses require this. It’s a report that looks at library resources and services to demonstrate we can support the course and possibly argue for more money–although that is rare).
      • Created a Facebook and Twitter post about the library’s interlibrary loan service in conjunction with an article I read from The Chronicle.
  • Research question: Helped a student find advertisements that demonstrate gender roles in different time periods. We used our set of LIFE magazines from the 1950s and compared them with some of our “coffee shop” magazines (Time, People, etc.) from today.
  • The professor I helped chaperone a class with to Italy this past summer, dropped by. Wanted to know if I had a slideshow of pictures I could share with him for a campus “study abroad fair.” Sent him a link to one of my Flickr albums.
  • 11am-12:30pm: Started training a new student worker for the Curriculum Materials Collection.
    • General job duties overview, Library of Congress classification, LC Easy tutorial (wow, that’s old–but it still does the job!), how to shelve materials, gathering a list of display books for me.   
  • Lunch from 12:30pm-1:30pm. Brought leftovers from home and ate in the library’s staff room. Then took a walk outside for the rest of my lunch hour.
  • Quick drop-by/chat questions from students…nothing too in-depth. 
  • 2pm-3:50pm: Info lit session for a 300-level Education class. Students were researching various topics in the scholarly or professional literature. I do little lecturing, preferring a workshop-format where I visit with each student and walk around the room.
  • Updated the Library/Evening Weekend Supervisor on any outstanding issues.
  • Left work at 4:30pm.

WEDNESDAY

  • Arrived at 7:45am. Logged into my computer and glanced at emails.
  • 8:05am: Main Dining Room for free coffee and a banana.
  • Morning tasks:
    • Answer emails.
    • Ran a report on 3D printing usage. 
    • Started a 3D print job for a client.
    • Did a Facebook and Twitter post about the library’s travel books to cross-promote with the campus study abroad fair later that day.
  • Research question from a student: Looking for scholarly articles analyzing the Gospel of Matthew. Normally I would refer student to subject librarian for religion, but she was unavailable.
  • 10-11am: Prepped for an info lit class scheduled for Thursday surrounding the topic of African-American social conditions, injustice, the Black Lives Matter movement, etc. The class is reading The Hate U Give and All American Boys. This class was for one of the first-year Cultural Seminar courses we do info lit for–and that freshmen students are required to take. Each of the 37 sections of the course has library activities customized to the course topic. So, I spent some time researching the topic and formulating a hands-on activity.
  • 11am-12pm: Conference call for the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians. I’m on the conference planning committee.
  • 12pm-1pm: Lunch at the Main Dining Room, stopped by the campus bookstore to buy a t-shirt, and then went for a walk for the remainder of my lunch hour.
  • Afternoon tasks:
  • 4:00-4:30pm: Updated the Library Evening/Weekend Supervisor on duty. We worked with the 3D printer.
  • 6pm-6:15pm: Drop-by info lit session for a 300-level psychology class–quick step-by-step on how to find an empirical article from the psychological literature. 
  • Graduate student stopped by just before I was leaving to see how to renew an interlibrary loan book that was overdue (quick answer: you can’t!)–and that one of our books was accidentally returned to the public library in a different city! Yikes! Gave student contact info for the library staff person responsible for dealing with this–and also dashed off a quick email to that person to give a heads-up.
  • Left work at 6:45pm.

THURSDAY

  • Arrived at 7:50am. Logged into my computer and glanced at emails.
  • 8:05am: Main Dining Room for free coffee and a banana.
  • Morning tasks:
    • Answer emails.
    • Get 3D print job started for a client.
  • Research question from a professor on bibliometrics: How can I find out when a specific term became popular in the scholarly literature? How can I track development of this topic over time?
  • 10-11am: Infolit session for 100-level Cultural Seminar class on African-American social conditions, injustice, and Black Lives Matter movement. No lecturing…lots of interactive exercises to get students thinking and using our resources!
  • Research question from a student: Looking for an article to share with classmates for a discussion activity. How have gender roles changed in the United States from 1950s to today?
  • 12pm-1pm: Lunch. Used my faculty/staff meal swipe at the Au Bon Pain on campus. Went for a walk for the remainder of my lunch hour.
  • 1pm-1:30pm: Training with Curriculum Materials Collection student worker. 
  • Worked with the Info Commons/Library Classroom manager on a tech problem. Ended up doing a work order for the campus IT department as we (correctly) suspected some of our public computers did not get re-imaged properly (they were missing Deep Freeze software).
  • 2:30pm-4:15pm: Banned Books Week display. Searched library catalog for books, ran a report with call numbers, retrieved the books with the help of a student worker, changed books’ status in catalog to “On Display,” organized the display and created graphics for it. Ideas for the display came from the Library Think Tank group on Facebook.
  • 4:15pm: Updated the Library Evening/Weekend Supervisor on duty.
  • Left work at 4:30pm.

FRIDAY

  • Came in early at 7:30am since I knew I had an 8:30am meeting. Walked straight over to the Main Dining Room to get my usual coffee and a banana, and then headed to my office.
  • Logged into my computer and started checking email.
    • Heard that one (the only?) non-air conditioned classroom building was positively sweltering in 90 Fahrenheit heat. Emailed some professors over there to see if they wanted to use our Library Classroom for the day (since, for once, we had no info lit sessions scheduled). Several happily took me up on the offer!
  • 8:30am-9:30am: Met with the Library Director and the campus’ Digital Marketing Strategist to preview new library website. Received training for the new web editing software.
  • Troubleshoot 3D printer: A piece of filament broke off inside the plastic feeding tube. Used a metal hangar to push the filament through the remainder of the tube and pliers to pull it out. Genius!
  • Started a 3D print job for a client.
  • Student looking for book…only had e-book copy. Helped student set up an e-book account.
  • Did a quick display for National Hispanic Heritage Month. Searched for books in the library catalog, gathered them, organized a display, and printed some graphics. 
  • Lunch from 12pm-1pm: Used my faculty/staff meal swipe at the Main Dining Room. Used the remainder of my lunch hour to go for a walk.
  • Afternoon tasks:
    • Completed “Library Needs Assessment” reports for two proposed music courses. Sent reports to the professor.
    • Posted to the library’s intranet site to update the Library Evening/Weekend Supervisors on projects to work on.
  • Because I worked a longer day on Wednesday, I left today at 2:30pm.

So that’s my detailed week. It may look like a lot, but I bet if any other librarian outlined their work week, they come up with an equally long (or longer!) list too.

My work is often cyclical, just like the academic year. This was only the second full week of classes here, so in-depth research questions have not yet reached their peak. Info lit is starting to pick up. Usually from this time through the first week in November, I’ll be prepping for and teaching anywhere from 2-6 info lit sessions per week.

I’m surprised how much of it is spent with supervisory/management stuff or tech stuff, but that’s the nature of my job. Would be interested in seeing how it compares to other academic librarians from a cross-section of small to large institutions.

…Oh and I didn’t tell you what didn’t get completed and pushed to the back burner for next week, but that could be a whole other blog post!

No More Cruise Control: Driving Change with Students, Staff, and Space

Last month I gave a presentation at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference. I love this conference!–it’s my regional peers, in a small setting, sharing creative and practical tips from their libraries.

Description of the presentation: 
Adapt or die. It’s a mantra we hear, but libraries have always been about change. The key now is to be in the driver’s seat. Librarians from Carroll University will discuss four ways they have embraced change:

1) a workflows assessment to analyze staff duties,

2) a ʺkindness auditʺ to examine barriers to library services,

3) an enhanced patron count to determine how to best utilize library space,

4) a survey to report how students use the library.

Combined, these initiatives position the library as a change maker. Learn about these practices and take the wheel to share your experiences with change, too!

 

I tend not to do the death-by-bullet point PowerPoint, so a little info may be lost outside of the presentation. What it all boils down to are four things my library has done to respond to and anticipate change. Some focus on students and improving library spaces and services, while some focus on staff duties and how to best position the library for the future.

If you have any questions about it, let me know!

 

Post-Truth and Fake News

Earlier in the year I was tasked with creating a resource guide on “post-truth” and fake news. It’s not something I was clamoring to do. To be honest: I was still in the post-election malaise–and my heart was just not into it.

Rarely would I label any of my work tasks as “edicts,” (I like the flexibility and creativity of my job) but this time it was. As part of a broader campus-wide discussion, the library needed to play a part. I began by facilitating a meeting with the librarians on the topic of:

What do we want students to know about post-truth and fake news?

My colleagues are great brainstormers! Too great in fact. Here’s what we came up with:

Post-Truth and Fake News

From this, I had to develop a guide. How do you narrow it down to something manageable? Here’s the guide I created: Post-Truth and Fake News.

After sharing it with library staff for feedback, we then solicited feedback from campus faculty.

I decided a checklist approach, like the CRAAP test, doesn’t really work with post-truth/fake news. It takes time to critically evaluate and a checklist approach won’t suffice. You need to think, analyze, question motives, and question your own assumptions too.

Instead, I went for more a introductory approach that attempts to tie some of these related topics together: How does the information bubble work? How can our own bubble lead to confirmation bias? How does that make us more susceptible to fake news?

What does post-truth mean?

The Information Bubble

What is fake news?

Then I added some resources that faculty can use with classes, including links to teaching materials:

Lastly, I included a lesson. Frankly, it’s hard to keep up with post-truth/fake news developments in the political realm. I took a different tack when it came to “Evaluating Claims.” Knowing that a majority of our students end up majoring in the health sciences, I picked a health “fad” to evaluate: buttered coffee. Is it good? Is it bad? Somewhere in between? Using the NCSS statements as a starting point we could evaluate claims for and against by having a class discussion.

Takeaways: A guide like this can’t possibly cover all of the various themes. It’s a complicated, messy, and ever-evolving topic. But it can be used for an introduction and to provide instructors and students with some good resources to use.

Link to guide: http://pioguides.carrollu.edu/posttruth

Oh, Greta! The Library’s Real Role on Campus

This morning, media personality Greta Van Susteren tweeted out:

A vanity project? Hah! No library I’ve ever worked in could be called a “vanity project.”

The tweet was in response to a Yahoo Finance article: College is Still Getting More Expensive: What Can Stop It?

No real surprises here: College is too expensive and yes, debt is a concern for most students and families–something that most of us agree with.

The comment about smartphones? A flippant remark that reveals a real lack of understanding about academic research and how information is accessible to students.

But a vanity project? A 2012 article on InsideHigherEd.com reported that library budgets as a percentage of the total university budget had fallen from a high of 3.83% in 1974 to 1.95% in 2009. Let’s face it: Academic libraries are small potatoes when it comes to the larger pot of university money.

In terms of outrageous college spending, there are a lot of examples–other than a library–to point to: the University of Oregon has a $68 million football facility – donated by the Nike founder. Imagine if that money was used on academic resources or scholarships instead? There’s also Louisiana State University’s “lazy river” – funded by recreation fees that students voted to approve, but add to the cost that students pay (while others have commented on the physical state of their libraries). High Point University (they have a steak house!) is arguably winning the college amenities “race,” by targeting affluent families who can pay for these amenities. Where does that leave other students?

It boils down to this: The library is not an “amenity”–it’s the academic heart of the institution. You need it to access books, articles, and other resources to complete assignments and projects. That may not necessarily mean using the physical library space, but it’s still popular and well-used.

In fact, research has shown that in term of campus facilities, the library can be the 2nd most important factor (facilities for the student’s major is number one) in choosing a college. On a campus tour, the library ranks as the 3rd most important site after facilities for the student’s major and residence halls (Source: Library Assessment in Higher Education, 2nd ed.)

Excerpt on importance of the library as a facility from Library Assessment in Higher Education, 2nd ed.

Excerpt on importance of the library as a facility from Library Assessment in Higher Education, 2nd ed.

Side note: I don’t have access to the full copy of the above book, because it’s behind a paywall…see the point on “Access” below.

So what are academic libraries all about? Here are five of our most important roles on campus:

  1. Access: Van Susteren is correct in saying that the “library” is on your smartphone, but there’s a big caveat: Are you affiliated with an academic institution? If not, then most academic information (articles and books) is behind a paywall. Libraries license the information to provide access to its students. Although I would like to see more things go open access, right now, you’re going to need this licensed information provided by the library to be a successful student researcher. Oh and guess what, after graduation, most students lose access to that academic information…but that’s a whole other topic!
  2. Learn: So you have all of this information at your fingertips, but how do you navigate it? Academic libraries are all about learning and discovery. With their information literacy programs, academic libraries partner with classes and professors to help navigate the information landscape, find and evaluate sources, and build relationships with librarians for expert help.
  3. Collaborate: The James B. Hunt Library at North Carolina State University may be one those “vanity projects” that Van Susteren was mentioning. But again, she’s missing the mark. Step inside and you’ll see what the modern academic library is all about: collaboration. The library has a makerspace, digital production studios, 100 group study rooms, and a special graduate student area. The library is all about creating opportunities (both planned and unplanned) to collaborate.
  4. Study: Students still need places to study and they need a variety of study spaces. In my library, we generally have about one-third of students who prefer silent studying in our quiet Reading Room, while another one-third prefer the collaboration spaces of our Information Commons, with the final one-third preferring a noisy and “anything goes” atmosephere like our coffee shop.
  5. Socialize: Yes, it’s OK for the academic library to feel like the campus living room. From therapy dogs to welcome back parties for students (note: all usually done on a shoestring budget!), libraries continue to dispel the notion that they are only for studying. Everyone deserves a break now and then!

These roles firmly place the library in the center of the academic institution. It’s not vanity, it’s necessity.

You Do What? Re-working a Librarian “Career Day” Presentation

A group of 15-year old high school students from a nearby city have been visiting my college campus periodically since the 4th grade. They’re part of a pre-college program that prepares students to be the first in the their family to attend a four-year university.

This year, students have been focusing on careers. I was asked to give a 50-minute presentation on: My Life as a Librarian.

What???? I immediately panicked. How would I make a presentation about librarianship interesting to high schoolers? Was it even worth it to participate?

Making Connections

The quick answer: Yes, it was worth participating! I knew I wasn’t going to make mini-librarians out of anyone…nor should I even try. Plus, I’m dubious of pigeon-holing anyone into a specific career so young (says me who changed his college major three times!). What I thought was more important was:

  • Seeing how high school students perceive libraries/librarians
  • Getting that perception to be something positive
  • Making students comfortable with the idea of the academic library and what we have to offer

My Plan

Instead of going through the usual:

  • this is what a librarian does…
  • this is how much they make…
  • these are the requirements for the job…

…because, let’s face it: BORING… I decided instead to pull out a few “fun” things and do some hands-on activities.

Team-based Activity

After welcoming the students to the library, we went into the Library Classroom and I introduced myself. I avoided rattling off my list of job duties because I had arranged for something more interactive. Our classroom has three interactive whiteboards. I split the students into three teams. Each whiteboard had this question:

What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?

What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?

What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?

Students brainstormed with their team members and used the touchscreen technology to record their answers. Here is where librarian stereotypes come into play. Students mentioned words like: books, old lady, mean, shhhh!, glasses, and checking in books.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

Then I asked the question:

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

What do you think a librarian does?

What do you think a librarian does?

Again, we got stereotypical remarks such as reading, checking in/shelving books, etc…

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

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Library/Librarian Stereotypes

From there, we had a quick little discussion about some of these stereotypes. I mentioned that I hadn’t shushed anyone but had been shushed myself–which brought out some smiles and laughter from the students. I also explained that our student workers are the ones who usually check out and shelve books. I even admitted that I don’t get to read as much as I like and I definitely don’t read on the job (for fun anyway!).

Each team had a teacher, chaperone, or one of our college students seated with the students to give some guidance. I got some great answers this way: develop programs, teach students, etc…

In my role as a reference/instruction librarian, I compared my job to a teacher: helping students find and evaluate information, helping with assignments and projects. That seemed to make the connection.

Because many stereotypes were brought up, I shared this slide of: What Librarians Do that I grabbed from the library at Otis College of Art and Design. Side note: when searching for images of “what people think a librarian does” most search results include the “sexy/naughty librarian” stereotype which may not be appropriate for all age levels. That’s why I liked this image and felt it perfectly encapsulated what librarians do for a high school audience.

"The librarian...What we actually do." Image source: Otis College of Art and Design Library

“The librarian…What we actually do.” Image source: Otis College of Art and Design Library.

What I do

Then I touched upon a few of things I do…

I mentioned that everything I do relates back to “stuff” (inspired by a keynote talk from Amy Buckland at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference).

What I do as a librarian...

What I do as a librarian…

And to do what I do, I only briefly mentioned educational requirements (yeah, yeah master’s degree)…but more importantly stressed QUALITIES you need: namely curiosity and helpfulness.

Curiosity and helpfulness: good qualities to be a librarian.

Curiosity and helpfulness: good qualities to be a librarian.

Then I segued into a few specific things that might surprise them:

Teaching & Research Assistance

I shared a few examples of research questions that the librarians have helped students with this semester, emphasizing that at a small university the librarians have to know a little bit about a lot things. The takeaway being: It’s OK to ask for help!

Teaching and research assistance

Teaching and research assistance

Books

I briefly discussed books. Yes, books are still important, but they are not our only resource. We have books, e-books, and articles you can access online! To give the students a sense of history, I grabbed the library’s oldest book from Special Collections: a book about ecclesiastical law in Great Britain, published in 1604.

A really old book...1604.

A really old book…1604.

Showing the book to students, I asked:

When do you think this book was published?

Some guessed 1800s, some even said 1900! Nope, 1604! Students thought it was cool to see such an old book. It also helped reinforce the library’s mission: Collecting and providing information, regardless of what the format or delivery method may be.

3D Printing

Then I switched to something a bit more new: 3D printing. I ran through a quick explanation and demo of the 3D printer and let the students pick out something to be printed: In this case, a smiley face. I explained what our faculty and students use it for (science models, action figures, home decor, mechanical pieces) and why it belongs in the library (a place to collaborate and experiment!).

3D printing a smiley face.

3D printing a smiley face.

Because I wanted a free little giveaway, before the session I had printed enough small 3D items (smiley face, Pokemon “squirtle”, Ultimaker robot, Coffin’s cube, #MakeItHappen bracelets, and heart-shaped jewelry) to hand one out to each student.

Events

Lastly, I discussed events that the library hosts: a party to welcome freshmen to campus, therapy dogs during Final Exams, etc… to give students a sense at how social the library is.

Library events...

Library events…

And that’s where we had some more interactive fun… I mentioned about hosting a Nerf tag event and that I needed to check to see if all of the library’s Nerf equipment was still in good working order. I asked:

Would you like to help me test of out the Nerf tag equipment? 

A resounding “YES!” So we had a few moments of Nerf tag in the classroom.

Conclusion

Then I wrapped up with a quick tour of the library and a short reflective exercise:

  • Name one thing you learned about?
  • What was something that surprised you?
  • What do you think about librarians now?

Forgoing the usual, “these are my duties as a librarian” lecture, I focused more on some of the fun, creative, tech stuff, and research activities that I get to participate in. It was less about me, and more about the library. Combining this with some interactive exercises made for a fun experience with these students. No one is going to decide to become a librarian (nor should they at this point), but hopefully they all left feeling that the library is a fun, dynamic, and helpful place.

Working with Students on the Autism Spectrum in an Academic Library

I don’t want to give away too much information on this situation, so I’m changing a few of the things to protect privacy, but here goes…

Background
I was facilitating an information literacy session for a class–a typical first-year gen ed course. My usual plan incorporates a hands-on activity (research worksheet) where students, working in groups, find different information sources on their class topic (books, ebooks, streaming films, newspapers/magazines, scholarly articles). After searching, each group shares how they found the information with their classmates. In total, the session incorporates multiple learning styles (visual, aural, and tactile).

Instead of me doing the talking, I outline what we want to accomplish during the session and point out a couple of things on the library website. Then I let the groups start their work. I walk around and visit each group to make sure they are headed in the right direction.

Issue
A group was struggling in interactions with one of their classmates.

  • A student kept asking me question after question. I love when students ask questions in info lit sessions (yes!), but the student was bogged down in technical minutiae — missing the forest through the trees — that sort of thing.
  • The student fixated on answering each question on the research worksheet and was taking very little input from other group members.
  • The student argued with the other students about the answers. The student was concerned that there were multiple avenues for determining a “correct” answer.
  • The student was verbally critical in a raised voice when help was offered to the group (e.g., “Why didn’t you show us how to do this AT THE BEGINNING!”).
  • The student also seemed sidetracked with the settings on the library laptops that were being used by the students.

I realized I *likely* (granted, just an inference on my part) had a student on the autism spectrum in class. No formal indication was communicated to me–nor should it–that is up to the individual. In typical “pro” librarian style, you just need to roll with the situation and be flexible.

My Reaction
As this was happening, I made a mental note to remain calm and supportive. The last thing I want to do to any student is be dismissive, curt, or yell back.

I focused on providing a little more in-depth step-by-step instruction with the student (e.g., “Let’s take a look at your question and see what we can find out.”). However, I did feel like I got behind schedule and the rest of the students were waiting for us to catch up–some were noticeably annoyed. It’s a difficult balancing act that we will see more of at the higher ed level.

I wish I could have facilitated the session more smoothly. I’d be interested in hearing tips and techniques from other librarians. 

Things to Keep in Mind
Individuals on the autism spectrum are all unique, but there are a few general tips to be aware of in regards to the library and information literacy:

  1. Meeting in a new location (like the Library Classroom) may disrupt the student’s routine.
  2. My “there are many ways to find the answer” research worksheet may not be structured enough for someone on the autism spectrum. I could have supplemented it by outlining a step-by-step research strategy on the chalkboard/whiteboard.
  3. Technology in the Library Classroom could be distracting or contribute to sensory overload (I typically use both laptops and touchscreen technology with students).
  4. I usually require students to work in pairs or groups for the research worksheet activity, but should recognize that if a student wishes to work independently, that is an OK option.
  5. Emphasize additional services:
    • Appointments to meet with a librarian if that’s what the student is interested in.
    • Online tutorials and the library’s online chat box that can be accessed from the comfort of home/dorm room, etc… if a face-to-face interaction is not preferred.
    • Quiet spaces are available in the library if that’s the type of space that the student is interested in utilizing.
  6. As a librarian/higher ed professional, I will readily admit to not having a lot of training in the area of working with students on the autism spectrum. Contact your university’s office of disability services to see what further support the library could provide, or to arrange for staff training opportunities.
  7. Remember, *all* students learn differently. Keep in mind the principles of Universal Design for Learning.

Further Reading