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

 

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Killing It with Kindness: Incorporating Sustainable Assessment through Kindness Audits

Last month, Jessica Olin of Letters to a Young Librarian and I gave a presentation about kindness audits at the Association of College and Research Libraries virtual conference.

Brief Description:
Learn how to design and conduct a kindness audit, a low-cost and high-reward assessment method that helps librarians examine barriers to library services and spaces through a user experience lens. Varying methods for kindness audits, lessons learned, and suggestions for identifying and implementing low-cost improvements for library spaces and services, will all be discussed.

Presentation Slides:
Below are our slides from the presentation.

Presentation Notes:
This post is a lot longer than what is normally published on this blog, but both Jessica and I want to make as much of the virtual session presentation we gave for ACRL 2015 available as we can.

This post is identical to the one published on my presentation partner’s blog.

Slide 1:
Jessica: Hello everyone and welcome to Killing it with Kindness, Incorporating Sustainable Assessment through Kindness Audits. We will introduce ourselves in a minute, but first I wanted to give you an overview of how this session will go. After introductions, we’re going to give a brief explanation of kindness audits, then each of us will discuss one aspect of the overall process and how that aspect played out at our schools. We’re going to try to keep that part brief so that we can save time, hopefully 15-20 minutes, at the end for question and answer. You have our twitter handles and our session hashtag and also the email address we set up specifically for this session for people who aren’t on Twitter. Of course, we also have the chat function here in the Adobe Connect session. We’re going to do our best to keep track of questions as we go through the session and we’ll also have a good chunk for Q&A at the end.

Slide 2:
Jessica: Now to introduce ourselves…

Joe: Hi, I’m Joe Hardenbrook. I’m a reference and instruction librarian at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin. I coordinate research assistance and information literacy and am the library’s liaison to the university’s education, psychology, and diversity programs. I’ve been at Carroll since 2014, but I’ve been an academic librarian since 2003.

Jessica: Hi, I’m Jessica Olin. I’ve been a librarian since 2003 and the director of the library at Wesley College since the beginning of 2013. We want to do something a little goofy as a way to make this less formal, so we’re going to play a game called Two Truths and a Lie.

Slide 3:
Joe: OK, so here are three statements about me. Two of them are true, and one is a lie. To get you used to using the chat box, type in the letter of the statement that you think is a lie…So what’s the lie? My favorite movie is not Legally Blonde. It’s an OK movie, but my favorite movie is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I am actually a certified storm chaser through NOAA and I won an airport trivia code contest once – it came down to “LGW” which is London Gatwick and I won.

Slide 4:
Jessica: My turn. Which one of these is the lie? I’ll give you a moment to read through them and then just vote for your choice by typing the letter in the chat window. {wait until someone guesses B} Yes, [name] was the first to guess that I have not lived in 10 states. I’ve only lived in 7. And if you’re curious, William Whipple of Connecticut is the signer in my family tree and I played Pearl at age 5 in the 1979 PBS miniseries of The Scarlet Letter.

Slide 5:
Joe: What is a Kindness Audit? It’s all about taking a concerted effort to look at your library with fresh eyes and experience it as a new user. It’s taking a look at things such as wayfinding, signage, library spaces, and furniture. It’s also about asking things like: Are the service desks welcoming? What obstacles do your users encounter? I was first introduced to kindness audits through a MOOC I completed in Fall 2013: The Hyperlinked Library MOOC from San Jose State University taught by Michael Stevens and Kyle Jones. I completed a kindness audit at the library I was working at and I’ve now replicated it at my current workplace at Carroll University. Jessica and I each did things a little differently for our respective kindness audits, so we will walk you through how each of us approached it prior to discussing how you can recreate it at your own institutions.

Slide 6:
Joe: First, a little bit about Carroll University so you know my background. We’re located in Waukesha, Wisconsin–about 20 minutes from downtown Milwaukee. Our enrollment is just over 3,000 students. Starting in the mid-1990s the institution  transitioned from a traditional small liberal arts college to a university with a strong health sciences focus. Today, our most popular undergrad majors are: exercise science, nursing, psychology, business administration, and biology. We also have several graduate programs, including MBA, Master of Education, and Doctor of Physical Therapy.

Slide 7:
Joe: The Todd Wehr Memorial Library opened in 1942. It was expanded in the 1960s and remodeled in the late 1990s. A renovated Library Classroom in 2013 was our latest change. Our staff includes 6 librarians, 2.5 staff members, and 5 part-time evening/weekend staff.

Slide 8:
Joe: I conducted my kindness audit in May 2014. This was a librarian-led audit. I also did one with students, but Jessica will talk more about her experiences with that. For my audit, I really wanted to see it as a “new user” – so I started at our front entrance on the main floor and wound my way through the building. I used a library iPad to take photos and when I was finished, I divided the photos into 2 categories: 1) Commendable, or 2) Needs Improvement.

Slide 9:
Joe: So what did I find? Let’s start out with the “good stuff.” In terms of commendable, I think the library does a good job of providing information about the library. The photo on the left shows the large plasma screen when you walk in that rotates with library news and announcements. It also features photos of the librarians and their subject areas. I’m a big proponent of the idea that the library isn’t just a building – it’s about the people. This helps to promote that. The photo on the right are the librarians’ business cards. Again, they feature photos of the librarians to help students connect a face to name. This is vitally important since we have a very strong library liaison program. These cards are available at all of the service desks.

Slide 10:
Joe: Another commendable item is technology. There are plenty of computers for use in the Information Commons. It’s not the largest lab on campus, but it is definitely the busiest. There are also 60 iPads available for checkout at the Circulation Desk.

Slide 11:
Joe: The library’s coffee shop is another commendable space. It’s very inviting, has large windows with great views of campus, and lots of soft seating–something the rest of the library lacks. Also important: the coffee shop doors close so noise is not a disruption to the library proper.

Slide 12:
Joe: So what needs improvement? We could definitely do a better job with our signage. The photo on the left is food and drink signage. It’s negative, overly wordy, and in some cases looks cheap. We have a coffee shop in the library, so I think you need to expect food and drink to travel. What the library probably needs to do is to re-evaluate its policy and likely liberalize it. The photo on the right is missing call number signage. In my walk-through I noticed some end caps didn’t have call numbers and some were handwritten. I also noticed some that listed subject areas (like “US History” or “Psychology”) – that’s very helpful. Why wasn’t this applied to the entire collection? Again, we just need to be consistent with our signage.

Slide 13:
Joe: Also needing improvement: some of our services and how we market them. The photo on the left is our Information Desk – not that you would know that. There’s no branding. What is the desk for? What questions can you ask here? Why is no one there? How is it different than other service desks that are nearby? Well, there usually is a student worker seated here and it’s intended for patrons to ask simple questions about printing, technology, copying, and scanning. We just need to identify and market it better. The photo on the right is our disability workstation. Again, same problem: no signage and it’s not labeled. It looks like a scanning station if you happen to walk past it. So again, another branding and marketing opportunity.

Slide 14:
Joe: So here’s why I love kindness audits: Changes can often be implemented quickly and easily. Shown here is our Library Classroom. We made some changes immediately after the kindness audit. The photo on the left shows an open door. Prior to that the door was kept closed. We now leave it open to be more welcoming. Since the room had changed from a traditional computer lab with desktop PCs to a laptop classroom, students weren’t sure how they could utilize the space. If you looked through the closed door, all you would see is movable furniture. So to help, we also positioned our student worker (photo on the right) from the front of the classroom to the entrance to answer student questions about using the classroom and checking out laptops for students. Now the space has seen increased usage.

Slide 15:
Joe: We love the movable furniture, but the default set-up shown on the left was not conducive to group work. So we changed the set-up to pods of tables, shown on the right. This is more popular with students. Also prior to the kindness audit, students were not permitted to use the touchscreen technology and whiteboards. We changed that. Students are now encouraged to use the technology and they can also move the furniture around to suit their needs, too. These simple changes have made the space much more inviting and we’ve received a lot of positive feedback from students.

Slide 16:
Joe: One thing I questioned on the kindness audit was our single occupancy restrooms. They just don’t make any sense. However, it turned out that the kindness audit matched good timing: The university decided to switch all single occupancy restrooms to gender neutral. It’s more inclusive and it reduces wait times.

Slide 17:
Joe: Here’s another quick change we implemented. The librarian’s offices in the Information Commons are fishbowl style. Pictured here is my office. The photo on the left is before the kindness audit: I have my blinds down. The photo on the right is after: To be more noticeable, I now keep my blinds up. I also placed a research sign in my window encouraging people to interrupt me. As a result, I get more questions now. So again, another fix that was free, quick, and easy.

Slide 18:
Joe: Another change that didn’t happen to cost us any money involved our group study rooms. The photo on the left is the before pic: The rooms featured trapezoid shaped tables that made maneuvering in the room difficult. The photo on the right is the after pic: We swapped out the trapezoid tables for round tables that came from another campus department that was getting rid of furniture. Now the rooms are more inviting for groups.

Slide 19:
Joe: Like most libraries we suffer from a deficit of outlets. The photo on the left shows how one student has a strung a laptop cord across the floor which creates a trip hazard. Although we didn’t have the funds to put in more outlets, we’re utilizing the ones we do have more wisely. We placed additional plugs that also include USB ports in strategic locations where students typically study. The new plugs cost $15 each.

Slide 20:
Joe: So what surprised us about the kindness audit? I was impressed by how many of the things I noticed were easy fixes, quick changes, and low cost–or even no cost in most instances. There weren’t any major suggestions related to infrastructure. My findings mirrored the kindness audit that my students completed too. There was also more to like than not like–and that was good to see. We just need to do a better job of marketing and branding.

Slide 21:
Jessica: First I’m going to give you some context, background on the school and my library, and then I’m going to show you some of what we learned by having student workers conduct kindness audits as a balance for librarian audits. Wesley College was founded in 1873 as a prep school mostly because the Methodist mothers and fathers of Delaware were tired of sending their children out of state to attend college. We still have a covenant relationship with the Methodist church. We became a 4 year college in the 70s under the guidance of the library’s namesake. Right now we have approximately 1400 undergraduates in 24 majors. Business Administration and health related majors are our most popular programs, but we have the full range of what you’d expect from a small liberal arts college. We have a few masters programs, but they are still relatively small. We have plans to start a master’s of occupational therapy in the near future. One last thing: we’ve recently been designated an official minority serving institution which means that more than 50% of our enrolled students are African American, Hispanic, and/or Native American.

Slide 22:
Jessica: While the college has had a library all along, we’ve only been in this location since 1970. Our building originally housed classrooms and faculty offices and was renovated. We had another round of renovations that were exclusively cosmetic in 2001. We aren’t the only department in the building. We share the space with academic support, the tutoring center, disability services, the career center, IT, and the history department. We have a super small staff with 1.91 full time librarians (me and a reference librarian who is on a 10 month contract, although there is a frozen 12 month MLIS position), 6 part time non-degree holding staff, and 7 work study. We still manage to open 7 days a week for a total of 94 hours. We’re part of a 50 library consortium with almost every library in Delaware, which helps a lot.

Slide 23:
Jessica: The student audits were conducted towards the beginning of the spring semester of the 2013-2014 school year. Since these 7 students had worked for us for a semester by the time we did this, I felt comfortable giving them just a general direction. I had them read the blog post that Joe wrote about his own kindness audit, told them to take pictures and take notes on what they’d seen, and to look for both things they liked and things they didn’t like about the library.

Slide 24:
Jessica: These were student workers, so I’m assuming they were a bit biased, but they all commented on how helpful and friendly the staff were.

Slide 25:
Jessica: The majority of them also talked about how much they liked the different book displays we put out and the white board polls we conduct. They liked how it made the library more interactive. If anyone is interested in more information about our white board polls, I wrote about it for my own blog recently.

Slide 26:
Jessica: While this wasn’t strictly part of what they were supposed to capture since we were looking for their response to the physical environment, one student talked about how much they liked the consortium because it helped with school work and fun reading and saved them money.

Slide 27:
Jessica: Unlike what Joe experienced, our student workers found a lot more to dislike than they did to like. This is just one example. Our study areas looked, quite frankly, like a mishmash of leftover furniture that didn’t get sold at a yard sale. Though some of how things were arranged had more to do with students rearranging our spaces, it was still a big problem.

Slide 28:
Jessica: Another thing they didn’t like was the furniture itself. Most of what we have in the building is pretty old, a lot of it dating from the 1980s. We don’t have a single study carrel that is without graffiti, and the arrangement of furniture was off as well.

Slide 29:
Jessica: I don’t know if there is a library out there that doesn’t have at least a couple of problems with signage, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on it. Students talked about how hard the signs are to read in some places, how there were lots of handmade signs, that they aren’t always up to date like that directory sign you see there, and there weren’t enough signs by far.

Slide 30:
Jessica: This is actually an after picture since it’s kind of hard to capture a picture of noise, but that was a major problem we were having. Some of it can’t be helped since we share our space with so many other departments, but we have made a lot of progress towards improvement by designating specific spaces for quiet and loud. We have also started walking through the library, being a seen presence, once or twice per hour.

Slide 31:
Jessica: We have a lot of technology problems at the college as a whole, it’s just that the library is a place where those problems are most noticeable.  In some ways this is out of the libraries control, other than we developed and/or asked for workarounds to help students. Those two sheets of paper you see there are detailed instructions for basic functions such as logging in and printing as well as how to enact the fixes we need. We have brought an outside company onto campus to fix our IT issues, but there is a lot more to fix than we realized.

Slide 32:
Jessica: Our print system is a bit of a throwback. Students don’t like having to pay for printing regardless, but the fact that they have to use a coin operated system that frequently breaks makes it even worse. While I haven’t been able to address this just yet, I have been soliciting quotes for print management software and have been working with our new IT to make sure it’s a scalable solution that can extend beyond the library in due time.

Slide 33:
Jessica: While the student workers think the staff and the librarians are great, there was some concern about us spending so much time in our offices. We didn’t have a reference desk of any sort at that time, and really the circulation desk is too small for more than one person to stay back there, so there wasn’t much room for us to be anywhere but our offices at that time.

Slide 34:
Jessica:  Most of the changes, other than designating areas of the library for quiet and for loud, took a bit longer than what Joe said about his library. This change couldn’t happen until the summer when we students wouldn’t be around as much. We spent a lot of time rearranging furniture to make the loud area more conducive to group study. You can also see a white board in the back. Students weren’t allowed to use it, but we’ve changed that and now have a kit with dry erase markers and an eraser and students now students use this space for practicing presentations and planning out group projects.

Slide 35:
Jessica: And we moved furniture to make the quiet study areas more conducive to individual work. We also spent a lot of time moving chairs from one level to another so that, even if they are a bit older, they at least match. One other thing that hasn’t happened yet but that is in the works is that our Student Government Association is talking about buying the library some new study carrels. They are also a bit part of the reason why we will be able to afford the print management software as they are going to sponsor that in part or maybe in whole.

Slide 36:
Jessica: While we haven’t been able to solve the print management problem just yet, we have gotten new printers for the library. Our old ones were incredibly old for the setting at 5 years, so these new printers have been a good thing even if it is only one small aspect of our overall technical issues.

Slide 37:
Jessica: And the change that we’re most proud of is that we now have a reference desk. This library hadn’t had one in recent memory, and we didn’t really have anyway to put a regular computer anywhere that would have made sense, not without spending a lot of money from a small budget. However, we did some research and found that a chromebook and a table with two chairs serves just as well. We just started providing this service last semester. We’re still getting students and faculty used to the fact that we provide this service now, but our numbers have been slowly climbing. More recently we’ve  started bribing students with candy to ask us reference questions and that is pretty popular.

Slide 38:
Jessica: One of the biggest surprises we had was how much the student audits overlapped with the librarian audits. These specific student workers had been with us for a few months so our perspective had rubbed off on them a bit, but it still made us feel that we had at least some understanding of the student perspective. We also were surprised that students had noticed the consortium and could articulate so specifically the kinds of benefits it brought to them. Finally, although our easy fixes weren’t as immediately put in place as Joe’s, it was a bit startling how much moving our old furniture around could change the atmosphere.

Slide 39:
Jessica: You are looking at pictures of the namesakes of our two libraries. We thought it would be a cute way to introduce our discussion of how the differences in our libraries may have impacted specifics, but each library benefited from the kindness audits.

Joe: For me, I was only about 6 months into my job when I conducted my kindness audit, so it was easier to see things with fresh eyes. However, I needed to rely on co-workers to get a historical overview about certain aspects of the library. In addition, although we operate in a very collaborative environment, I don’t have final decision-making or budgetary authority to make large-scale library changes. That would be handled by our library director.

Jessica: I’ve got a smaller budget and staff and library than Joe, but I was in a position as the director to make this a priority for us.

Slide 40:
Jessica: Okay, now we want to talk about how you can do your own kindness audit. For me, it worked to give the students just a general overview of what I expected and wanted then give them an opportunity to ask questions. I required that they take lots of pictures, but all of them had phones with cameras so I let them use their own rather than providing a camera. I also asked them to take detailed notes about what they were photographing so I could know what I was seeing. Finally, it was crucial to get the students involved above and beyond the librarian audits.

Joe: For the student kindness audit, I was a little more explicit in my instructions. I was using brand new freshmen student workers during their first week on the job. I got the feeling that they might be hesitant to provide critical feedback, so I gave them instructions to take photos of things in the library and place them into one of these categories: Things I like, Things I didn’t like, That that confused me, Things that surprised me, Things I had questions about. It worked. Students took over 200 photos.

Jessica: one final thing that I want to urge you to do is to share the results of your assessment, both with your immediate stakeholders and with the community. It was that kind of sharing that got the Wesley College SGA interested in helping us pay for new study carrels.

Slide 41:
Jessica: Here’s a list of a few of the barriers you want to keep in mind. If you don’t have a background on any of these, you’ll probably want to consult someone who does or teach yourself about them. For instance, I’m biased because of my first job in higher ed to be sensitive to ADA requirements, but there are a lot of regulations for public spaces. An example of this is that there are specific regulations for how much difference you need to have on signs between the background and the print. You also need to remember the needs of any international students you might have as well was taking into account campus culture. We’re both in shared spaces, so any major changes we want to institute need to keep those partnerships in mind – those shared spaces and also influence how students and other parts of your community perceive the library. Add bit about need states.

Joe: If you are recruiting students for your kindness audit, be aware of any approval you may need to seek from your university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) since your work involves human subjects. Both Jessica and I used student workers who were performing the kindness audit as a task related to their employment, so we did not have to go through the IRB process.

Jessica: Finally, this isn’t a one-off assessment. We’re planning to run it again this coming Fall and hopefully every other year from now on. Like any assessment, this needs to be part of a continuous cycle of improvement.

Slide 42:
Joe: We are more than happy to take your questions through the chat window. We can also keep the conversation going on Twitter by using the hashtag #acrlkindness. You can tweet directly to Jessica at @olinj or to me at @mrlibrarydude. You can also send us an email to librarykindnessaudit@gmail.com.

Slide 43:
Jessica: Thanks so much for attending this session. I think I’ve learned just as much from your questions a I was hoping to impart. We both really believe in the benefits of this process and want to help you put it in place at your libraries, so here are our emails so you can contact us in the future.

Post Script:
We got a lot of great questions both throughout the presentation and during the official question and answer period. The recording of our actual presentation is available via the ACRL 2015 Virtual Conferences website (for a fee), but we also hope to publish an article with more details sometime in the near-ish future. Let us know if you have any questions at any time. And thanks for your interest.

Creating an Undergraduate Student Library Practicum

This will sound blunt, but it’s reality: A library school student who “only” takes the classes but doesn’t complete a practicum, internship, or some form of library work (during or before the program)–such as a grad assistant, library student worker, paraprofessional… will fall to the bottom of the pack when applying for jobs. You will be up against peers who have these experiences and they will rise to the top. Competition is cutthroat in many locales and I won’t sugarcoat it.

We had a unique opportunity at my library. We were approached by an undergraduate education student who was thinking about eventually becoming a librarian. The student had enrolled in an education practicum class and wanted to know if the library could serve as a potential practicum site.

Without hesitation, I said “Yes!” By the way, *always* try to find a way to say yes if it’s an opportunity for your students!

I met with the student, learned about the practicum requirements, and agreed to the be the supervisor. I worked with the other librarians to create a list of objectives and tasks. The student had to complete 60 hours over March and April at the practicum site. Unlike many of the student’s classmates that had “passive” practicums (a lot of them were primarily workplace observations), I wanted the library practicum to be active.

Practicum Goals

I developed a list of “somethings” that we wanted to accomplish:

  1. Something the student could put on a resume.
  2. Something the student could point to and say: “Hey, I did/created this!”
  3. Something that offered the student variety at my small-ish academic library.
  4. Something that would allow the student to decide if librarianship would be a good career fit.
  5. Something that went beyond a traditional undergraduate student library worker job at my institution.

We decided to focus on five areas based on the library’s needs and the student’s interests: technology, information literacy, collection development, marketing/social media, and displays/outreach.

To streamline the practicum experience, I:

  1. Worked with the student to plan out a schedule of hours.
  2. Created a list of projects or tasks assigned for each day.
  3. Assigned each project or task to the appropriate librarian so that s/he could liaise with the student.

Practicum Activities

  • Meet with each of the librarians individually to discuss job duties and responsibilities, their paths to becoming a librarian, biggest challenges and opportunities, etc. (Areas covered: access services, administration, archives, electronic resources, information literacy/reference, technical services.)
  • Technology: LibGuides
    • Trained on editing and clean-up.
    • Give feedback from a student perspective on design.
    • Create “galleries” of new books for subject LibGuides.
  • Information Literacy
    • Observe information literacy sessions (e.g., English Comp, Theatre, Health Sciences).
    • Join librarians in a teaching roundtable: Assisting health science students in finding research with evidence-based practices.
  • Collection Development
    • Research young adult fiction relating to mental health to fill a gap in the Curriculum Materials Collection. Generate a list of 20 books to recommend to the librarian with brief synopses.
    • Research diverse children’s literature (via sources such as We Need Diverse Books and CCBC) to help broaden and expand the Curriculum Materials Collection. Generate a list of 50 books to recommend to the librarian with brief synopses.
  • Marketing/Social Media
    • Assist with library’s “March Madness” bracket activity.
    • Assist with library booth for the university’s Health & Wellness Fair.
    • Social media: Brainstorm and create 10 Facebook and Twitter posts.
  • Displays/Outreach
    • Remove the “Women’s History Month” display at end of March. Create a spreadsheet of books that were used in the display for future planning purposes.
    • Search library catalog and create a list of 50 books relating to the environment and sustainability. Create an “Earth Day” display.
    • Search library catalog and create a list of 20 young adult books for a display that collaborates with the Education Club and their promotion of young adult lit for a movie showing of Divergent.

The practicum went smoothly. The student was engaged with the work and asked great questions–and had projects to show for it. I had to sign off on the hours for each week and the student had to submit a journal of activities to the professor. In fact, the professor said the library practicum sounded the “most interesting” of all of the practicums …so hey, I think we did something right!

Our undergrad practicum can serve as a building block to create an enhanced internship or practicum that would be appropriate for grad level students in library school. Most importantly, it gave our student valuable experience to decide if library school should be the next step–and if it is, then that’s one opportunity the student has under the belt!

A Doggone Good Time: Therapy Dogs at the Library

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the title. I know….I know…

I’ve been seeing posts and pictures recently of other library therapy dogs events. Who doesn’t like to see some doggie pics? So I thought I’d throw in my own experience:

Today was the library’s 3rd annual visit of therapy dogs (technically they’re outreach dogs–dogs that have passed their canine good citizenship test). It’s something that the students eagerly look forward to (and now come expect!) as fall semester Final Exams begin. We had 16 dogs with us today and several hundred students.

It’s a great way to put a different face on the academic library: to show students we care about their mental well-being. We want them relaxed for Final Exams. We want to relieve those jitters for a little while. This gives them an opportunity to take a break from studying if for just a bit.

I blogged about the broader topic last spring – De-Stressing for Student Finals –  and a colleague and I gave a presentation on marketing and outreach activities such as this last year: Creating an Engaging Library: Marketing from the Group Up.

For the library it costs little money. The local kennel club participants volunteer their time for free. Our marketing is via the library website, Facebook, and Twitter. We spent some money printing posters. It’s also important to be in contact with your parent organization’s risk management person to make sure the appropriate paperwork and insurance forms are filled out. Otherwise, it’s a pretty easy event to handle.

Concerns about noise and allergies? Although that’s definitely a legitimate concern, we’ve heard very little comment. We’re lucky in that our library is 7 floors. For us, it boils down to this: The event takes up 1 floor for 2 hours on 1 day a year. You have to balance the reward with the consequences. For us, the reward is overwhelming: This is an event that students look forward to. Students are lined up on the floor waiting to see the dogs as they come into the building. Want to see more? Check out these pics:

Embedded Librarian 101: How to Get Started

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As librarians, we can’t wait for students to ask us questions. We know that! That’s why we’ve had “virtual” reference services since the early 2000’s. But it’s simply not enough to have an online presence. The key is being online where the students are. For most universities, this means the learning management system (Moodle, Blackboard, D2L, etc…). It’s where students spend their academic time. It’s where librarians need to be. It’s embedded librarianship.

How do you get started?

  • Start small. Identity a library-friendly faculty member that would be open to an embedded librarian and then expand from there.
  • Target writing emphasis courses (many universities will have these courses tagged in their course catalogs with terms such as writing emphasis, writing enhanced, writing intensive, etc…) that will likely have a research component that would require the use of library materials and resources.
  • Send an email to faculty teaching these courses at the beginning of every term (yes, it takes several reminders for it to work!).
  • Provide marketing and informational materials about embedded librarian services. We direct faculty to a LibGuide about our embedded librarian program and have developed a checklist for faculty to consult. We also provide info at faculty workshops and try to get our foot in the door at departmental meetings.
  • Work with the faculty member to identify the level of service needed: ranging from a simple discussion forum, to a tutorial/quiz module, to you as a “guest lecturer,”etc…

How do you gain access to courses in the learning management system?

  • First: get the go-ahead from the faculty member teaching the course.
  • Work with your university’s IT staff. Most can add you into courses with TA access or a “librarian” role can be created in the learning management system. I usually email our IT staff requesting access to the courses I need and I copy the faculty member on the email.
  • Recommendation: request that a secondary account for embedded librarian be added to the course  (for example, your library’s Reference Desk account) so that the courses can be checked if you’re out of the office or on vacation.

How do you set up & post information as the Embedded Librarian?

  • Create your discussion forum and add in any other learning objects that are appropriate (e.g., LibGuides, tutorials, etc.).
  • If you’re embedded for an entire term, you may want to roll out various learning objects by date as assignments/projects approach.
  • Introduce yourself in the discussion forum. Describe what you’re here to do. Add in a video to give a face to a name–creating a much more personal approach (here’s mine).
  • Give students some guidelines: “I’ll check this forum twice per day.” “When you post your question, tell me a little bit about what you’ve already tried to search for.” “If you need immediate help, try our Ask-a-Librarian service.”

How do you encourage students to ask questions?

  • Be welcoming. “If you have a question, it’s likely that some of your other classmates have the exact same question. So post it!”
  • Develop a list of “ready to go” posts. These are posts that you can drop in the forum (say once per week) to help stimulate discussion and questions.
  • Post information in a variety of mediums from PDF handouts to videos.

Where do you go from here?

  • After some initial success, you may want to target all sections of a particular course, or a sequence of courses for embedded librarian.
  • Develop some higher-level activities that can be embedded: self-paced tutorials, quizzes, etc.
  • Assess! Find out how your services were used and how they might be improved or enhanced.

“I Didn’t Know I Could Use the Library!” Meeting the Needs of Students Online

I’m at WILU 2013 – Workshop for Instruction in Library Use – a Canadian information literacy conference in Fredericton, New Brunswick: a great opportunity to network with librarians north of the border – or “south of the border” to them! I presented a session about implementing library services to online students:

“I Didn’t Know I Could Use the Library!” Meeting the Needs of Students Online

Session Description:
What do you do with students you rarely see in the library? University of Wisconsin-Green Bay has a growing online student population. Reaching these students can be challenging. Many still view the library as just a brick-and-mortar building, and not an online 24/7 resource. Librarians conducted an assessment of online students to investigate their needs. This session will focus on the assessment results and the information literacy outreach plan put into place. It will highlight several initiatives, including the embedded librarian program, faculty-librarian collaboration, marketing efforts, and learning tools geared towards online students. Based on feedback from students and faculty, an increase in reference questions, as well as high usage statistics from librarian-created tutorials and discussion boards, the outreach plan is working. Come and learn about these best practices for online learners and share your ideas, as well.

Here are some of the assessment tools, resources, guides, and tips mentioned in my presentation:

Postcards & Therapy Dogs: De-Stressing for Student Finals

It’s that time of year: Final Exams. To help de-stress students at my academic library, we usually plan some activities to help students relax and have a little fun too.

Yesterday I tweeted a postcard that my library is giving students to send back home to assure mom and dad that they’re studying for final exams. It proved popular! At last count, it was re-tweeted 37 times and favorited 31 times.

Final Exams postcard for students to send back home.

Final Exams postcard for students to send back home.

Library Postcards

So, how did the postcard idea come about? It’s all about partnerships. Our library director, Paula Ganyard (@ganyardp), who had read an article about a similar idea, approached our university’s marketing people–they thought it was a great idea. A graphics intern in their department designed two postcards for us to give to students.

For printing and postage, the partnership continues: the library, along with the university’s advancement office (the money people!) split the cost. Now before you think we’re spending money on postcards as opposed to books and databases, we’re not. We have a small amount of funds that can be used for outreach projects such as this. As academic libraries do more outreach, having money to do things outside of the normal “library” realm becomes more important.

So, what do we see as the “worth” in doing something like this? Our library director thinks it’s something fun and different for today’s college students. Used to communicating electronically, the postcard idea is a fun, retro way to connect with mom and dad. Building on this, it’s also great way for the library to connect with parents, promote the university’s new brand, and promote the library as Wisconsin Library of the Year. But it all ties back to the students: we hope that the small things we do add to students’ overall college experience, helps to retain them, and creates a fun memory for their library and their campus.

Therapy Dogs

In addition to the postcard idea, we try to do one “big” event for Final Exams each semester. For Fall Final Exams in December, we bring in therapy dogs–which has become one of our most talked about events.

One of our librarians belongs to a local kennel club. Their dogs have all passed the “canine good citizenship” test and do outreach at schools, nursing homes, and now our academic library. On the day of the event, we block off a two hour time span on one of library floors and invite anywhere from 12-15 therapy dogs.  Response from students has been through the roof, as evidenced in social media posts (here, here, here, and here). We even made the local TV news:

UWGB students use dogs to escape exams

The therapy dog visit demonstrates the library’s commitment to not only the academic needs of students, but to their general mental and behavioral well-being. It gives students a moment to relax, recalibrate, and re-energize before the next big exam.

Complaints about allergies and noise have been minor. I think of it this way: it’s one day of the year, for two hours, limited to one floor of the library, and highly publicized. We also try to hold it right BEFORE final exams begin, to avoid any major disruptions. Also: if you want to do therapy dogs, don’t forget to check on liability/insurance issues. We had do some paperwork!

For more photos of our “furry” library friends, check out the UW-Green Bay’s Cofrin Library Flickr set.

The therapy dogs and other outreach activities we do are covered in a presentation I did with my colleague Renee Ettinger at the Wisconsin Library Association Conference in October 2012.

Include “Passive” Activities, Too

Besides postcards and therapy dogs, we also try to have a variety of “passive” activities: coloring, board games, easy crafts, etc. Anything to take students’ minds of Finals…if just for a bit.

I’m interested in hearing about what other academic libraries do for Final Exams. Let me know and leave a comment!