I Heart Poultry, or: The Importance of the Reference Interview

With Valentine’s Day coming up, this reference interaction popped into my head.

Now I normally don’t blog about specific patron encounters, but this one was years ago… circa 2003 when I was a newbie librarian.

A man approached the reference desk and asked a simple question:

Do you have any books on poultry?

With my newly minted MLS, I thought I better do a good reference interview:

Well, are you looking for books on any specific type of poultry: like chickens or turkeys? About farming, urban chickens, or feral? We have a fairly large agriculture collection. 

Wow, how self-important I sounded! It resulted in a quizzical look from the man. He said:

No! No! I’m looking for romance stuff.

At this point I’m confused. Chickens? Romance?

Then it dawned on me. He wasn’t looking for books about poultry. He was looking for books about POETRY. He wanted romantic poems. I misunderstood him.

You see, wanting to “impress” the patron with my knowledge, I should have just started the reference interview with a simple question: Can you tell me more about what you want to find? 

Problem solved and there wouldn’t have been a poultry/poetry dilemma. Lesson learned!

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:

Examining Library Spaces through a “Kindness Audit”

Have you ever considered doing a “kindness audit” at your library?

In the HyperlibMOOC class, Michael Stephens discusses the concept of a “kindness audit” – look at your library space and examine how kind it is for your patrons.

  • Is the signage positive?
  • Are your service desks welcoming?
  • Can users find their way easily?
  • What obstacles do your users encounter?

I did a walk through of my library and tried to experience it from someone who has never set foot in the doors.

First a little bit about my library:

  • academic library
  • campus of 6,500 students, plus faculty, staff, and community members.
  • 8 floors

It’s also important to note that the library does not occupy all floors: other campus offices (including the Chancellor, Provost, university human resources, etc.) occupy space in the library building. The “library proper” is floors 2-6, and part of floor 7. The outside entrance brings you into floor 2.

So what were some of the positives?

Call numbers can be confusing for the casual library user. We’ve improved our signage to incorporate subject areas:

Call number signage with subject areas and tips on how to get help.

Call number signage with subject areas and tips on how to get help.

User-friendly terminology is used for signage at the Research Help Desk (formerly called the “Reference Desk”) and the Public Services Desk (circulation, equipment, tech help):

Signage at service desks

Signage at service desks

The current Research Help Desk is three years old and replaced a “fortress” style reference desk. It’s a low desk with roller chairs, a dual monitor set-up, and a wireless keyboard and mouse. In addition, the Research Help Desk has been co-located with the Public Services Desk (Circulation) area allowing for seamless help among different library services. No more passing people between service points.

Research Help Desk

Research Help Desk

Cell Phone Signage:

"To promote a research-friendly environment..."

“To promote a research-friendly environment…”

Here are a few more positive notes:

What could be improved?

Many of these are infrastructure issues, while others are more cosmetic in nature:

Can I Quote You On That? Social Media Guidelines & Library Patrons

I’m taking the HyperlibMOOC class this fall. It’s been a fun experience: far exceeding my expectations with stimulating discussions, lectures, activities, and side conversations.

Currently, I’m working on a social media guidelines assignment for class. Browsing around the web for examples of other library social media policies, I stumbled on to one which I won’t call out by name. Their policy states:

“We reserve the right to use your comments in promotional materials, to use your stories to show others what makes [insert library name] unique and extraordinary.”

Is this standard boiler plate language? If so, what exactly does it mean?

  • Would retweeting a comment such as: Got my assignment done! This library rocks! count as part of this?

I do that at my library without really thinking about it. To me, it’s part of the ethos of Twitter.

Or, might I see your Twitter post or Facebook comment incorporated into promotional materials for the library? Like an advertisement or poster. That I have a problem with. I’m not part of tin-foil hate brigade when it comes to privacy, but I do expect a certain base amount of protection and I bristle at things that come across as pure advertising.

Let’s say I posted something on the library’s Facebook page and then saw it captured and featured on large plasma displays in the library:

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THAT would bug me. Without my permission? No.

I’m not exactly sure I have an answer for what IS the dividing line in terms of social media and privacy. It often seems rather fluid.

As a librarian and as a professional, I’ve always felt it was just the “right” thing to do to ASK people for their permission to use comments in advertisements and promotions. We’re inviting people to “friend” and “follow” us, I’d rather not risk that friendship just for an advertisement.

What do you think…Am I way off-base here? Is the library a business like anything else? Should we be mining our patrons’ comments and posts for our benefit without asking? Let me know!

“How Do You Get Students Excited About Searching?”

I was talking with a professor the other day and she asked me:

How do you get students excited about searching?

It reminded me of the old quote:

Librarians like to search. Everyone else likes to find.

I really had to think about this one. Maybe it’s that word: excite? I’m a librarian and I don’t think that searching is exciting. Sure it can occasionally be a fun detective hunt. Yes, it’s sometimes serendipitous…but often it’s just tedious–nothing I would generally categorize as exciting.

As an instruction librarian, am I failure in the classroom if I don’t think it’s my job to get students excited about searching? I don’t think so. You need to be cognizant that sometimes it just boils down to the professor’s assignment. Is the assignment exciting? Or is it just busy work? I’m more than happy to collaborate with faculty on assignment ideas, but at the end of the day, it’s the professor’s job to put the assignment together.

When it comes down to my teaching: I’m passionate about connecting people with information. The act (or art?) of searching is only one small part. My job is to get students pointed in the right direction, to de-mystify the research process a little, and to show them that it CAN be done! Let’s face it: the library is often the most itimidating building on campus. I’m here to make the library and the research process a little bit more relatable to students.

I show them the tools that will be most useful, make the connection in how these tools will help them succeed with their assignment, get them thinking about HOW and WHY they’re using this information, and get them using the tools right away. My mix of teaching is practical, personable, participatory, and slightly humorous.

I’m not here to do a song and dance razzle-dazzle routine on searching for information: “Try this ONE perfect search to find EVERYTHING on your topic. Look, it’s so EASY!” Students see right through that. I don’t do the “perfect” search because that’s not what students will encounter. I’m OK playing “stump the librarian” and having the students work with me on the problem. It makes you more authentic and approachable.

I’m a realist: Will they be excited? Chances are, no. But will they think the research process seems a little more doable and will they be willing to seek help? Yes.

What do you think? Is it our job to make searching exciting? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any tips and techniques that you’ve tried.

The Library in Lego Form (aka the absolute last post I will write about Lego librarians)

Lego public library

Lego public library

It’s the summer of Lego Librarians! When I created my own Lego Librarian personalities, I didn’t quite imagine the wave it would create. People love Lego blocks. People love librarians. When you combine the two, you get an irresistible cultural mash-up.

The original post generated over 36,000 views and appeared on sites such as The Huffington Post, Flavorwire, Neatorama, Book RiotMyModernMet, Trendhunter, and Nerd Approved. Evidently it also took the country of Hungary by storm, as I had several thousand views from this one site alone.

After I acquired the official Lego librarian (I got it for cheap on eBay, rather than guessing among the unmarked packages at the Lego store), I decided that the Lego librarian needed a library!

Now I had a few of my own Lego pieces, but I had to ask for donations from co-workers. I also eBayed a few cheap building blocks…and voilà. I started building the Lego library. Just like the real library, there’s something for everyone: books, periodicals, technology, events. All walks of life are represented: young and old, well to do and not-so-much, people making a transition, and people on the edges of society. Here’s the local public library in Lego form…hope you enjoy it!

…and here’s a short movie created with the Lego Movie app:

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.