Does your research (or lack there of) influence your instruction?

Man Wearing Black and White Stripe Shirt Looking at White Printer Papers on the Wall

This thought popped into my head today and I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on this.  Bear with me while I give you a bit of my background.

I work at a small college where all the librarians, including me, have multiple roles: subject liaisons, collection development in multiple formats, reference desk shifts, committee work in the library and on campus, as well as instruction.  The degree to which we engage in these things can vary based on the roles we were hired into and/or how our positions have developed and changed over time.  Needless to say, we all have plenty to do.  My current position focuses primarily on electronic resources and systems, but I am also expected to take reference shifts and teach the occasional instruction session.  Some of my colleagues here, to their credit and their respective roles, teach much more.  I do take my teaching seriously, and even graduated from the ACRL Immersion Program a few years back.  Another piece to this is that for tenure, which I have had for several years now, we were not required to publish.  Instead, we are required to be involved in the library profession on local, state-wide, and/or national committees that sustain and support the efforts of all librarians.  This is a responsibility I take seriously and have not reduced upon being granted tenure.

Given this context,  here is my question: As a library research instructor, is my ability to teach the research process hampered in any way(s) by the fact that I do not do regular research (and subsequently writing & publishing), and have not since I graduated from library school in 2006?  Because I am not an active researcher, could that, in any way, limit my understanding of the challenges that undergraduate, graduate, and faculty researchers struggle with?  If the answer is yes, and I worry that it might be the case, do other librarians who teach research sessions worry that this is true?

On the flip side of this, if I worked to become come a regular researcher and writer would it have a positive influence on my instruction?  How would it influence the way that I teach?  Or change the way that I teach?

My head is full of questions now.  I would love to hear what other library instructors think on this.  Is this a crazy idea or is there some substance to this?  And is there any easy way to remedy this issue, if there is a need for one?  Could I fold research in with all the work that I already do?

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Blog revival?

Free stock photo of books, vintage, light bulb, old

Hello!  I am here this morning blowing the cobwebs off this blog.  Yes, it has been a long time.  The thing is, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with this site and, honestly, I still don’t really.  So, it will remain a huge work in progress (WIP).  I am here because feel the need to provide a space to share my thoughts about libraries, librarianship, the future of libraries (including those who share similar values to library profession) and provide a venue for others to come and share as well (yes, guest posts will happen).

I started working in libraries about 12 years ago, graduated from Simmons College in 2006, and my mind is blown by the amount of changes that have occurred since then.  This site will be a venue for thinking about, talking about, and sharing ideas about where the library profession has been, where it is, and where it might be/is going.  I believe the only thing that is certain right now is that change is a constant.  And depending on what kind of change we are facing today it has a pretty big impact on a lot of us.

So like I stated before, this blog will be a place that remain in constant development.  Its ‘shape’ will form over time with what is shared, discussed, questioned, rehashed, etc.  I have a lot of ideas, questions, and concerns about libraries, but I don’t assume I have the answers.  Maybe they will be figured out here, but me or by others.

If you are interested, you are more than welcome to come by or stick around, just listen or join in the conversations.  We have a lot to talk about and many brilliant librarians with many brilliant ideas to share.

[And for now, I will leave my old posts up as a reflection of the evolutionary nature of this site.]

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What are we really doing at the Reference Desk? The printer is jammed . . . again.

As I sit here at the Reference Desk on a Saturday afternoon (a rare event as we only have a few weekend shifts and all the reference staff take turns) I am thinking about some of the reference interviews/interactions/questions I have had so far this semester.  Most of the questions I have gotten  have been very easy to answer:

  • Where is room ______?
  • Where is the restroom?
  • My article didn’t print out, can you help me?
  • The printer is out of paper, can you put more in?
  • The printer is jammed, can you help?
  • Do I check this book out with you?
  • Do you have this book _______?
  • I have a call number, but where can I find this book?
  • Do you have a stapler?
  • Can I borrow a pen?
  • I am having trouble accessing my class Moodle page, can you help me?  (For those of you who don’t know, Moodle is our course management system.)
  • I’m a guest here, how can I print something out?

I have had no problems answering these questions.  And why should I?  I have been working in the same library for many years now, and for several more in libraries in general, and I have worked plenty of other jobs in the past that required me to answer a steady stream of questions.  But the more I get these questions I wonder if it is really useful for me to be there to answer these questions.    Would the library be better served if a library staff member be at the Reference Desk for those questions and have them refer patrons to an ‘on call’ librarian when they have a ‘reference/research’ type question?  I know other libraries have adopted such service models in the past, and some libraries use this model now.  I don’t have a strong opinion on which is, or might be, better.  But my guess is that many non-librarian staff members are also perfectly capable of answering the majority of questions that come across the Reference Desk these days, even the reference/research questions.

And then . . . the occasional challenging question comes across the desk while I am sitting there.  Part of me says: ‘Yes!  I am needed here.  My training and experience are why they want me, one of the librarians, to sit here and wait patiently for patrons to come and ask their research questions.’  But then, once the question is asked, I pause, I wonder how one of my colleagues would answer this question, I wonder if I really am the best person to answer the question.  Doesn’t someone else know more about the databases and resources than I do?   Would ‘B’ or ‘D’ librarian be better with this question?

One question I had this semester was about checking out the music scores and it quickly morphed into the student asking about finding a particular score we did not own.  So I directed this student to WorldCat to identify the item and show him how to submit an interlibrary loan request.  While he was signing up for an interlibrary loan account, one of my colleagues asked me if the score was in a database we subscribe to, Classical Scores Library.  It turns out it was there.  So, I quickly shifted gears and showed the patron how to get to the score and thanked my colleague for the help, even though I didn’t ask for help.  In reality, I thought it was a question I could easily handle, not challenging at all.  But I forgot about that database.  What other resources have I missed in other reference interviews?  How have my colleagues fared with similar questions?  I really don’t know.

Another question I had, challenging in different ways than the one about music scores, makes me think some of my colleagues would have handled it much differently, but then again maybe not.  The patron asked me to help her find peer reviewed resources on a particular event in history.  Ok, I was able to do that just fine.  But upon conversing with the patron further I learned that she really wanted resources on other historical events that were influenced by the first one she mentioned.  Ok, eventually I was able to find a few things, but this was in the midst of attempting to politely discourage the patron’s desire to search hastily constructed phrases rather than keywords and trying to be supportive when her search phrases would come up with nothing or nothing relevant.  Then, in addition to all this, I discover what this patron is really trying to do is find any information on a topic because she was scheduled to do a presentation on a book in a week and her faculty member was supposed to get her a copy through interlibrary loan but it had not yet arrived.  So she was just trying to find something, anything, similar to the book’s content, but what she really needed was the book that she was expected to present on.  So, yes, I helped her find some things which she seemed satisfied with and she said she would speak to her faculty member later that day about the book she needed.  Whew!

These reference questions are prompting me to ask myself other questions.  Am I answering these questions the best possible way?  Maybe, maybe not.  But I am certainly trying to give the best possible answer I know.  The majority of my work is in running our interlibrary loan office.  I do not interface with faculty and students to the extent that some of my colleagues do.  Then again, their basic job responsibilities are different.  I run the interlibrary loan office, yes, but I also do some reference, some instruction, some collection development, but not to the extent that some of my colleagues who are reference and instruction librarians do.  I don’t teach as often, I don’t create and manage as many LibGuides, I don’t collect resources in as many subject areas.  As a result I simply don’t field as many questions on a day to day basis, and so my knowledge of our resources, comparatively, is not as broad or as extensive.  Does all of this make me a less qualified reference librarian because I’m out of practice?  Someone may argue yes, and what is someone like me doing at the reference desk?  Part of me is inclined to agree.

However, I then think about the title of this post.  What are we really doing at the Reference Desk?  Ok, so maybe I am a bit short on my resource knowledge.  That can easily be rectified.  Although I would also say, in defense of all 21st century reference  librarians  faced with the same challenges,  that it is a big challenge, with the hundreds of electronic resources libraries subscribe to, to have detailed knowledge and experience with every single resource.  (Yet, maybe this is not a 21st century challenge?)  But what is the point of the Reference Desk?  Or any desk in the library for that matter?  And why is it important for me, in my position as a resource sharing librarian in a small academic library to take shifts at our reference desk?

What are we doing at the Reference Desk?  Well, there are the practical/fundamental reasons that we need someone to be there to answer questions.  Someone needs to be there to help people get the printer unjammed, to answer the phone we have placed at the desk and posted the number on our website, direct them to a room or where to find a particular book.  Someone has to be there to help.  But there is something more to having librarians and experienced staff members at the reference desk.  Whether we run interlibrary loan, staff other service desks, teach, manage all the electronic resources, etc., we all have a deep understanding of our library and our institution.  We understand how to navigate our building, we understand why certain things work the way they do and know how to help patrons navigate their quirks.  Despite our sometimes superficial knowledge of a resource’s content, we are very good at navigating database interfaces (we can drill down into them faster and get more results more efficiently than the average user).  We know and understand how different library departments work, why they work that way, and how they relate to the other departments in the library.  We know that when patrons ask us questions they need us and they are relying on us to do our best to help them, we understand the value and benefits of providing them with good service.  It is all this knowledge, combined with our subject knowledge, our years of experience, our ability to think on our feet, be flexible, and, when it is necessary, to be a bit more empathetic or take some extra time with a patron’s query that makes our presence at the Reference Desk more meaningful.  This all contributes to the good and valuable experiences our patrons have when they ask us questions.  Yes, they may only be asking where the water fountain is this time, but every good experience means they will come back with a question about unjamming a printer, another about reserving a room in the library, another about using a database, another about using interlibrary loan, another about finding resources for a paper they are doing on child slavery in India in the nineteenth century, and another about where to start their research for their senior project.  Having the librarians available for any and all of these questions helps build and develop relationships with these patrons.  They trust us to answer their questions, to answer them well and to be there when they have more to ask, whenever that may be.

So what are we really doing at the Reference Desk?  Building, developing and maintaining relationships with our patrons.  We are giving them confidence and assurance that they can trust us to be there when we are needed.  All of this takes time.  New relationships  are forming and developing all the time, thus making our presence necessary on a regular basis.  And yet, we all cannot be at the desk all the time, so we take turns and make it a collective, and collaborative, effort.  The value that each of us brings to the Reference Desk is slightly different because of the areas we are responsible for or have knowledge in.  The result is that as a group we bring more knowledge to the desk than any one individual would.  We are offering our patrons value in their information seeking experiences.  They may not know that it is there (Does that really matter?), how that value developed, or where it comes from, but it is there.  We offer up that value regardless of the need and work to ensure that, ultimately, our patrons possess more knowledge about how to find and use information and come back to us when they have another need.  And if we don’t know something, we ask each other.  Or, as my colleague did, offer up a suggestion.  Because ultimately, it is what is best for the patron’s information need.

So, yes, I can work on my database/resource knowledge, but we all, including myself, bring a lot to the Reference Desk.  That is why we are there, to continue to offer up that knowledge and build on those relationships and maintain the support we offer our patrons.

I’m sure there is more that my colleagues, where ever they work, can add to this.  But my point is that we all have value to offer in our service, in our presence at the Reference Desk.  And for me, this was, at this point in my career, a great exercise to engage in.  Do you have anything to add?  What are you really doing at the Reference Desk?

Topic 3.1: Confession: OERs scare me

Ok.  I have been delaying this post because (1) I have been really busy with work and family and (2) I’m not quite sure what to say about OERs beyond the fact that they terrify me.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the concept, I agree we should be sharing and using ideas and materials.  But using OERs in the classroom seems like it would be a lot of work.  Mark and Michele’s talk was great.  The talk really got me thinking about the many facets to OERs.  There is  a lot to think about.  And as a librarian who does instruction on how to do research and is always looking for new ideas, I’m still not brave enough to explore beyond the mainstream.  My concerns are partly due to not knowing if OERs have been properly vetted and being unsure about vetting them myself.  And I am also not confident enough to actually contribute something of my own.  So, at this point, all I can say about OERs is, yes, I think they are a cool idea, but I’m not ready to go there.  I need to get some more information and feedback on OERs before I would be willing to dive into that arena.  Given my time constraints and all the other things in my life demanding attention, I’m concerned I cannot give these materials the attention they need to then turn around and use them constructively and effectively in the classroom.  However I do like the idea of their use as part of a way to supplement and enhance a primary text or texts (not necessarily a textbook) in a class.

Book Sale at My Library Today and Tomorrow

We are 17 minutes into a two day book sale at our library today and the place is mobbed.  Books, LPs, scores and ephemera are all up for grabs.  I have worked in libraries for many years now, and in an independent bookstore (Bank Square Books), years ago, and I still love the excitement that accompanies such events.  There are students, staff and faculty all over the place.  It is really crowded.  Everyone is pouring over the pickings, piles are accumulating at the edges, friends are declaring jealousy over coveted finds.  It is invigorating to see the hunger and excitement on everyone’s face, the longing in the eyes of those who have to run off to class, the delight in those who ‘stumble’ upon the sale, the gratitude of the buyers being able to acquire their finds so cheaply, the anxious inquires over the location of the nearest ATM, the tense moments when another shopper mistakenly starts browsing someone else’s pile.  Book sales are great!

And yet . . . I sit here at the Reference Desk, as the book sale plays out in front of me, literally about three feet (the depth of the desk) away from me (because it is raining outside).  I’m in the middle of it and yet strangely removed from it.  I’m just doing my regular Reference Desk shift.  As a result, I can’t browse the sale myself.  So, while I love all the excitement over the book sale, I am intensely jealous.  I cheer for everyone finding such great things and secretly my heart is saying, like an immature toddler: ‘But I want those!’  So here I sit, loving the excitement and suffering from a serious case of the book sale blues.  Anyone have a reference question?