Why the library should affect students' choice of university

When we think of outreach and recruitment, we don't usually think of using the library as a tool to attract students to our institutions. Here at York I do occasionally take part in Faculty of Science & Engineering outreach activities -- mostly when the library is included in high school science class tours of the institution.

Rather than do something really boring like a "here's the reference desk" tour, I like to take smaller groups down into our teaching lab and do (hopefully) fun and amusing interactive sessions on the current state of the information universe. You can get an idea of what I cover from one of the blog pages I created.

But maybe, just maybe, when we design our spaces, when we design our web presences, when we think about outreach and marketing, we should think about leveraging what we do well and turning it into something that can benefit our whole institution.

What got me thinking about this was an article that was bouncing around Twitter, etc., a little while ago, 4 Reasons Why the Library Should Affect Your College Choice.

If we can affect whether or not students choose our institutions, shouldn't we be aware of what we can do and strive to maximize the effect we can have on recruitment?

Here's the four things that the article suggest people should look for in a library, with a bit of the text from the article:

  • What is the staff like? Chat with a reference desk staffer or two. How helpful are they? What kinds of information can they provide? Do they seem like they are prepared and willing to help students? These are important questions.
  • How much does the library system and its librarians interact and work with faculty? Find out what, if any, types of collaboration professors have with the libraries. Fisher says professors and librarians at many schools work together to create course content or inform each other's work and research. If you can get a sense of the relationship and bond between these two major parts of campus life, you can get a nice picture of how smoothly you can research class topics and projects.
  • What's the atmosphere like? Walk into the library and go about your normal business. Some campuses have multiple libraries--one of which is likely to be more of a social environment than the other quieter, more serious locales.
  • Check the library system website and digital resources. This is a big one. It's a new digital age in information services, and academic libraries are on the cutting edge.

Why is this a good idea for us? First of all, the four points basically cover what the library is all about for undergrads -- space, reference, information literacy, online collections. It's a great way to make the case that our core competencies as libraries and librarians are part of what makes our institutions great.

Also, ultimately in higher ed funding is about butts in seats and the more butts in seats, the more money is circulating in the system that can get allocated. And, if the library is recognized as an important part of recruitment that certainly helps us make a case for funding. And longer term, happily recruited students become happily donating alumni.

We need to make the case that part of our job is to make our institution look good -- to help attract the best students.

It's worth thinking about.

Do you have any stories about your library being part of recruitment efforts?

(A slightly different version of this post will be part of the My Job in 10 Years outreach chapter)

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The inherent insularity of library culture?

Or is that the inherent insularity of academic culture in general?

Joshua Kim has some great observations (in context of a review of This Book is Overdue) (Amazon) about the great chasm of misunderstanding between the culture of the academic library and the broader academic culture.

As academia shifts and changes, as budgets squeeze, as millenials millenialize, it's a constant struggle to make the case for the library's role in academic life. It's hard to know both who our best champion's are and who our most determined opponents are. Sitting in the library talking to ourselves is probably not the best way to accomplish to figure that out.

I like Kim's straightforward, honest approach to figuring out what the heck we're all about. And I think it's worthwhile to unpack some of what he says.

The more time I spend thinking about the library world the more I realize how little I know and understand. I'm not sure if my lack of understanding is due to my own limitations of perspective (coming from a teaching and technology background), or due to some inherent insularity of library culture.

Ah, the $64,000 dollar question. It is most definitely our job to make the case for our role in academic life, to make the case for what we do for students, what we do for faculty and what we do for staff.

To the extent that the people we serve and work with don't understand what it is we do, it's completely our failure.

Is library culture inherently insular? To a large degree, yes. At the same time, I think all the various silos that make up the whole of academic culture are also to varying degrees insular. It's called the Ivory Tower, not the Ivory Commons, for a reason. It's not a coincidence that towers are silo-shaped.

So, yes, we are insular and it's totally our responsibility to make sure there's a broad understanding of our role across campus. Easier said that done, of course, but that's another post.

At the same time, universities would be better places if we all made an effort to understand what our colleagues are trying to accomplish. This is especially true of the various support units who I think often work at cross purposes. It's what I'm trying to get at with my embryonic Science Foo proposal.

A couple of recent articles that hopefully will help explain libraries to a broader campus community: The Place to Go: Libraries reinvent themselves to serve digital-age students and Gutenberg 2.0
Harvard's libraries deal with disruptive change

The fact that librarians are so engaged in rethinking their profession and institutions probably would not come as a surprise to any librarian, but to an outsider this is an eye-opening notion. You will have to tell me if this observations means that librarians should be spending more time talking and engaging to non-librarians about their ideas and plans for change and re-invention, or if non-librarians need to spend more time hanging out with our colleagues (at library conferences, library blogs etc.).

As I mentioned above, it is 100% libraries' job to make our case to other parts of the campus, not the job of other units to figure us out. If we're rethinking what we're all about (and we are), it's up to us to engage others in that exercise. On the other hand, there's nothing more boring that other people's navel gazing, so non-librarians can be excused for not being that interested in the gory details of our introspections.

That being said, it is completely our responsibility to get the hell out of our libraries and talk about what we are becoming within our campus context, to engage our communities in our reinvention so we can serve them better. It is also completely our responsibility to go to non-library conferences and talk about what we do and what we're becoming.

Of course, I have no objections to people outside the library world inviting their local librarian out for a coffee and sharing some ideas about the future. So all you faculty, faculty support, instructional technology and campus IT people out there, you can also feel free to share with us where you want to go too.

Given all that however, there are some complicating factors.

  • Size Matters. Libraries are usually quite small compared to other units in terms of professional staff. For example, we're 40ish librarians on a campus of 1200+ faculty members and 50K students. The branch library I work in has about 300 seats for a student body of about 6k. It's a challenge getting noticed.
  • Silos are us. As I said above, academia is pretty insular as a whole. It can be a challenge to get through to busy people who are deeply involved in the mission of their corner of the institution, whether it's an academic department or campus IT.
  • Competition rather than collaboration. Many of the different silos are set up to sometimes provide competing similar services. The ones that affect libraries the most are for services such as student space or for access to technology. To the degree that some of these services are truly zero sum games (or even just perceived as such), the incentive for these different units to understand each other and collaborate rather than compete and cut each other down can be hard to get across.

At the end of the day, I'm not as interested in my own potentially insular responses to the question as I am to exploring both the library's and the broader academic institutional culture.

So, my questions for all of you out there:

  • Is academic library culture inherently insular?
  • Is it more insular that other parts of the academy, be they faculty or other support units? Why?
  • How should librarians fix that? Are there specific things that we can do?
  • For you non-librarians out there, any ideas about insularity in academia in general or about how different units can reach out to each other and work on common concerns?

(My Job in 10 Years: part of the chapter on campus outreach)

6 responses so far

Blogs as a Knowledge Management Tool in the Classroom

Nice article by Delaney J. Kirk and Timothy L. Johnson on Blogs As A Knowledge Management Tool In The Classroom (via).

Based on their experiences in a combined 22 business courses over the past three years, the authors believe that weblogs (blogs) can be used as an effective pedagogical tool to increase efficiency by the professor, enhance participation and engagement in the course by the students, and create a learning community both within and outside the classroom. In this paper they discuss their decision to use blogs as an integral part of their course design to contribute to both explicit and tacit knowledge. In addition, suggestions and cautions for using this new technology are presented.

The article definitely repays a close reading. I'll hit a few of the high points here.

Reasons to use a class blog:

  • "using a class blog allowed us to be more effective and efficient in communicating with our students"
  • "We also believed it important for all of our students to participate in class discussions but, despite our best efforts, on many days only a small percentage of the students ever had anything to say."
  • "And finally, and most importantly, we wanted to see our students take greater ownership of their own learning, not only for our classes but in their future lives."

The three main types of blogs they highlight were instructor focused, student focused and community focused:

  • Instructor-focused blogs. "The simplest way to use a blog is as a one-stop source where the professor posts syllabi, announcements, assignments, and links to articles and websites for the students to read. Faculty retain ownership of the site and students are expected to access the blog on a regular basis to obtain class information."
  • Learner-focused blogs. "In this approach, the professor would expect the students to be more active participants in the blog. Learning can occur peer-to-peer in addition to teacher-to-student."
  • Community-focused blogs. "A third approach to using blogs is to involve participants from outside the class itself. Students could be required to find, read, and evaluate blogs from "experts" outside class on assigned topics and then to share this information with their classmates."

The section on nettiquette for students is very good:

Another consideration is respect and privacy for others. In one of our classes, students were assigned a consulting project with local small businesses and not-for-profits. If a student writes disparaging comments on his or her blog, it can have an adverse impact on that organization. In addition, it makes it difficult for the professor to convince other businesses to be involved with projects for future classes. This instructor now advises students to speak of these companies (and their management) in general terms which would not specifically identify them.

Two of the overriding themes that students need to understand when expressing themselves on blogs (or other social media) are common sense and common courtesy. One of our students wrote about a variety of psychological disorders and personal problems which she was experiencing. While this information put into context some of her other classroom performance issues, it was not relevant to the assignment and was certainly more information than she needed to provide.

Some of the things they learned:

  • Blogging invites more students into the conversation
  • Blogging extends the conversation
  • Classroom blogging provides a "safe" mechanism for introducing students to social media
  • Blogging makes the students into subject matter experts
  • Blogging helps students take ownership of their own learning

Some selected advantages:

  • Allows "quiet" students a forum for expressing themselves
  • Promotes learning community between and among students and gives them a feeling of ownership
  • Students may put more effort toward their writing knowing it will be read by their peers as well as the professor

And selected disadvantages:

  • Can create more work for the instructor (developing content, reading student blogs and comments)
  • Students may be uncomfortable sharing information through this medium
  • Student writing might be more casual and sloppy compared to turning in hard copies

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