Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Taught some classes, and student reminds me of a simple lesson

Been a very busy week so far. I have taught 10 BI sessions, and I have two more to go tomorrow. I'll be then done for the week. It is midafternoon (about 3ish when I start typing this in bits and pieces), and after a late lunch, I have some time to sit down, catch up a bit on my feeds, and maybe think a little as I write. My instant messaging soft-launch, which I mentioned previously here is moving along. It just seems like an easy thing to do for students to contact me. I just sign in and leave it running in the background while I do other things. While I am a bit sceptical, I am willing to give it a good chance. I will let folks know how things turn out at semester's end. A while back, Aaron Schmidt at walkingpaper had this small post of ten points of IM in libraries. I clipped it because it was one of the things I looked over as I was thinking whether instant messaging would work for me or not. They are some good points. So far, it works for me because, as he says, it is free, so the only cost for me so far was just to download AIM and Yahoo!'s clients, register with AIM (I had a Yahoo! account already), and then run the services on my computer. I was not so sure about MSN's service, which Aaron listed back then as the other major one. Based on asking around, I think I can skip MSN safely, for now. So, very little time was the cost. He says that millions of patrons use IM everyday. I am not expecting a deluge of IM's, but if it gets one student to use it because they may be doing a search on a database, and they need help on the spot, or for any other reason, it will be worth it. Unlike Aaron's vision, I have not reached the point of IM being like having a phone. I know for some students this is the case, but I don't think it is as many as common wisdom would say. One of the advantages of teaching is asking students now and then about things. When asked which ones used IM, I think I get about a third in any given class.

In terms of staff, Aaron mentions that it is a good idea to practice amongst the staff. Keep in mind the context of Aaron's post is for library reference, and I am using it as another tool for students to contact the librarian who taught their class. Though I will be doing reference work as part of what I do, it is not part of any integrated effort on the part of the library. Our library is working on something different for virtual reference. At any rate, it may be interesting if some of my colleagues tried it out. I know my director uses it personally. I may be the only one daring enough to set up accounts that students could use to contact me, but then again, in my position as Instruction Librarian, it is expected that I will be accessible for students. The best line in Aaron's post, which I find is the best reason to be doing this, is this one: "IM is user-centered and builds relationships with library users." I think that speaks for itself.

There are a few things I have been thinking about. The little meme going around about trust and patrons in libraries, the bad signs, and a few other things. By the way, I linked to Aaron's blog because it was handy. The issues have been in a couple of places, and I have been reluctant to post about them in part for fear of people thinking I am less than customer oriented. Let's just say I am not of the "give them all they want, and bend over so far that you. . ." camp, which seems to be the very popular thing now. I guess in a way I wonder. I am extremely dedicated to my academic community, and yet, at times I wonder if I were to voice some thoughts if people were to think less of me. Not that I give a (starts with "s" and rhymes with "knit") what they think, maybe it goes back to the "if you can't say anything nice, don't say it." Or maybe, and this a fleeting thought, I should probably just disconnect a bit more (or perish the thought, altogether?) from the biblioblogosphere. No, does not mean I would stop blogging, just that I would be tuning out a lot of stuff.

At any rate, it was a long day in the instruction room, but the classes went very well. I live for this stuff, even if I am a bit tired by the time it is over. Topics have run the gamut from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Frankenstein to prison reform. Very often, prepping for these classes gives a chance to learn something new or try out a new trick in searching. My next to last class today was very energetic, lots of questions, and I like that. When students ask questions, I just let go. I just let them guide me, tell me what exactly they want or need, and I demonstrate it. For instance, in the last class of the day, the professor mentioned some students had already tried doing some research, and in some cases, hit some walls. I had one particular student tell me, "I went to your site, and I tried it, but I could not get much out of it." So, I ask her, "did you go to our site?" while I had our main library website on the SMARTBoard screen, and she said, "no, it did not look anything like that." However, she said it was the site on the computers in our computer lab. A little quick thinking made me realize what she had done. I clicked to get the library catalog's site, and I asked, "Did it look like this?" She said, "yea, that was it." Here is what happened. We have two computer terminals for catalog use only, and she had used one of those to do her research. No wonder she raised her hand quick to ask me when I started demonstrating the first database, "how did you get to that?" In my time teaching in libraries, I don't think I had a student face this, or if they did it, be so ready to admit it. Maybe the fact she was an older student, as in adult as opposed to an 18 year-old freshman, meant she was more willing to take a risk in asking. In my experience as an educator, adults tend to not worry about looking bad in front of their peers. They want the information they need, and if they need to ask, they ask. At any rate, this went to show that students will always find a way to remind you not to take things for granted. I did reassure her that it was fine to search the catalog, but that it would be useful to find books only, e-books included. I showed a couple of sample catalog searches in addition to everything else. I got other questions, from "how do you know if the article is full-text or not?" to "I have this one topic, could we try it out?"

I also had two students come in to my office for individual questions while I was between classes. So, overall, I was kept busy. One of the things I am reminded of is that I need to make some kind of little "cheat sheet" for locating articles that are not full-text directly. In other words, to explain use of Serials Solutions, which we just implemented after giving TDNet the heave-ho, but also include about finding an article in print. This is one of those things that requires constant nurturing. You explain it, and you let them try, and two weeks later they forget. One of the students that came in today had some printouts and was asking if she had the article or not. In some cases, she had missed the PDF link. It is a small link; I am so used to it, so I see it right away. I printed one of the items for her, then showed her how to find the article citations again on the database (Accession numbers can be your friends here) so she could print the others on her own. Consultations for me range from in-depth research assistance to little things like what I described. And very often, I get a reminder that I need to create something to help answer common queries, but more importantly, I get reminded that the reason I am here is to help them get ahead, to answer their questions, a good number of reasons that summarize under the rubrics of service and education.

And then there is the professor who needed some research help, but that is another story.


sumyunglibrarian said...

Big ups on the IM thing. Keep us posted.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Sumyung: Thanks for stopping by. I will definitely let readers know how it works out. I have been reading your blog. I think I got the link from someone else, but at any rate, have been hooked since then. Keep telling it like it is. Best, and keep on blogging.

Steve said...

On the IM, I have been putting my IM screenname on my BI pages, too, but haven't had (m)any takers this year. Our reference IM traffic seemed to be petering out, then I got two simultaneous questions today. As you say, one of its chief virtues is that it is cheap and easy to set up. I feel like we get questions we wouldn't otherwise get through IM.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Steve: Thanks for stopping by. At this point in time, I have not had takers either, but it is something that seems to need build-up, promotion, and some patience, so we'll see. I probably could put the IM's on the blogs as well as on some other BI materials. At least some of the students think it is cool (or at least they think the librarian is more of a real person when they find out I use IM). I had one ask me if I had a MySpace page. Not quite ready for that leap yet. Best, and keep on blogging.