Monday, June 11, 2007

Article Note: On librarians and extracurricular activities

Citation for the article:

Kasperek, Sheila, et. al. "Do a Little Dance: The Impact on Students when Librarians Get Involved in Extracurricular Activities." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33.1 (January 2007): 118-126.

I read this via ScienceDirect.

What I wanted to know as I read this article was if the study's concept could be expanded to look at instruction librarians. I would be interested in librarians that do extensive work for undergraduates, especially in the first two years of the college experience. While I do liaison work, my primary duty is still teaching undergraduates, and I meet pretty much a wide range of majors in that task. I also wondered how much of a difference it would make if it was a commuter campus, like ours, where student involvement in extracurricular activities may not be as high as in a residential campus. These were some of the questions that hovered over me as I was reading the article. I suppose in time they would form the basis of a study I would not mind undertaking as they are answers I would like to find out. Additionally, in some places, those engaged in instruction also do some range of activities that fall under the rubric of outreach, this my questions.

The article surveyed students from theater and music majors (orchestra students to be specific) to see if involvement by the liaison librarians in those areas made a difference in how the students perceived the librarians. At Mansfield University, where the study takes place, the liaisons participate in theater productions as well as in music. These are very specific forms of involvement, and the librarians clearly have the qualifications to do so. That was one of my questions, if this could work for other forms of involvement as well.

In the literature review, the authors confirm what many of us know: that we are pretty much small blips in the students' radar, if at all. I am a believer that it is important for a librarian to get to know his students. I am in a setting where I can do that, but at about to 10,000 students, it is a bit big. I can envision myself moving to a smaller campus just to get an even smaller experience, but that is way off in the future. Here, I have the advantage that I am very visible in my role, which allows me to get to know the students. But the library as a whole is still a small blip in the radar overall. As I read, I also wondered about how to get other librarians to find time and take a chance on being involved in extracurricular activities. The argument of having to add yet another thing to a loaded plate will always loom large here, and I am sure we are not the only library where the librarians would feel that way.

I noticed that, in responsibilities at least, the librarians at Mansfield are very similar to the librarians here:

"At the time of the study, the North Hall Library employed six-full time librarians. Each librarian had a variety of responsibilities in the library, and four served as liaison librarians. Each liaison works between six and fifteen disciplines, and liaison responsibilities include collection development, library instruction, and providing research assistance to students and faculty in the department" (119).

That pretty much describes what I do. I handle Arts and Humanities, which would include 10 disciplines that in other big places might each get a liaison. I do collection development, instruction, and research assistance for that area. Then, there are the other things I do, but that is another story.

On a note of validation for me, the authors also had a finding regarding library instruction:

"Students who received library instruction in the 2003-2004 academic year indicated that they came to the library more frequently (see Table 5) and asked for more help (see Table 6)" (123).

In my case, I know that, gradually, I am getting more requests for assistance as a result of library instruction. Something must be working. That may be something for me to add as a question or two in the next library survey when the time comes.

The authors' conclusion:

"This study confirms that students are more comfortable with librarians once they have the opportunity to get to know them. More importantly, it demonstrates that along with increased comfort there is increased recognition of the librarian for their major and the ability to contact that person. Additionally, students are more likely to the see the librarians as an important part of the university experience" (124).

And some significance, and not just for those of my professional brethren in the tenure track. Actually, this is something that is hinted at in our newer evaluations. If nothing else, the type of involvement described in the article is something that definitely should be counted when it comes to evaluation and recognition:

"As faculty members, the librarians at Mansfield University are evaluated, in part, on their service to the library and university. This study shows that librarian involvement with student activities outside the library improves student comfort in the library, and should therefore be considered a service to the library and university. The results of this study should encourage librarians, administrators, and managers to value librarian participation in student activities" (124).

It gives further meaning to the idea of going where the users are. But if nothing else, it allows the students to get to know their librarians, and that is always a good thing in my humble opinion.

Note that the article includes the survey instrument in an appendix.

From the notes, I think I want to read this article too:

Ruediger, Claudia and Sally Neal. "Tapping into Student Networks." College & Research Libraries 65 (2004): 79+ (?)

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