Friday, May 23, 2008

Article Note: On Libraries and Writing Centers Collaborating

Citation for the article:

Mahaffy, Mardi. "Exploring Common Ground: US Writing Center/Library Collaboration." New Library World 109.3/4 (2008): 173-181.

Read via Emerald.

This article may go along with that book I read last year. I think this article is a bit more accessible than the book in terms of making the case for libraries and writing centers collaborating. For me, this article was relevant since this was something we were doing at FMPOW where we provided space for the writing center to have a tutor available for students at the library. I was wondering as I read the article if that was something we could replicate here. I may have to check on that.

There are some quotes that I would like to note, with a comment here and there:

  • "The collaborations illustrate that, when writing centers and libraries share space and expertise during times convenient to students, the students take greater advantage of the services available to them" (173). It is not always as idea as that, but that is definitely an encouraging reason to explore these collaborations.
  • "Placing writing and research services together helps to illustrate the commonality between research, writing, and the academic thought processes often compartmentalized by students" (174). This helps answer the old "so what?" question. Relevance.
  • A note on mobile librarians, that is, locating librarians in an academic department: "By maintaining an office with a computer and small reference collection, the librarians were able to provide many of the services they typically performed within a central office, while more effectively inserting themselves into the culture of the academic department they primarily served (Schillie, 2000)" (qtd. in 174; see Reference Librarian #71). I saw this in action in one of the places I interviewed during my first foray into getting a library job (before getting hired at FMPOW). It looked like an interesting idea to try, but it is resource-intensive, and that librarian would likely be spending a significant number of hours at the department where he or she was embedded, thus removing from things like a reference desk rotation at the main library location. I still think there is some value to this if carefully considered and assessed. Do note that initiatives like this often have mixed success, so this may depend on the threshold for risk taking that a library may have.
  • Some of the drawbacks of the collaborative arrangements described in the article:
    • "In addition, the collaboration is 'only space sharing and it is often based on the goodwill or special interests of a small number of individuals' (Currie and Eodice, 2005)" (qtd. in 175). Actually, the C&E citation is to an essay in the book I linked to above.
    • "Staff changes or shifts in institutional needs could put the collaboration in jeopardy" (175). This should be fairly evident, and it should point to the need for cross-training as well as taking measures for collecting institutional memory as well as succession planning. A lot of that falls under knowledge management. Seems important, and yet so many libraries seem to miss on this count. Lose a key staff member, and a lot of initiatives fall apart.
    • "The university administration may not understand the unique role played by the various collaborators, and feel that space sharing illustrates that these roles are interchangeable. In a time of limited budgets felt on many campuses, no one wishes to suggest that they are redundant" (175). Here are my two cents: if administrators actually lack that understanding, it is time they take some responsibility and educate themselves. Sure, we have a task to show our value, but in the end, they have to take an active part in knowing how their campus works. Showing short sightedness by cutting a key educational service for the sake of the budget is not exactly a brilliant move. Not to mention that initiatives like this may have an impact on retention, which is always a concern of the powers that be.
  • "The library instruction coordinator has traditionally worked with the writing center director to provide training to writing center consultants regarding available research tools and citation of sources, and when to make referrals" (176). This was something I was considering back at FMPOW. Back then, I thought I could do some of this through their supplemental instruction system, using the SI tutors for some of this work given their extensive contact with students. Unfortunate for me, it was one of the things that remained on the list of things to do that never got done in the rush of other things. As of this moment, I do not know if there is some similar arrangement I could pursue here. Clearly, this is a line of inquiry to follow. We'll see.
  • A case for having writing center hours in the library during the evening: "In the Spring of 2006, the writing center director expressed an interest in providing traditional writing consultation services within the library during evening and weekend hours, when the writing center was not open, in the hope of reaching students who did not come to campus during the day" (177).
  • A reminder that librarians can provide in-depth assistance, which by the way, is something we should be advertising here more as well. Also note how libraries and writing centers can be similar: "Reference librarians should make it clear to patrons seeking in-depth assistance that they have the option to schedule time away from the desk for extended reference consultations. Writing centers accustomed to scheduling sessions may want to consider setting aside one consultant on duty to welcome drop-in students who have needs which can be handled quickly"(179).
For any library considering reaching out to their local writing center, this may well be a worthy article to read. It gives a good overview with advantages and drawbacks, which may help in planning as well as implementing.

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