Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Article Note: On Outreach and Partnering with Honors Programs

Citation for the article:

Riehle, Catherine Fraser. "Partnering and Programming for Undergraduate Honors Students." Reference Services Review 36.1 (2008): 48-60.

Read via Emerald.

While we are nowhere near the scale that Purdue University is, the article did contain a few things that I think would be useful to try out in my setting. The author describes her work in forming partnerships with her campus's honors programs to provide their students with library services. So, let me go ahead and make some notes for myself.

  • "Librarians must proactively determine the needs of various user groups and respond by developing tailored services to serve them more effectively and widely" (48). This is something I am working on as I continue to learn more about the campus and how it works. Though I have been here almost a year now, and I have been hustling to learn, there is still a lot to learn. One thing they do not tell you in library school is how much time, for an academic librarian, it takes to learn the ins and outs of a campus. If you are going to be doing outreach, even more so. Not only do you have to know the basics, you have to spend time knowing people, making friends, establishing relationships. This all requires a certain learning curve. In some ways, it can be more challenging than a straight instruction librarian job because you have to be able to deal with a broader variety of campus constituencies. And I am in a place where people are fairly hospitable and friendly. I can only imagine the challenge in some other place where people could be more aloof.
  • "One way academic libraries are responding to meet diverse user needs is by creating specialized positions that work broadly across multiple disciplines" (49). That is my job in a nutshell. Just one problem. It is combined with the task of being the head of reference, so in essence, though I have a job that is supposed to be out and about on the campus, the job also keeps me in the library an awful lot. Piece of advice to any library considering hiring an outreach librarian: you have to give the person a lot of leeway to move around, circulate, explore, ask questions, and experiment. While doing reference work is fine (I happen to enjoy doing it), doing administrative stuff hinders the function of the outreach librarian. These are vanguard positions basically. At any rate, my current situation is not likely to change anytime soon, so I just cope and make it work.
  • The Boff article that the author cites is one that I read a while back. See here. For some topics, one of the things I have noticed is that I can recognize other things I have read when I see them in an article I am currently reading. Also, I am finding that I can make more reflective connections at times. Or, I can sort of argue with an author, "but did you not look at so and so. I did, and I think that. . . ." You get the idea I hope. This is specially true when it comes to instruction and information literacy (my areas of expertise) and to some extent outreach (in which I am becoming an expert it seems). I guess what I am trying to say is that I am starting to see some big pictures. Unfortunately, the reality is I don't always have the time to fully ponder what I am seeing in that big picture.
  • The author notes that people often assume that honors students are just better students. After all, they are more motivated and have had more success in the past. So, the assumption goes, they should be able to do research easily. Well, according to the author, "studies show, however, that honors students fare no better than mainstream students when it comes to experiencing 'library anxiety' and lacking information literacy and research skills (Snavely and Wright 2003)" (qtd. in 49).
  • Significance: "Additionally, honors students are often involved in research projects early in their academic careers. More extensive library orientation and research preparation may be needed to bolster early academic success and ready them for the more advanced and subject-specialized library instruction and services they will require later in their academic careers" (49). I think this is fairly evident.
  • An idea mentioned in the article from Oakland University I happen to like: ". . .the liaison offered tailored services for honor students, including a flyer for highlighting library services, a display case for student projects, and individual research consultations (Kraemer, 2004)" (qtd. in 50). We do have a flyer highlighting library services, but we can probably use a new one (or a different one). I like the idea of the display case, and we should be marketing the fact we can offer individual research consultations.
  • On arriving, or shortly after, the new outreach librarian should be doing informal needs assessments. This is something I need to work on some more. While I have done some, it has not been enough. A challenge has been time. And it is not bad time management. It is the fact that I have a few extra burdens that don't necessarily go with the work I do, but I have to do them anyways. Such is life. On the positive, this week I did manage to get some things done off the "to do list."
  • Their challenges: "The immense number of incoming students and the university's lack of a core curriculum are two challenges the Libraries' faculty and staff face in meeting their learning and instruction goals" (51). My challenges, besides what I have noted already, are an overstretched staff and a somewhat significant lack of resources. What I could accomplish if I had a part of what the West Lafayette folks probably put into a program like theirs. The lack of resources I can work with; the overstretched staff is a bit more difficult. As I look at it, the article does not look as much at how the other librarians contributed to the effort, which I am sure they did. I do not think the author did all of it herself (though I am sure she did do the bulk of it. These type of positions, by their very nature, mean the librarian does a lot him/herself. I know I do). This was not totally clear, and I would be interested because to expand, I do need to gain cooperation from some of my colleagues, which may or not be cooperative. And that is another issue I had with the article: everyone seems to be very cooperative. I always wonder how long it took to get some of the more reticent people aboard, if they ever did. In fact, that is something often missing in articles like this. It sounds easy when everyone gets along. Not so easy when not everyone wants to cooperate for various reasons.
  • "Offering consistent, timely, and effective library orientation and instruction for incoming undergraduate students is a challenging goal. Without a core curriculum or information literacy requirement, this will continue to be a challenge at Purdue. Therefore, many librarians target particular user groups to help ensure undergraduates receive the information needed for academic success at Purdue and ultimately for lifelong learning. Strategic partnerships are essential for the effectiveness of these library services and programs" (52). Replace "Purdue" with any other campus, and this sounds very familiar.
  • The list of approaches and techniques is very specific. Definitely useful. A sample list of the questions used when going to meet with program directors would have made this article more practical. For new librarians, what do you ask when you meet a program director for the first time? Sure, you make some questions as part of the research prior to the meeting, but some examples would have helped.
  • Other things an outreach librarian does: "The Instructional Outreach Librarian [that is the actual title at Purdue] contacted faculty teaching honors seminars next fall, introducing herself as an ally in student learning and offering tailored library services, including handouts, assignments, and workshops. The librarian also requested information from faculty about research assignments that will be required of the students, including potential due dates. This information will be helpful in planning content and examples for workshops and for scheduling research consultations, drop-ins, and sessions at opportune times" (58).
    • A digression on the job title: I think it is very reflective of what they want to accomplish when you compare it to just having an "outreach librarian." See the vagueness in that? I am not one for titles, but one wonders. I guess when it comes to this type of position, those in the hiring have to ask: what are we hiring for and what do we wish to accomplish? Do we want a public relations specialist? an evangelist? an event coordinator? or something different?
    • This was Purdue's rationale for the position: ". . .to partner with groups on and off campus, and to develop, implement, and promote library services for previously under-represented user groups. The new position was created to support the Libraries' goals of learning and engagement, two of the three main principles in the Purdue Libraries' Strategic Plan: 2006-2011 (see" (50). Pretty neat, huh?
Do keep in mind the article's subject is targeting honors students. Some of the techniques presented here are applicable, but other sources from the literature may be useful as well. In my case, I would also be looking at the other end of the spectrum, the at-risk students. I don't say this as a shortcoming of the article; it is simply me thinking to practical applications for me. Overall, this is one worth reading.

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