The posting below looks at how to make campus libraries more attractive and useful to students and faculty. It is by Michael L. Rodgers & David A. Starrett, Southeast Missouri State University and is number 32 in a series of selected excerpts from the National Teaching and Learning Forum newsletter reproduced here as part of our "Shared Mission Partnership." NT&LF has a wealth of information on all aspects of teaching and learning. If you are not already a subscriber, you can check it out at [http://www.ntlf.com/] The on-line edition of the Forum--like the printed version - offers subscribers insight from colleagues eager to share new ways of helping students reach the highest levels of learning. National Teaching and Learning Forum Newsletter, Volume 15, Number 3, © Copyright 1996-2006. Published by James Rhem & Associates, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprinted with permission.
UP NEXT: Playing as Pedagogy
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Are You a 21st Century Library-Ready Instructor?
Instructor to class, Friday, 11:59 AM:
"The paper is due in two weeks. It should be at least ten pages in length, and include a bibliography containing a minimum of eight sources. You can find many good sources on the third floor of the library. OK, I'll see you next week."
The noon bell rings. Students Amira and Ken exchange glances as they rise to exit the classroom.
Amira: "Wow. Ten pages. And I already have three other big projects due next week!" Ken: "Yeah, it's a killer. I guess I can Google some stuff while I eat lunch; that'll save me a little time." Amira: "You're not going to the library?"
Ken: "Where's the library? JUST KIDDING! If you find anything good there, copy it for me, but I think I can get enough stuff from the Web to put together a paper. He didn't say NOT to use the Web, did he?"
What Do Your Students Expect a Library to Be?
It doesn't take a degree in Library Science to know that a library is a special place. Academics surely agree that a good library is at the very heart of scholarship: universities build reputations around the quality of their libraries, and grants are awarded to researchers for the purpose of traveling to specific libraries to use the resources. There's even that wonderful, papery library smell that, to some minds, is as pleasing as a fine perfume or the salt sea air at dawn. To academics, the library has been, and probably always will be, a special place. But the very emphasis on place is what often alienates our students: many students, especially the younger "Millennial" or "Net-generation" students, have grown up enabled by technology in ways that reduce or remove the importance of place. These students-we often call them "21st Century Learners" at our institution-can chat with friends without meeting on a street corner, deposit and withdraw money without going to a bank, listen to music anytime and anywhere, and even work at a job without going to a place of employment. Many 21st Century Learners experience real joy every time they learn how to carry out another of life's activities in the new anytime/anyplace style. To them, a brick-and-mortar library, with its hours of operation and resources that require one's physical presence to access, is too far removed from the anytime/anyplace paradigm to be relevant.
Can a Library Be Relevant to 21st Century Learners?
Librarians throughout academe worry about the ways that libraries are used-or not used-by students. Increasing portions of acquisition budgets are going to online journals, database subscriptions, and other electronic media that require staff and policies to mediate use of the resources. At the very least, someone must arrange passwords for database access and collect fees for pay-per-use services. Perhaps in an effort to counter the student preference for easy Googling over more difficult approaches to research that may yield higher-quality results, required seminars and courses dedicated to information literacy have become standard fare at many institutions. But the challenge that 21st Century Learners present to libraries goes deeper than student preferences for fast and convenient approaches to research. Experiential learning, group work, collaboration, and informal learning are all important attractors that these increasingly consumer-minded students tend to seek out.
How can libraries attract students to the places where the mediators work? Many libraries are becoming noisier, livelier places by creating "library information commons"1: individual study carrels are giving way to small conference rooms equipped with projectors and computers; new furniture comes with wheels so students can reorganize space to better support group assignments. Computers richly endowed with course-specific software are popping up all over, and wireless networks are rapidly becoming part of the basic infrastructure. Perhaps most amazing is the appearance of cappuccino bars in spaces that not long ago featured "NO FOOD OR DRINK IN THE LIBRARY" signs!
But They're Cutting Our Journals!
What do faculty think of the transformation? Certainly there are some who object to the ostensible pandering to students who seem more interested in comfortable lounges than true scholarship. More pointed objections arise from a perception that library information commons are being funded by cutbacks in periodicals budgets. The reaction is a natural one: many libraries face enormous financial pressure from external forces, notably steep increases in journal subscription prices. If increasingly costly journal subscriptions are cut to balance strained budgets at the same time remodeling projects are moving forward, distinctions between budgets for capital improvements and operations are easily lost. Faculty are left believing that student lounges won out over journals-an impression not likely to be accepted graciously when limited journal holdings threaten scholarship and often, program accreditation within the disciplines. Combine the threat to discipline-specific scholarship with the reality that library information commons projects are usually promoted not by faculty, but by librarians, ?students, and administrators, and it becomes easy for faculty to dismiss the projects as unhelpful and misguided.
How Can a Faculty Member Use the Library Information Commons to Teach Students?
Access to journals and other products of scholarship will continue to be a problem for faculty even if the library information commons is merely a passing fad. But can we at least make a case for the potential teaching and learning value of library information commons and similar installations? Is the library information commons a frill, or can it be an essential tool for teaching the 21st Century Learner? Can its value be maximized by developing innovative ways to use the library information commons in courses?
Some might conclude that it is not worth the trouble to try to deliberately include the library information commons in one's teaching strategy. After all, the commons is designed to support informal, student-directed learning. However, students who decide to use the library information commons because of its socially comfortable feel nevertheless come to a place where the resources needed to do high-quality scholarship are available. Faculty can and should seize the opportunity to craft learning opportunities that lead students into thoughtful use of library resources-particularly those that help students first to discern differences in the quality of information, and then appreciate the impact of those differences on the product of the scholarly effort.
Librarians stand ready to help students move beyond the "Google everything" approach to scholarship, and if students are showing up in the library to meet in the information commons, perhaps faculty can help to connect students and librarians. It is worth a try. For example, an assignment might be structured to include a mandatory consultation with a reference librarian before the assignment's bibliography is due. If the library information commons includes (as some do) technology-enhanced studios for practicing PowerPoint presentations, students could be directed to library support staff who would offer tips on proper ways to cite references used in oral presentations. Perhaps faculty and library staff could collaborate to develop a rubric for an "information quality assessment" that could be applied to the sources students use in their work.
How to Learn, Where to Learn
Simple adaptations of assignments such as those listed above can help students see the library as much more than either stacks of journal holdings or a combination coffee lounge and wireless hotspot. For faculty, closer interaction with library staff who are experienced users of resources conforming to the "anytime/anyplace" ideal can provide insight into who the 21st Century Learners are, and what really reaches them. Moreover, faculty who teach online courses can benefit tremendously from working with the library staff: after all, libraries are usually obligated to provide to online students the same level of service that face-to-face students receive. Thus, library staffers are well-equipped to suggest ways that electronic resources might be used in online courses to produce papers and projects of quality comparable to that realized in face-to-face courses. Finally, wise utilization of the library information commons in courses can serve to sensitize faculty to ways that physical space affects learning. Much as MIT's famous Stata Center2 is designed to promote innovation through the building's technology and architecture, the commons can, on a different level, facilitate collaboration between students, and a willingness on the part of students to produce excellent work because the resources are readily available to do so.
When Does a Place Become an Event?
No unit within the university has been transformed more by technology than the library. Reorganizing the library's physical space to make technology-enabled resources both more readily available and more wisely utilized is a laudable action made all the more challenging by 21st Century Learners' desire for highly social interaction with their peers. If convenience, comfort, and social activity bring students into the library, then so be it. They are in the right place to locate and gather the best data. Through close collaboration with the library, and thoughtful inclusion of the library in course assignments, faculty can play matchmaker, bringing together students and library resources in ways that result in meaningful scholarship.
Notes 1. Not to be confused with "information commons" as an online discussion forum or other virtual space in which opinions, information, and ideas are freely shared, especially as an alternative intellectual property model. See, for example, "Information Commons Project 2002-04." American Library Association. 2005. http://www.ala.org/ala/washoff/oitp/infocommons0204/infocom200204.htm. 2 "The Evolving MIT Campus" MIT Department of Facilities, http://web.mit.edu/evolving/buildings/stata/
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