Keep them coming in by reaching out

In the October 2014 edition of CHOICE, Mark Sandler has written a wonderful guest column called Coffee’s for Closers: Spilling the Beans about Library Customer Acquisition.  It is a renewed wake-up call to librarians about the importance of retaining and expanding our user base, and using business practices to help us.  I feel this article particularly resonates with community colleges, whose ever-changing student base makes academic librarians’ jobs even more difficult.

I agree that it is hard for librarians to think in terms of business.  In my experience, it is often counter-intuitive to what we have been taught.  We do all we can to protect our consumer’s identity and preferences, rather than prey on them.  We tend to not think in terms of ROI, as our investment is information and product is knowledge, which can be difficult to measure.  We feel that our existence as the collector and mediator of information is an important one that should not be overtaken by a for-profit mentality.  We don’t feel it is our responsibility to find ways to “drag people in off the streets,” as Sandler says.

However, times are changing rapidly.  We are now competing for the role of information purveyor.  Students are used to paying for servicea few dollars here or there for apps or music, or for a monthly fee for a streaming service.  It isn’t hard to make the leap to a few dollars per month for access to articles or books in the comfort of your own home, without passwords or complicated download options.

Community college libraries can be particularly vulnerable.  As enrollment can fluctuate with the economy, budgets are also in flux.  As books and journal database costs rise, there is often little or no budget appropriated for projects outside of the library.  I have worked in four different types of libraries (special, corporate, private college, community college) and none has had any type of comprehensive marketing plan or substantive marketing budget. Outreach has generally consisted of sporadic attempts at programming, with varying results.

For community colleges, what can be done to get students into the library time after time?  How do you get the new students to see the library as one of the primary supports to their success?

Sandler has some great ideas, including pushing for budgeting, training personnel in successful “selling” and promoting library services, partnering with publishers, using social media, and learning about your users. For some libraries, such an investment may not be possible.  To start small, I would suggest the following:

  • Make a general plan for social media, programming, and attending events.  Know when the crucial times in the semesters are, and work early in each year to begin developing a comprehensive plan to stay on task for the whole academic year.
  • Go where your customers are.  This could be virtually or physically.  Partner with faculty to offer free extra credit for attending a webinar or viewing a video tutorial.  Go to classrooms or areas of the college with an iPad or laptop and provide reference services during busy research weeks.
  • Talk up what you have to faculty and administration.  Just sending an email or posting a poster with information on a new database or service is not enough.  Go to a department meeting, ask to speak at a board meeting, go to a Student Senate meeting, make an appointment with the president of the collegeget the idea of library outside the building and back into the consciousness of the other support systems for students.
  • Attend as many community college functions as you can that promote the college’s services to the students and community.  When attending each event, make sure to showcase the resources that best support that event and show off your library’s excellence and librarians’ expertise.

None of the above can happen in a silo. Each requires relationship building with various constituencies and the development of goodwill. They also require a commitment to persistence and consistencyyour customers should get used to seeing the library and its resources outside of the library, providing high quality support in meaningful ways.  You may also notice that the cost for applying these tactics is minimal.  A small printing budget, time to plan, and personnel are the biggest expenses.  Finally, the one major element that we can bring is our customer service talentsthat personal touch that often is not available from a large, offsite company.

As Sandler notes, by keeping our services and outlook status quo, we are hurting future generations of librarians and students.  Recognizing the need to move beyond the expectation of simply providing information and expecting them to come, we need to consider how we can prove our worth by reaching out to keep them coming in.

“Don’t just present it…Ceph it!”

To piggy back on my previous post, after analyzing the data from our LEAP value rubric assessment project we have decided to not only change the way we do our instruction but to also incorporate new methods of learning for the students. A few weeks back  I had a class lined up for a mini session on database searching with a follow up on citation. So I decided  to try  the Cephalonian Method I read about on the ALA Thinktank Facebook group. A colleague of mine who also teaches at University of Rhode Island LIS program told me they use this style of instruction with some really good results. This method was developed by Cardiff Univeristy (who coined the phrase “Don’t just present it…Ceph it!) and works great with not only specific sessions (database searching, web site evaluation) but working with our CSS students, aka College Success seminar. (The College Success seminar is a one credit course geared towards incoming freshman to teach them basic study skills.)  I find this is a fantastic way to introduce new students to what the library has to offer and what our roles are as librarians — No, really, we don’t just shush you!

I decided not to use the “color coded” system  Cardiff uses as this class was just looking at databases. I created eight questions and numbered them so as the class moves forward I can keep the questions in a progressive order.

They are:

What is the difference between a database and searching Google?

There are way too many databases out there and they all look the same to me. How do I know which one to use?

Can I access this from home?

What is the difference between scholarly and  popular?

What is peer reviewed?

What is an abstract?

What is a citation?

How can I work with a librarian? (This one is to promote our Book-A- Librarian initiative — I’ll write more about this later.)

Feel free to use these questions if you feel inspired . . . No copyright here!

I  found a cool template from PowerPoint and then laminated them for reuse. The feedback was very positive. It helped to break up the monotony of me blabbing for 20 minutes (remember this was a mini session) and it ensured I wouldn’t forget to mention key information. I plan on using this again during our new student orientation next week to highlight our services.

We think you need a chaser after that one shot

What started out as a play on words has actually turned into one of the most popular instruction sessions at my community college.

In the spring semester, a colleague and I participated in a norming session using the LEAP value rubrics to assess how effective our instruction classes were using the one shot method. We sat down with several faculty members (we bribed them with stipends) and evaluated over 22 artifacts from three different disciplines: English, Early Childhood Education and Clinical Lab Science.  What we found was citation for students was falling by the wayside. For examples: Using the book Shawshank Redemption in an assignment but not citing the actual book, or not giving credit for direct quotes and images.  This made us reevaluate how we give our instruction classes.  We decided we would redefine how we approached information literacy.  This is what we came up with:

  One-Shot Library Instruction Session with a Chaser

o   Librarians will teach information literacy concepts to students over one class period

o   Librarians will return to the class at a later date to check on the progress of the research and offer any additional assistance

Multiple Sessions

o   Librarians will provide short information literacy sessions (20 minutes on average) several times over the semester, as determined by faculty needs.

Embedded Librarians

o   Embed a librarian in your online or hybrid classes, involving them in your assignment

At an Allied health conference hosted by Cape Cod Community College, my colleague and I mentioned  what we were doing and there seemed  to be a lot of interest in this methodology.  So much in fact we were asked to present  a poster session on  our paper about Library Instruction redesign for MCCLPHEI Conference.  You can find our final report here: Final Assessment Report.

What was interesting at our poster session is that there was much “buzz” about it.  Several community colleges have already approached my director to work with us as a state-wide initiative.  So this could be an interesting journey.  I’ll keep you posted.

Susan Souza-Mort

Reference and Instruction Librarian

Bristol Community College, Massachusetts

Libraries and the CCSSE, Part II: Efforts to Change the CCSSE

In my last post, I provided some background about the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), and the troubling fact that libraries, librarians, and information literacy are not mentioned at all on the 80-item instrument.

I first realized the omission thanks to a 2012 post by Troy Swanson, who notes that libraries “are all about engagement.” Although Swanson was part of a Community and Junior College Section task force that lobbied CCSSE and proposed four library questions in 2009, CCSSE declined to adopt any of them.

Fired up, I joined my campus Data Team, a committee of faculty and staff charged with discussing institutional research findings and sharing them with the rest of the campus community. That first year, Data Team members were as shocked as I was to learn that the library didn’t come up once on the CCSSE. The following year, I chaired the Data Team and had the opportunity to really sink my teeth into CCSSE items, benchmarks, and findings. I wanted to understand the CCSSE well enough to lobby for change.

I had a brief ray of hope when I started attending Institutional Effectiveness Council meetings and brought the issue up, but our Director of Institutional Research soon brought me up short. He explained apologetically that adding custom items to the CCSSE is tremendously expensive and, in the end, wouldn’t tell us much anyway, because we wouldn’t be able to compare those results to other colleges’ data.

At least one community college has added their own custom questions. Glendale Community College, whom I’ve long admired for their work assessing short- and long-term student success outcomes of participating in library instruction, added three custom questions about library usage when they administered the CCSSE in 2011.

Students selected an answer from a Likert scale (Frequently, Sometimes, Rarely, Never) to answer the following items:

  • In the current semester, how often have you checked out a book from the campus library?
  • In the current semester, how often have you used the electronic resources (Online Journals, Magazines, E-Books, Ask-A-Librarian 24/7 Chat, etc.)?
  • How often do you access campus library resources (Online Journals, Magazines, E-Books, Ask-A-Librarian 24/7 Chat, etc.) from a location other than the campus library?

While these questions yield interesting descriptive data (e.g., “62.7% never checked out a book from the campus library”), the drawback of adding custom questions – besides the cost – is that without other colleges’ data, we can’t draw correlations between these items and student engagement measures. So we wouldn’t be able to tell, for example, if colleges where students use electronic library resources in greater numbers have higher measures of student engagement.

Our colleagues at the National Council for Learning Resources (NCLR), an affiliate council of the American Association of Community Colleges, have had some success proposing questions for the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), CCSSE’s counterpart at 4-year universities.

I recently spoke with Dr. David Wright, the chair of NCLR, and he shared with me the questions they wrote for NSSE’s topical module on information literacy. Students are asked about the frequency of eight actions relating to research and information-seeking behaviors, about how often instructors emphasize five different critical thinking skills relating to research, and a final question on how much the students’ experience at their institution contributed to their “knowledge, skills, and personal development in using information effectively.”

Can we do something similar with CCSSE? If CCSSE rebuffed librarians once, and adding questions is prohibitively expensive and not necessarily informative for an individual institution, what recourse do librarians have to cracking the CCSSE?

It turns out there is some good news. Last March I attended the League for Innovation in the Community College Innovations conference and spoke with Emmet Campos, CCSSE’s High-Impact Practices Project Coordinator, on the exhibits floor. Dr. Campos told me that they were planning on revamping the CCSSE in the next six months to a year, so there may be an opportunity for change soon.

When I followed up with Dr. Campos upon my return, he put me in touch with Catherine Cunningham and Katie Mitchell, CCSSE college liaisons who are working to refresh the instrument with the development of an information literacy module. Catherine described their current work in an email to me:

“[We] are currently working on a review of the literature on information literacy in order to start the process of developing a module on questions surrounding information literacy and student engagement. We are working to find questions that will point to practices that have been shown to increase student success and student engagement as it relates to information literacy, be it in the library or in the classroom. We are not sure what those questions will look like yet, but we are definitely in the process of reviewing the literature and beginning to formulate some ideas around these topics. If you have any resources you’d like to point us toward, we’re happy to review any research you might be able to point us towards.”

I immediately sent back the Glendale Community College data I linked to above, as well as ACRL’s Value of Academic Libraries report. While it doesn’t seem as though we’re at the stage to propose potential questions like NCLR did for the NSSE, this is a great opportunity for librarians to get in on the ground floor and point the CCSSE researchers toward studies correlating information literacy and library use with measures of student success and student engagement.

To share your input, please consider contacting Catherine Cunningham and Katie Mitchell at and

I’m sure I’ve missed some important work other librarians are doing on this front. Have you or a colleague worked on researching or proposing questions for the CCSSE, the NSSE, or another instrument? If so, please leave a note in the comments section to let us know.

If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved, feel free to email me at With interest in an information literacy module building, and the success of librarians on NCLR with adding NSSE items, this could be the year libraries finally get some representation on the CCSSE.