Back to School Blues…Or Not

Congratulations to everyone who just finished their first week back at school! We survived, more or less intact (case in point: I intended to finish this blog post a week ago).

I have been dreading the start of this semester because my library is in the middle of a pretty extensive renovation that won’t be finished until November or December. We are open in the building while the renovation is ongoing, so we’re experiencing a fair amount of noise, dust, and controlled chaos. While the construction crew and our campus administrators are doing their utmost to ensure the library is functioning as best it can, the renovation is the cause of some inevitable service disruptions.

For example, it’s been a challenge just getting the word out that we are still open during renovation. Countless students have called, texted, instant messaged, or just asked when they see me around campus, “Is the library open yet?” They’re shocked to realize we’ve been open the whole time.

All patrons walking by see is our first floor under construction, so they don’t realize we’re open on the second floor. When a patron does brave entering the building, they’re greeted by a frankly unwelcoming interior:


Yes, the library is open! All patrons have to do is brave the plastic sheeting, dust, caution tape, and exposed wires and come upstairs to find us. This is the view from the front door on the first day of classes:

In addition to looking and sounding like a construction zone, the library’s desktop computers are all in storage during renovation. The only computer access and printing services comes from our collection of eight aging, temperamental laptops. In the spirit of Murphy’s Law, all eight laptops stopped working, one by one, last week. IT plans to replace the laptops, but who knows how long that will take? In the meantime, we have no computer access or printing to offer students.

Finally, in a few weeks, we’ll be moving down to the first floor to start Phase II, renovation of the second floor. We’ll have to close for a few days, which is never a good thing, but is especially disruptive a month into the new school year. More daunting, though, is that the first floor won’t actually be finished when we move down: we won’t have new furniture in yet, nor desktop computers, and our 70,000-volume collection will temporarily move to closed stacks.

If the renovation were only disruptive to those of us who work in the building, I wouldn’t be so concerned. But sometimes I worry that our growing pains will deter students from using the library, even after the renovation is finished. How many students who make their way through the construction this semester, only to be rebuffed from using some of our resources and services, will be willing or know to return to the library once we’re back to normal? How many students that wander up during the few days we’re closed to transition to Phase II will think we’re closed for the whole semester? We’re doing as much marketing and outreach as possible to inform students and staff about construction updates, but we all know that the information students receive at their official student email addresses and the information they read and retain are two totally different numbers.

With renovation stress looming large, I’ve decided to count my blessings in a sort of early Thanksgiving, and instead focus on some of the things I’m most excited about this semester:

New outreach opportunities: This semester I’m continuing to work with our First Year Experience (FYE) and Student Life offices to promote the library in a few new forums:

  • I was able to speak and distribute literature at Premier Day, an FYE-sponsored event the Friday before classes that introduces new students to the resources and services available on campus.

  • FYE is hosting a STEM event this semester to promote STEM programs on campus. I’m going to set up a table and create a display to inform students of STEM resources we have at the library, including databases, books, and reserve items like bone sets and textbooks.

  • The library is included in a Student Life and Phi Theta Kappa-sponsored program called the Game of Life (based on the Life board game). Students receive a “passport” with pages dedicated to using certain services or completing certain tasks on campus. They have all semester to complete the passport, and completed passports are entered into a drawing for cash prizes. Rather than a meaningless scavenger hunt task like asking for a librarian’s signature or finding a random call number, the passport page for the library requires students to consult with a reference librarian on a research assignment.

New classes and active learning opportunities: Most of our one-shots take place in English, History, or Student Success classes. This semester, I’m excited to be going into classes I’ve never taught or rarely get to teach: Biology, Dance Appreciation, and assorted allied health programs: A.D.N. Mobility and Vocational Nursing, Pharmacy Technician, and Physical Therapy Assistant.

What’s more, I’m excited that instructors are giving me more time in their class in order to teach with active learning exercises. For example, I was given two hours to present at the Level 1 Vocational Nursing Orientation, which allowed plenty of time to employ not only my favorite tried-and-true activities, but also some new ones I’ve been dying to try out. In what felt like an ever greater coup, a Biology instructor defied my expectations and let me present for over an hour when I had initially asked for only 30 minutes. While I’m looking forward to try out some new activities and hone my teaching, I’m even happier to be delivering a better one-shot experience to our students.

Assessment work: Our library is in the midst of assessment activities: we’re being asked to come up with measurable outcomes and data collection tools to quantify the effect of our programs and resources. We haven’t really done a lot in this area up until this point, and assessment is one of my professional interests, so I’m really excited to be part of this effort. This semester I’ll be creating and trying out new ways to assess our one-shot sessions, and I have already identified a few faculty willing to let me experiment in their classes.

In addition to starting to assess my own work, I’m also looking forward to writing about assessment more. I was asked to contribute a post about libraries and the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) to this blog. I started getting interested in the CCSSE after reading this excellent post on the topic from Troy Swanson. I joined our campus’ Data Team in order to lobby for adding a question or two about the library, and talked about this issue with the Dean of Enrollment Services on my campus, who once worked as a research assistant for the Center for Community College Student Engagement, and is very knowledgeable about the CCSSE. I’ll do some more research on the CCSSE and sit down to speak with the Dean formally, so look for a post about libraries and the CCSSE sometime in September or October.

Conference Planning: Allow me to plug the Texas Library Association for a moment; Texas is so large that the state is divided into 10 districts. I’m currently serving as the chair-elect of District 8, which encompasses Greater Houston and most of Southeast Texas. We’re planning our District Conference for Saturday, October 5, and the program selection committee just selected 18 diverse, exciting programs. From programs on gender diverse literature to disaster recovery planning, and from workplace wellness to the library as journal publisher, I’m proud and excited to see the amazing work librarians of all institution types and sizes are doing in our area.

With all of these things going on, I find myself refocusing my energy and time from bemoaning the renovation to planning some really exciting outreach and professional development activities. It seems like a win-win situation for everyone.

So how are you feeling about going back to school? What are you looking forward to this semester?

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