Revitalizing the blog!

Happy Thursday! This blog has been fairly quiet for a few months. I’ve put out a call for contributors and gotten many responses. Hopefully you will see regular posts that are relevant to community and junior college librarians soon!!

If you are a reader of the blog that has something to say – please let us know! We’re always looking for new voices!

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Dreams and Innovations: Student Success and Service Learning

I just returned from two weeks of back-to-back conferences. West coast to east coast and back. I’m frazzled but ignited. That was a lot of travel and airports and sessions and workshops to take in. Ideas were swirling. My hope is that writing will help me process it all and clear my mind.

 Achieving the Dream: Orlando

Our college signed up last year for this national initiative aimed at improving equity and student success. Colleges learn how to identify gaps in achievement and tailor interventions that can impact the most students. The big push in the early stages is looking at disaggregated data (race, class, gender, for example), collecting new data, and engaging faculty.

What was I doing there? Well, I’m part of the college’s “Data Team.” Though we’re looking at the college as a whole (success rates in classes, persistence rates from term to term, etc.), I’m interested in the library’s role in success and retention. It is obvious to me what the library’s role is in student engagement and in connection to the college as a whole. I hear about all the innovative things librarians are doing in the areas of orientation and first week/first year experience programs to get students engaged and connected early on. It seems less clear and obvious (to me) how to concretely link the library to college success overall—how to correlate library use (book checkouts & database sessions, studying in the library, reference transactions) concretely to increased success numbers. One place to start (and we are just starting to do this) would be to compare student grades in classes where there was intense library support to student grades in classes where there wasn’t.

 Innovations: Anaheim

I flew back to California to attend Innovations 2014. The League for Innovation in the Community College puts on this conference annually and there were many inspiring forums and round table discussions. By day two I reached an oversaturation point, unable to focus on all the concepts swirling in my head. One idea took root, though: Service learning. I’ve heard of this concept before but it really clicked for me at the conference. What a wonderful way to empower students and encourage community and civic engagement! For those new to the concept, it was explained to me as a pedagogy where opportunities for community service are built into classes and programs. I’m excited to try this out in the Info Competency course I teach—perhaps having the class create a resource list for a local business.

I’d love to hear about other ways Service learning is being built into your classes!

What do you do?

Last November I participated in the Great American Teach-In by visiting three kindergarten classrooms to talk about being a librarian. When I did this as a public librarian, especially when I was a children’s librarian, this was easy. I talked about a library that the children were likely familiar with, provided a story time, and passed out stickers and bookmarks. Now that I’m a community college librarian, I wanted to tell them about my current job and what I currently do. This really made me think about what it is that community college librarians do and how to demonstrate our value to our schools, administrators, and the community at large.

So what is it that we do? I’m not sure what all community college librarians do, but I can tell you a little about what I do. I am the solo full-time faculty librarian at a small campus of a very large community college. Officially I do reference, instruction, collection development, collection maintenance, and I am embedded in at least four courses each semester. I do workshops at many of our faculty in-services, new faculty orientations, and adjunct faculty trainings about the libraries. I serve on a variety of campus and college committees. Unofficially, you can find me helping students to use the computers, photocopiers, and scanner; assisting students with general college-related questions; serving as a club advisor; working at the circulation desk; serving as a sounding board for students; being a ‘friendly’ face on campus; and just about anything else that is needed to help students to succeed.

Students and other library patrons frequently tell me how much they appreciate my help – and I know that this is important. It’s important to be available, to show that you care, and to get up off your butt and actually help. While I know that is this valuable – how do we measure this? In the public library we could measure how many books were checked out, how many reference questions we answered, how many programs we had, etc. But here in the college setting – my students may never check out a book or may never ask a real “reference” question. Instead they found that the library was a welcome place on campus – where the librarian greeted them with a smile each time they walked in the door. Perhaps they participated in an online course with the embedded librarian, used the instructional materials in their course, but never interacted with the librarian – yet these materials enabled them to find the resources needed to write the essays in their course.

So what is it that I do? I help students to succeed in college. I may not help them in obvious ways – or in ways that they would be able to identify or quantify – but I know that their interactions with me help.

How to Read a Book: Workshops You Didn’t Know Your Students Needed

Not long ago, one of the Speech faculty members at my college emailed me about a local public library class:

“One of my students was sharing how a class he took at the [public library]…taught him how to use the index and glossary in a book and he said it is what helped him when taking one of my online exams.This made me start thinking about our QEP [Quality Enhancement Project] plan and how we are constantly being reminded of reading literacy skills…Have you ever heard of these types of classes being taught at libraries? Do you think we could offer some to our students?  I think they are of great value. My student’s grade went from a 45 to a 92.”

The instructor is referring to the Quality Enhancement Project (QEP) our college is working on for reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). Our QEP is titled “It’s in the Book!”, and “emphasizes student engagement with the readings that are important to success in their courses.” (You can read more about it here.)

When I first started working at the college, I was a little incredulous about the QEP topic. You mean there’s a massive, district-wide effort just to tell students to read their textbook?! Shouldn’t they be doing that, anyway? I thought, naive to the realities of community college students’ relationships with their textbooks, often fraught with both academic and financial insecurities.

But what this instructor realized, and what I’ve come to learn from anecdotal experience on the job, is that one of the biggest obstacles students face to meaningful engagement with books is that they simply don’t know how to read a book.

I don’t mean they can’t read. While students may give up on reading their textbooks and other academic books for research because the vocabulary and language are too challenging, the problem goes beyond reading comprehension. It extends to what librarians and other regular readers take for granted: knowing how a book is organized, and how to apply that knowledge in order to be a more efficient researcher.

My students seem to have lots of misconceptions about books, especially about using books for research. Here are some of the common complaints I hear in one-shots, and how I counter them:

“Books don’t have a Ctrl + F.”

That’s a fair point when you’re used to having that feature at your fingertips. But books have a table of contents and an index, which is usually all you need to find where a specific topic or search term appears in your book. Without knowing how to use these tools, however, students are in the dark at finding what they’re looking for without reading the book cover to cover.

“You have to read the whole thing! Articles are shorter.”

No, you don’t! Students sometimes give me the side eye when I assure them that no, it really is OK to only use just one chapter from an edited volume, or the introduction of a longer work. Of course you wouldn’t want to cherry-pick just the information that supports your argument, if there’s evidence in the book to the contrary, but it’s not cheating to use just a portion of the book! Knowing how to navigate a book using the table of contents and introduction will help you figure out which parts are worth your time.

“Books are old and out of date.”

While it’s true that most books will become obsolete at some point in their life cycle – check any weeding discard pile – this is a great opportunity to talk to students about the cycle of information and the information needs books can help satisfy. It’s hard to do a research paper on a topic you know nothing about by diving straight into the scholarly journal literature: books can help orient you to the topic before you turn to current scholarship in the field.

“I don’t want to come all the way down to the library for a book.”

One word: e-books! (And those do have your Ctrl + F feature!)

“I don’t like reading.”

It’s tough to counter this one, except to say that you’re already reading all the time! Whether it’s a book, article, website, or text message, you’re reading more than you think. The problem isn’t that you don’t like reading; the problem is that you equate reading books with a boring waste of time. If we can help students feel comfortable and competent using books, I think we’d hear this complaint less often.

So the more this instructor and I talked about students’ misconceptions and aversion to using books, the more we realized that a drop-in workshop similar to the one she described taking place at the local public library would have a place here at our community college.

Here are some of the topics I’d want to cover in this kind of workshop:

  • Anatomy of a Book: Learn to use the book’s structure (table of contents, chapter headings, glossary, index) to navigate and find information efficiently. The reason this Speech instructor’s student improved so dramatically on his open-book tests was because he understood how the information in his textbook was organized, enabling him to find answers faster and easier.

  • Searching and Selecting Books: Effectively search the library catalog (including searching with keywords and subject terms) to find the right book for you, and learn how to use the online system to  place holds, renew books online, and check your library account.

  • Finding Books: Find the book on the shelf with a Library of Congress call number. Don’t forget to look around you for other books on the same topic!

Do your students have trouble navigating books? Have you ever run a workshop like this? If you have any tips or suggestions, I’d love to hear them! Comment here, or drop me a note at jane.stimpson@sjcd.edu.