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LAUNC-CH Conference March 2009:”Rethink, Redefine, Reinvent:The Research Library in the Digital Age”

The most interesting and relevant session for me at this year’s LAUNC-CH was one entitled, “Outreach and Personalization.”Presenters were Richard Cox (Library Webmaster, UNCG), Lynda Kellam (Data Services and Government Information Librarian, UNCG), Jacqueline Solis (Humanities Reference and Instruction Librarian, UNC-CH),Megan Von Isenburg (Associate Director, Information Services, Duke University Medical Center Library), and Kim Vassiliadis (Instructional Design and Technology Librarian, UNC-CH)

Jacqueline Solis and Kim Vassiliadis presented their course page innovations in the context of studies showing that students are still overwhelmed by research resources and that they tend to approach research without regard to a library’s structure (and web sites tend to reflect an organizational view of the library). So they undertook to find new ways of offering the content traditionally offered in subject guides, simplifying and customizing that content and affording *easy* access to the tools students need. They were mindful of the fact that many students just want the information required for course assignments, and that they are focused on an end product: a grade of “A” for the course.

Solis and Vassiliadis worked with faculty to identify information needs and to create a course page specific to an individual class.The course page was introduced in librarian-mediated sessions, and the librarians were available for follow-up via email, chat or consultation. Their concerns centered around questions of scalability, being overwhelmed by demand in attempting to reach all students. So their approach was to take baby steps, starting with a small pilot of ten classes, working with targeted faculty in specific disciplines to share the syllabus and to offer an instructional session. They learned that course pages are indeed not scalable and that that’s okay: not all classes need course pages, for example if there is no research component. But they needed to identify faculty and students with that research element, since without teaching faculty involvement, course pages are not used. So far they have 75 course pages, incorporating print and electronic resources, chat, RSS feeds, and shared delicious accounts, all embedded in the Blackboard account. The project has been successful for a number of reasons:because of relationships established with faculty, and because with faculty buy-in comes student buy-in. Another positive outcome is that the project has demonstrated that librarians truly understand student needs.

Marketing of faculty has been characterized by repeat users, word of mouth, cold-calling and e-mailing, targeting First Year Seminars, new faculty, and infrequently taught courses receptive to library assistance.

Assessment using statcounter to count page hits has revealed that students are indeed using the resources, and that there are repeat visitors. The most frequently used ones are those for which librarians visited the classes and used the pages as part of the instruction. The least used ones are those for which there was no library instruction or if the pages were not well integrated with course assignments. In summary, course pages facilitate relationship-building and outreach to faculty, remove barriers to finding information, provide personalized context, embed and focus instruction, and offer easy access from Blackboard.

The approach taken by UNC-G was to use a portal within Blackboard. After considering whether students want librarians in their social networking spaces-surveys showed that students would *not* respond to library presence in facebook– the next question was whether we can expect students to come to our pages, and if so, how to integrate library’s materials into spaces students actually will use. This led eventually to considering integrating with a course management system. There were issues in Blackboard, as we all can imagine: navigation issues, getting out the word, getting buy-in from librarians and faculty, teaching students to access databases and the library’s homepage. Use of the portal involved taking over a library tab in Blackboard and setting up library resources for “My Major”-a great idea. The challenges cited included timing of student data from Banner and workflows, finding the correct data in Banner, outreach and marketing. But there are some 1000 hits per day, a very respectable number.Reactions have been positive from reference librarians, administration, faculty, and students alike.

The final portion in this session was a presentation on the use of Kindles as a means of exploring and exploiting new technologies to benefit both students and communities. Megan von Isenburg from the Duke Medical Center Library recounted their efforts to target a specific group with a specific tool. The technology advisory group had been tasked with finding technology for workflow or students. They bought Kindles with end of year funds, noting that Kindles are cheaper than the $200-$300 textbooks, as well as lightweight and portable. They can be used not only for Kindle books but also for personal documents and include web access with no monthly fee. Medical students could use medical books as well as personal documents and could search the web. The National Library of Medicine has technology and outreach grants, so they got this as an outreach grant. They acquired six Kindles, and shared one book to six readers.Kindle was chosen to accomodate low connectivity locations in the communities the medical students serve, and because of the outreach opportunity, to serve disadvantaged communities specifically within the family medicine arena. Kindles were given both to preceptors and to students, and each loaded books, class documents, and practice guidelines. The e-texts are searchable, accept added notes and bookmarks, and they support looking up terms. Among the lessons were the following:technology is a moving target (Kindle2 came out in the middle of the project), focus on bigger issues i.e. what can be transferred out of the project, grants provide structure to projects, faculty involvement is the key to personalization, test boundaries to explore new territories.

I do think that our use of LibGuides in combination with bibliographic instruction sessions compares very favorably to both of these schools’ approaches. We also customize our research guides, always basing them on course syllabi and assignment information provided by the professors. The idea of a “My Major” resource is a good one, although the constraints imposed by locking all of these research guides within Blackboard are not necessarily advantageous, in my opinion.

Finally, I took advantage (with Mary Scanlon’s kindly acquiescence) of this trip to Chapel Hill to visit Wilson Library’s Rare Book exhibit on the 19thcentury poet of the English Romantic movement, John Keats. The UNC-CH Libraries’ 6th millionth book was the 1817 edition of his first volume of poetry, and the exhibit was a very well thought-out and inclusive approach to that signal publication (Keats is usually mentioned in the same breath as Shakespeare, Milton, and Wordsworth). Keats died of consumption in 1821 at the age of 25, and his best poetry, that of his “Great Year,” appeared in his third volume, published in 1820. Wilson Library hasa copy of each of the three volumes, which were on display along with the 19th century editions that reflected his growing posthumous poetic reputation. In addition to 19th century giftbooks and anthologies (one has to remember that had he survived, he would have lived well into the Victorian period) , there were separate exhibit cases also for rare books literature by poets who influenced Keats (e.g. William Wordsworth, with a beautiful volume graced by foredge painting of a scene clearly from the Lake District) and by poets who were influenced by Keats, women writers of the 19th century, volumes of Keats’s poetry beautifully reflecting the book arts, and a case exhibiting the other “millionth” volumes, the first two of which were 15th century publications. It was a very enriching end to an interesting day in Chapel Hill.