This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Contact to report an issue.


The theme of this spring’s LAUNC-CH conference, which Steve and I attended on Monday, was “Creating a User-Centered Library.” As ever, it offered an impressively wide range of pragmatic presentations, this time revolving around the issue of user-centricity.

The keynote presenters, Mike Olsen, Dawn Hubbs, and Barbara Tierney, all of UNC -Charlotte, led off with macro- and micro-perspectives on the issue, “What Do You Do?” User-Centered Ethnography at UNC-C’s Atkins Library.” Olsen, Associate University Librarian for Information Commons, recounted how the library hired a professional anthropologist to do usability testing, querying a group of eight students on how they worked and how they could perhaps do so “better and smarter.” The impetus for this stemmed from the absence of a University Librarian for many years, as well as a head of information commons, so the sentiment was that they needed to re-address their purpose. The result was a re-designed library, both physically and virtually, with an interesting array of approaches, some novel, some more familiar. Easels now permit students to write about what they like and don’t like: for instance, students want more of a streamlined Google look to the library’s web site and the library has emulated a library Smartphone app, similar to Duke’s mobile site. Barbara Tierney, Head of Information Services, listed their university-centered services. A Public Services Committee meets monthly with representatives from every public service area. They instituted a user-centered forum to address the question of how students (4 on the panel) do their work; from this it emerged that students are in their own personal networks, unlikely to consult either faculty or staff, and they prefer to use information from their peers. They are not sophisticated in the way they use the library, and are generally blissfully unaware of library resources, are satisfied with finding the easiest way to research, and Google is uncontested king. Smart phones are devoted to social networking only, untainted by research purposes. Atkins’ user-centered initiatives promote library resources and services such tactics as blanket emails, embedding resources in course pages, attempting to keep students tech savvy, showing how to use specialty software, having library staff present at orientation programs, publicizing services in all areas of the university, and having librarians involved with various university programs and centers. There are also eight “Learning Express” modules, with both long and short versions for books, articles, and other research resources, with links to these units embedded in courseware. They were able to accomplish something we have had in mind for years: an Information Desk that is the first public service desk students encounter as they enter the library. Dawn Hubbs, Head of Research Services, noted that the library doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but in relation to other structures and programs. They have responded to students’ wishes to have a sofa room/nap area (have we truly addressed that need as yet?) as well as food in the library. There was some sentiment still to see books in the library, so reference books are now located on the first floor. There’s an ongoing conflict between quiet study and group study needs. Three public service desks are situated near to each other, for Information, Research Services, and Tech support. Incidentally, they use LibStats from UW-Madison to collect reference questions.

The two breakout sessions I opted for were: “Telling our Stories: Connecting with Faculty at Guilford College” and “Encouragement as Service Philosophy: Motivating African-American College Students to Connect with Library Resources and Services.” The first presentation was offered by Nathaniel King, Information Literacy Librarian, and Leah Dunn, Library Director, both of Guilford College. This session advocated cultivating “library evangelists” in order to approach “library skeptics” about the value of library services, whose value might not always seem readily apparent. King sees stories as a means of persuasion: when one asks library users about the library, one most often gets a story, and faculty who share stories become valuable marketing resources. Just find the faculty who can tell great stories, thereby communicating infectious enthusiasm for the library– such as their positive experiences with ILL. He outlined a range of possible tactics: getting into the campus community by attending events and informal and formal meetings, campus-sponsored faculty lunches, and supporting research and writing (for instance they have a Zotero week when librarians go into the dining hall and offer quick demos and handouts to students who stop by).

The second breakout session was presented by Judd Mortimore, a Reference Librarian and Assistant Professor of Religion at Bennett College, and Amanda Wall, a UNC-G Ph.D. student in Teacher Education. Adopting encouragement as a service philosophy, Mortimore contended, serves to motivate African-American college students to connect with library resources and services at a Historically Black College, many of whose students are first generation college students with limited research experience, are internet dependent, have research anxiety, and do not eschew plagiarism-not unlike the college student universe in general. They embarked on a library instruction promotion program, and as a result went from 11 to 90 sessions between 2006/07 and 2009/2010, and patron counts of 14,661 to 25,911. They have developed approaches and services with instructional and programmatic emphasis on fostering a perception of encouragement in students. Ms. Wall presented the scholarly undergirding for this approach, discussing a seminal study on the motivation of African-American students, published in 2003 by Kevin Cokley (“What do we Know about the Motivation of African American Students? Challenging the ‘Anti-Intellectual Myth’.” Harvard Educational Review 63.4 (Winter 2003): 524-558.

The aim was to capture social and contextual factors of self-concept, and they addressed the notion that faculty encouragement will promote positive academic self-concept. Students at HBUCs have higher motivation and confidence than those attending PWCUs. Working from the premise that the perception of encouragement is a factor in motivation, the implication for libraries is that promoting perceptions of encouragement through library services will likewise foster motivation and positive academic self-concept. He listed strategies for use in both instruction and in references services.


  • Emphasize relationships, not resources, e.g. student-librarian, librarian-professor
  • Address research anxiety early and often, validating the experience of anxiety
  • Know the syllabus and assignments, and engage research tasks as one who is responsible, i.e. model the experience of doing research
  • Emphasize strategies for identifying keywords and revising search strategies, and knowing when to move on
  • Model good responses to search failure and don’t “bulletproof” presentations (show how to respond to failed searches)


  • Communicate enthusiasm, even jealousy for the research task
  • Indicate commitment to supporting the student; elicit how the student feels about the task, show interest, commitment, and confidence
  • Acknowledge confusion, anxiety, and disinterest, and respond
  • Clarify the topic and weigh potential foci
  • Identify ambiguity in assignment and encourage to seek clarification
  • Question the student’s choices
  • Model research processes and practices
  • Focus on what the student should do after the interview
  • Resist the temptation to produce the source
  • Follow up, e.g. find something afterwards to re-engage the relationship, establishing oneself as a partner in help

He cited faculty feedback which was positive, even flowery: post-instruction students exhibited more confidence, produced better and more refined topics, used the internet more appropriately, and exhibited less evidence of plagiarism. Students felt more confident with research, finding books, citation styles, and using the internet.

The wrap-up session was led by Jean Ferguson, Head of Research and Reference Services at Duke University, and consisted of querying a panel of students and one professor of Art History at UNC-CH, Dr. John Bowles. A sampling of questions and answers:

Define a library

(Prof) home base, but also books from other libraries on campus, and what can be accessed through the computer

Books and information and journals, but used online resources 10 times more; place to escape and have quiet time; the PGs, a set of shelves on the far end of Davis, also the BF section, where one can wander up and down the aisles and find great books one didn’t find in the online catalog; off campus access makes one more aware of subscription services

If you had BI classes, what was useful?

Too much information, a 3 page handout, but good experience in libraries with help on the spot; library information on course page, germane to specific assignment; asked librarian why couldn’t use Google scholar instead of journal databases; need university-specific technology information and handouts; (prof) faculty loves the library, which is extremely helpful, will do anything to get the student into the library

Where do you like to study?

Library or public places, with the best coffee shop; likes a little bit of noise; home alone, since the library has too many people and one gets too many books if one stays too long

Do you use social media in research?

Doesn’t like chat, since it’s like talking to a customer service agent, prefers personal interaction; likes text a citation for books

Information sources they like

Google and Wikipedia; (Prof) art librarians put together a resource page with most useful sources relevant to the class, uses Google and Wikipedia but knows that other faculty feel they are the downfall of research

What things have prepared you to be a better researcher?

Reference class on citation management; (prof) working in a library as an undergrad and grad student; working in a library so knows how call numbers work, can go right to the book instead of spending 15 minutes looking over the shelves

I felt that the conference’s pragmatic orientation provided much of interest and potential use, but Steve and I both agreed that we have many things in place already at ZSR and are ahead of the curve in much that was presented and discussed!