Library Instruction Should Have Something for Everyone

by Moya K. Mason


Research libraries can play a central role in the development of a university education. To do this, they need to target first year undergraduates by drawing them into the library at the beginning of their program. This should not simply involve yet another quick orientation tour, but a meaningful, relaxed experience that will get their attention. They need to know that the library can be their sanctuary and its staff their personal information navigators, who can see them through the fluctuations that are inherent in the learning process. The instructional tour must also emphasize that by using the available information tools and taking advantage of knowledgeable staff, they can move through their academic course requirements more quickly and with much better results. Rather than being the most confusing and overwhelming building on campus, it can - with a little preliminary work and some concentration - be the place that provides the services and support that students require.

A philosophical component should also play a role in library instructional tours, a presentation that showcases how the library is a part of a universe of knowledge that has been built up through generations of humanity and is waiting to be explored by them. Libraries can be the place that opens their minds to possibilities and horizons they never knew existed. For all intents and purposes, libraries should produce tours that project a scholarly image as much as possible, in a relaxed, clear, and responsive manner. It cannot be stressed enough that the library should be considered an information haven for all students; a place to get away from anxiety, not a generator of it. Library staff should be trained to be responsive and to attract questions by presenting an open, inviting, and enlightening atmosphere that begins with their own demeanor.

Library Instructional Needs for Undergraduates

1. As librarians, it is easy to forget that many students do not find going to a library a near spiritual experience, and may have found the process a painful and debilitating one in the past. The stereotype of the stern and noiseless librarian, the gatekeeper of the library's information mysteries, is quite ingrained in Western society, and in some libraries, is a reality. Academic library administrators should be very selective when hiring librarians for the front lines, because students need to feel as though they are welcome guests, who will be missed if they do not visit the library. Therefore, the first fundamental need is to feel welcomed in friendly territory. Students need to feel comfortable.

2. Tied into this is the desire to be treated with respect. So often young people are stereotyped into very uncomplimentary categories. Librarians must remember that the library, its contents, and their jobs are dependent upon these new students. They should be looked at as prospective customers, who, if satisfied, can increase library circulation and keep jobs filled. Empty libraries are a telling sign.

3. New students need to be familiarized with the physical layout of the library, not only as a way to find information, but also the quiet areas, study rooms, copying services, pay phones, and even the book return chute, which is often difficult to locate.

4. Undergraduates need to be acquainted with all library services and resources that are available to them, especially, the online public access computer.

5. Undergraduates must be able to understand the classification system used at the library.

6. It is necessary for them to use the services of the reference librarians and be comfortable approaching them.

7. They require effective instruction in the use of research materials.

8. They should meet some members of the staff and get to know their names.

9. It is essential that they also understand what behavior is expected of them. Eating and drinking are not library activities, nor is defamation of library materials, or loud and unnecessary conversation in selected areas of the library.

10. They need to see the library as information central, and their one-stop location for personalized and individualized service.

Major Aims and Goals of the Library Tour

1. The first aim is to get as many new students as possible to use the library facilities. To do this, the goal is to present a tour that will be inviting enough to keep them coming back for more, by reducing library anxiety.

2. Secondly, to provide information that will enhance the educational journey of the university's patrons by encouraging information literacy in undergraduate education. To reach this aim, librarians need to teach students how library tools can assist them in the process. That is the goal.

3. The third aim is to show how the library can support their undergraduate course work by highlighting materials that were purchased specifically to enhance their textbooks and further their knowledge on broad subject areas.

4. With the tremendous growth in automated and technological resources, it is necessary for librarians to ensure that students have a thorough understanding of these new systems. To reach this goal, introductory instruction will be presented on the tour, but more effective database workshops will be scheduled for fewer people at a time, allowing for more indepth demonstrations and practice with the most heavily used ones. These classes will be structured around subject specialities.

5. One of the most fundamental aims is to assist students in developing the mental processes required to focus in on a research topic. For instance, if a student is given the topic Urbanization, librarians can show them how to fine tune the subject and zero in on an appropriate thesis statement. They do this by asking a series of questions. If the course is Canadian History, a student can be guided to choose a particular province, then a specific problem stemming directly from urbanization, such as the ramifications of urban sprawl encroaching on rural farmlands. The goal is to walk students through the appropriate cognitive steps that they require for successfully completing coursework.

6. The library tour will have a research-based aim to show students some basic research skills that will allow them to do their class assignments. To set them in the right direction, the library tour guide will highlight appropriate research materials and sources, pointing out the location and use.

7. The presentation of several different information resources and approaches to accessing subject material. This requires showing students many different strategies to get started. For example, if a student had to do an introductory paper on Greek Mythology, then one way is the use of a specialized annotated bibliography on the subject.

8. The presentation of a few pointers on how to write a quality paper can help to set a standard level of expectation for the students to meet. The problem of plagiarism should also be discussed, as well as the overuse of direct quotes, especially extensively long ones. The importance of paraphrasing, creativity, critical thinking, and independent input should be highlighted.

9. Although an academic library will have a huge collection of materials, it will not own everything a student will need, nor should they expect to find all inhouse materials they want waiting for them in the stacks. The goal is to show them how to easily access additional resources. To do this, they will be introduced to the interlibrary loan process, document delivery, and learn how to recall a book from the basement or an offsite storage site or another student. Students will be taught that by leaving a research project to the last minute might mean that the most pertinent materials need to be brought in from another library by interlibrary loan or recalled. Getting into the habit of retrieving research materials early ensures writing better papers, which is a good goal to strive for.

10. It is an aim of the library to show the importance of being able to critically examine search results. The goal is that by learning to narrow search topics by using library resources, students will understand that the process is one that takes time and practice. At this point, they will be taught how to follow a citation trail.

Cognitive and Affective Objectives

Since one of the library's main objectives is to alleviate library stress, and thus increase library use, it will be necessary to watch for attitudinal changes when students are involved in the learning process. Moving away from family and friends to begin university is a stressful experience. Although students may be looking forward to this new phase in their lives, the surrounding pressure may affect their ability to succeed, exacerbated by a fear of not doing everything that is expected of them. Librarians must keep this in mind as they are guiding undergraduates through their first library tour. A student's frustration and fear can get manifested into thinking negatively about learning. A positive attitude is more conducive to learning and remembering, but librarians should not assume that students will have a positive attitude toward the learning experience. Behavior will be monitored throughout the process. The following are a few key cognitive objectives to expect from students, which can be tested for.

1. Students will be able to identify which classification system the library is using. Having earlier specified their subject area of interest, they will be expected to recall the LC numbers that organize the field within five minutes.

2. To quickly log onto the OPAC, and list the call numbers of three books whose titles they were given.

3. Since LCSH are fundamental in library search methodology, students should be able to use the headings in a subject search of Classical Mythology. They must note the titles and authors of the first five books that appear.

4. To find the reserve listings on the OPAC for one of their courses, select one, and retrieve it.

5. Write down a possible thesis statement for one out of five broad subject categories, by focusing on possible issues and areas of interest given their own knowledge base.

6. Every student will be given the name of a book that is out on loan. They are expected to identify what their options are when they realize they must read that book. The goal is that they will go to the circulation desk to place a recall. For an item owned by another library, the goal is that they will think of ILL right away and fill out a request form.

7. Every student should be able to select appropriate research materials and evaluate them in regards to a class assignment.

8. Students will see the reference librarians as approachable information specialists, who are eager to help them with their requests. They will seek assistance from a librarian, and appear comfortable during the process.

9. Given a list of three books each, students will retrieve them off the shelves in a timely manner.

10. Students will be able to use LCSH to do a few searches. Ask them to repeat the process using keyword searches.

Tour Outline (questions are encouraged throughout the process)

Library tours have been a part of university orientation programs for decades, however, research is continuing to present evidence that suggests undergraduates use the library very minimally, and experience high degrees of library anxiety when they do. This includes a fear of not knowing what they are doing, shame, and avoidance of face-to-face exchanges with reference librarians. A quick and simple walking tour is just not enough anymore, if a library is serious about providing undergraduates with the tools they need to succeed and get the most out of their university programs. Basic walking tours and advanced database workshops are available, but there is a definite need to extend the time to incorporate discussion and questions, an extensive library tour, and an evaluation of student performance. By exposing new students to valuable research strategies, hands-on use of elementary library tools, and a selection of reference librarians should help them feel more comfortable and reduce anxiety.

The purpose of this tour is not for them to learn about everything the library has to offer, since no one can retain more than a certain amount of knowledge at one time. But what they are exposed to should get them started and make them interested enough to come back. If they are made to feel that uncovering and conquering some mysteries of the library will allow them to start their academic careers more easily and even pass on some pointers to classmates, then our mission will be accomplished. Groups of no more than twenty will be scheduled for the same time, and the bibliographic tour, if numbers warrant it, may be assisted by a co-op student or another librarian. Interested students are asked to set aside two hours for a very important library instruction tour that will begin in the meeting room. It will be advertised as one of the most valuable academic experiences they will have in their first year.

The first thing they will be told is that everything they will hear, including the twenty minute introduction, the actual walking tour, the bibliographic instructions, guidance through the OPAC, and the logic behind it all, is available on CD at the circulation desk and also digitally on the library's website. They will be encouraged to take the tour again at least once, and to tell their classmates about it. The stress of missing something is quickly minimized and they do not have to worry about taking notes. Instead they can relax, listen, and learn. Number one on the agenda is to explain how big a role anxiety plays in library use by undergraduates. They are given a definition of what library anxiety is, a couple of scenarios, and be made to understand that it is one of the few things they may have in common with the people they meet at university, regardless of how sophisticated some pretend to be. They are not experiencing an individual problem, but a group phenomenon, which can easily be overcome (Insert a personal example of library confusion and anxiety). If they can understand from the beginning that they are not different or alone, then they will feel more secure. They will be told that never again will they feel as nervous as they are now, and that within a very short time, their trips to the library will be seen as welcome interludes in their busy university lives.

Next, they will be told about studies that show how fearful students are in approaching reference librarians for help. It will be pointed out that although the librarians may look busy, it's only because they are filling in time, waiting for someone to come along and take them away from their paper work. They will be assured that reference librarians are 'people-people' and are in that job because they like to assist others with their information questions. Reference librarians are on the front lines, and are expected to treat all patrons with respect and courtesy. There will always be those who spoil it for everyone else, so students will be asked to make complaints about individual librarians when they are not treated in a fair way. Behavior of this sort will not be tolerated at any level. Librarians should be reprimanded at first, but may have to be fired, if their lack of regard continues to get in the way of their jobs. The students need to feel as if they have some power, and are not simply at the mercy of an institution.

A short overview of the Library of Congress Classification system will take place. Students will be given handouts that provide broad subject areas. They will be encouraged to learn a little about the call numbers because it will enable them to find materials much easier. At this time, they will be asked to look for the classification letter that best incorporates their area of interest. In doing this, they should be able to browse the shelves in their spare time and come across some interesting items that they could easily overlook in an OPAC search. For the next few minutes they will be introduced to some of the staff and be encouraged to return as often as needed for help. They should be told that even graduate students and faculty take advantage of their skills, so they should as well.

Walking Tour Begins

1. First stop is the security/express check out desk located near door. Students will be told that all items must be checked out prior to leaving or a else an alarm will sound off. The security system will also be activated if they have brought their own videos into the library, or books from another library. They should present these to security before exiting, and they will hand the items back to them over the turnstile.

2. Students will be shown the numerous pathfinders and other handouts available to them, and where they can put their anonymous concerns and suggestions.

3. On to the circulation desk, where all students will take out their library cards for validation. If a student does not have their ID, they will be encouraged to get one after the tour.

Here they will be shown the process that occurs when a book is checked out, and what the staff member will say to them. They are usually told they can have a book for twenty-eight days, unless a book is recalled. This process is also explained to them, and they are encouraged to do their research as quickly as they can in anticipation of this happening. The main circulation desk incorporates the lost and found for the library, and that is the first place to go for missing library cards, books, and bags. This is also the place where students return their books and renew the ones they would like to keep.

4. The next stop will be to the adjacent reserve counter where a staff member will explain how students access reserve listings on the OPAC and bring their requests to them. They will be told that when their professors say that they have put readings, books, or articles on reserve in the library, the materials will be located in this area. The loan period is usually set by the professor, and varies from item to item. Some books will have a three day loan, while others just a few hours. If items are not returned within the specified time, an hourly charge is put in place.

5. Before the students take some time on the OPACS and learn how to log-on to the system, they will be shown the LCSH reference books and be reminded of their previous discussions.

6. All students will be guided through a step by step process of how to use the OPAC, and where to find their class reserve lists. They will be encouraged to do an author search, a title search, a call number search, and a subject search. They will also be shown how to check other library catalogues. A detailed, step-by-step handout will be given to each student for future reference.

7. The next stop is a visit to the interlibrary loan department, which is located off the main reference area. The students will be given a brief explanation about resource sharing and the importance of interlibrary loans. They will also learn how to place an ILL order.

8. Now to the central reference area, where the students will be shown where the dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, almanacs, and the periodical indexes are usually shelved. The students will also be shown the various specialized indexes for particular topics in the social sciences and humanities. At this point, a quick side trip to the periodical rooms will take place, as the librarian explains how important it is to use journal articles in addition to books and other materials. They will be told that this is an area they should visit right from the beginning, and will be encouraged to get help from reference librarians if they get lost in the process. Photocopiers are available for copying the needed articles.

9. The reference desk is easy to find in most libraries. The students will meet the reference librarians and be assured that they are happy to assist people in using the reference and general collections. They are trained to answer indepth questions, will help you begin your research, locate hard-to-find materials, and instruct students in using online services, the OPAC, and various databases. Never think that a question is stupid or insignificant, or that you are disturbing the librarians at the desk. They get paid to help you. Reference librarians can also be telephoned, emailed, texted, and are often available for real-time chat sessions. Sign up sheets will be on hand for database workshops, and for the additional intensive tour of the complicated government documents area. On to the stacks.

10. A tour of the stacks is next, with special attention given to LC classification, the policy of no food and drink, quiet areas, photocopiers, and where to put books that students have taken from the stacks. Students should be discouraged from reshelving items, unless they are particularly careful to put them back in the exact place.

11. Back to the meeting room for an evaluation that has been previously discussed (see cognitive and affective objectives). Students will have twenty minutes to finish the test. Answers will be gone over together.

In Conclusion

This bibliographic tour is longer than the average one, but since there is no evidence that the typical ones have worked in the past, a new approach may be needed. Those 'quick and dirty' tours are not conducive to learning, and are too quick for students to absorb much of anything. This tour has left out some very important elements of the library system, but they can be focused on in separate workshops and followed up with faculty members requesting specialized tours that concentrate on their class subject area.

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Dilevko, Juris. Bibliographic Instruction and Mass Media News Literacy: A Theoretical Background. The Library Quarterly 68(4), p. 431-474.

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