Building the New Academic Library Experience

Last week, I attended Stephen Abram’s excellent workshop on “Building the New Academic Library Experience” at METRO. (His full presentation slides are here.) His presentation was hugely thought-provoking—it was three hours long but felt like only ten minutes! I’m still mulling over much of the material, but I thought I’d share some of the most interesting take-aways. (The statements  in quotation marks below are either direct quotes from Abram or near-quotes from my hastily-typed notes as I tried to keep up.)

“What will you be excellent at, instead of mediocre at everything?”

This gets to the true purpose of why libraries (and universities) should be creating strategic plans. It’s not just about random change and improvement—it’s about targeting your constituents’ true needs, your institution’s mission, and leveraging your existing strengths. Abram expertly pointed out that a recurring problem in libraries is stretching ourselves so far that none of our services are excellent. He says each library should prioritize their area(s) of excellence, and then be okay with being mediocre at the rest. As Abram pointed out, you can always improve your other areas of mediocrity in the next round of setting goals.

“Punishing students for plagiarism and bad citations without first teaching them how to do this properly? Unethical. Teach them it’s not about stealing… it’s about standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, helping others find the original ideas.”

This was a breath of fresh air for me, regarding how to approach information literacy and bibliographic instruction. I’ve seen a lot of stellar library instruction, but I’m not sure we’re selling it to faculty in quite this stark a fashion. Abrams has convinced me—it’s simply unethical to browbeat students with the fear of plagiarism without providing them with the proper tools, understanding, and attitude about how proper research and citation works. Too many students look up citation formats from a fear-driven motivation (“If I don’t cite this correctly, I’ll be failed!”), instead of an informed realization of the research process (“This person’s work was instrumental to mine. I’ll cite it so that others can find their original ideas and build on them, like I did.”)

Another key area he mentioned was making staff development the number one prioritization in academic libraries. There was an entire discussion centered around this topic, but here’s what drew my attention: you want your front-line staff, regardless of education or title or age or experience or seniority, to be equipped to help patrons, provide access for those with disabilities, cater to different learning styles, and be familiar with a variety cutting-edge tech devices that patrons will inevitably be using to access information resources. Your front-line staff is the face of the library to patrons who enter your doors—you need to train them to be their best and represent the library well. If you don’t provide them with the proper tools, how can they achieve this?

Pardon me while I read over the rest of my notes and ponder more…

4 thoughts on “Building the New Academic Library Experience

  1. dalecooper57 says:

    Excellent. I’m not in the library game myself, – except as a punter of course (and as such, would do away with auto-teller style check out machines, and reinstate those other things. What were they called? Oh yes, LIBRARIANS!) but I have a friend who has been a librarian for twenty years or so. I shall forward this post to her.

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      Thanks, Dale. I like those machines myself–I’m one of those Gen-X-ers who likes to get things done myself and quickly–but I think it’s best of all when libraries can provide multiple options for all the different kinds of people that use them. 🙂

  2. Doug says:

    Dear Starr,

    Great to read your post on the New Academic Library Experience. I am working to instill a love (or perhaps a respect) for libraries in the minds of my research students. At the least, if they do not love research, then in the short term they can think that they are “surfing” a new link. Whatever it takes to get them into the discovery of “stuff” (as many of them call it). Who knows, perhaps they will even get to meet a marvelous individual who can lead them to greater resources. Librarians make great friends and important people to get to know.

    Keep in touch,


    • Starr Hoffman says:

      Thanks, Doug! I’m so glad to hear you’re preaching the awesomeness of libraries to your research students. In my library instruction sessions, I try to leave them with the knowledge that our job is to be there for them, that we love questions, and that honestly we get paid to make their intellectual lives easier. That’s much easier than trying to hammer how to use a library catalog into them, and much more rewarding for everyone in the long run!

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