Archive for February, 2008

The Care and Feeding of Student Assistants

Monday, February 25th, 2008

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

So another semester is under way, and with it comes the first few weeks of very…um, uneven service from the new student assistants at our reference desk. While they are learning the ins and outs of photocopy cards, printer servers, food and drink policies and the like, the student assistants expect to turn to their supervisors and peers for help with questions to which they don’t know the answers. But when it comes to reference and research questions, it seems to be a different story. With some exceptions, it seems that students are almost physiologically averse to referring questions to a librarian, even when one is sitting at the same desk! I have witnessed the following exchange innumerable times:

Patron: Do you have any books on my obscure English 101 topic?

Student (typing a few keywords in the Catalog): No, we don’t. Sorry.

Patron: Oh, ok. (Goes back to the dorm to cut and paste from Google results)

Granted, you’d think the patron would ask to speak to someone else about their question, but maybe they’re in a rush, or maybe they don’t want to hurt their fellow student’s feelings. (Graduate students and faculty seem to be less shy about asking for someone else’s help when their needs haven’t been met.) The ideal situation would be for our student assistants to know when a referral is needed, and to follow through appropriately.

Short of shock collars or Facebook-deprivation chambers, how can we better train our students to make referrals? One approach we’re considering at my institution is to employ more graduate students from the library school, who are a little more motivated to learn “the business” and to provide good service. But this can stretch the budget, and obviously isn’t much help for those universities without library schools. So what other suggestions do you have for approaching this problem? What sorts of training or guidelines have you implemented? What has worked well (or even not well, but maybe could be improved with some tinkering?) If you use a tiered (aka “Brandeis Model”) reference system, do employees at the first tier really make referrals like they’re supposed to?

Who Wants Yesterday’s Papers?

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

I had my first library instruction session of the semester last week, and it was a doozy! The 400-level English course was called “Victorian Bodies,” and the focus is the ways in which discoveries in science (and pseudo-science) influenced Victorian literature. The students’ assignment was to find some articles from Victorian periodicals on things like phrenology, mesmerism, evolution, etc. Let me tell you, undergraduates are NOT enthused when you tell them they may have to become familiar with that Victorian-era beast, the microfiche reader.

I did come across a handful of electronic resources that proved useful for this class’s assignments. The databases 19th Century Masterfile (Paratext) and Periodicals Index Online (Chadwyck-Healey) are terrific resources for finding citations, and it’s relatively easy to copy and paste periodical titles over to WorldCat or your library’s catalog to find holdings. Periodicals Index Online also includes some links to JSTOR, so you may get lucky enough to find full-text that way.

A couple of excellent (free) web resources: the Internet Library of Early Journals has digital images for six periodicals, including the Annual Review and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Science in the Nineteenth Century Periodical has no full-text, but provides excellent indexing for sixteen 19th-century titles.

And taking the quick-and-easy route (which undergraduate students would never do), there’s the Undergraduate Victorian Studies Online Teaching Anthology at the University of Minnesota Libraries, which has done everyone the favor of scanning some Victorian-era articles in three topic areas: “Condition of Women,” “Empire,” and (lucky for my students) “Science, Evolution and Eugenics.”

If you’re interested in the other resources (electronic, print and microform) I identified from my library, here’s the course web page.

How ‘bout you? Had any difficult instruction sessions lately that led you to interesting resources? You can leave a comment, or send your story to a Publications Committee member to be posted to the blog.