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Wildcard Wednesdays

First Year (Not for the First Time)

A first-year experience is a best practice for student success and retention, but it has to be an experience that works. My institution’s previous FYE – a one-credit required college success course – had an unacceptable DFW rate. (I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t be able to fail a college success course, but I don’t know how the grading worked.) The library wasn’t involved in planning or teaching the course, but we had relationships with many of the instructors, who brought their classes in for a fifteen-minute library introduction and tour.

That course was retired a few semesters ago, and our replacement FYE is finally launching thanks to the work of our new student engagement manager. The new program consists of a series of workshops covering key college topics and skills. The library was invited to participate, so we’ll be offering several workshops: a standard library orientation, a revival of our popular spotting misinformation session (just in time for election season), and a new offering called Fun Stuff in the Library to highlight recreational reading students may not know they have access to. We’ll offer each session at multiple times and in different delivery methods to maximize attendance.

These workshops aren’t mandatory, so I don’t know how well they will create a consistent, impactful first-year experience. However, we’re willing to try, and the library definitely doesn’t want to be left out of an opportunity to make sure new students know what we have to offer.

Does your college offer a FYE? How is your library involved?

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Wildcard Wednesdays

Reading on the Job

How often have you mentioned your profession to someone and heard in response, “I wish I was a librarian. I love to read!” Librarians know that the bulk of our responsibilities isn’t curling up somewhere with a book, however much we might enjoy doing so. But you can make reading books (and having opinions on them) part of your job.

Numerous publications include or are entirely devoted to book reviews intended to help librarians select titles for their collections. At my library, we regularly read Booklist, Library Journal, Choice, and the New York Times Book Review. Many of these reviews are written by librarians. After all, who better to recommend books than someone else making the same collection development decisions?

I recently saw a notice in Library Journal seeking reviewers for science fiction and fantasy titles. I have a soft spot for SFF (my holds list at the public library is always full of new releases) so I applied, a process that involved sharing some personal and professional information along with two sample reviews. I was accepted and am looking forward to reviewing my first title for an upcoming issue!

Interested in reviewing? Visit the Review for Library Journal page to learn more about their expectations and fill out the online application. I signed up to review genre fiction, but I noticed the most recent LJ issue solicited reviewers in several non-fiction subject areas. A few tips, if you’re interested:

  • Needless to say, consulting some existing reviews in the publication you’re applying to will help ensure your sample reviews are on target.
  • In the case of Library Journal, I’ve been told to expect to write one review per month. I imagine other magazines have a similar workload.
  • Worried about your bookshelf getting cluttered with ARCs? Don’t be – many reviewers now work from digital copies or DRCs. If you don’t already have a NetGalley or Edelweiss account, you may want to set one up to streamline the requesting process. 

I’m looking forward to this new way of contributing to the profession (and getting to officially make reading part of my job!) Now if only the publisher for my first assignment would approve my DRC request…

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Wildcard Wednesdays

Summer in the Stacks

Temperatures are rising. Graduates have walked across the stage at commencement. The fiscal year is winding down. It’s summer, but depending on our contracts, many librarians are still at work. The summer months are often characterized by fewer classes, fewer students, and a slower pace to campus life. This lull offers opportunities to dig into projects we couldn’t get around to during the rush of fall and spring.   

I use summers as a chance to work on new projects and annual tasks like updating our libguides and handouts. Although this is my fourth summer at my current position, it’s only the second I’ve spent on campus. The last two were remote during the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic, a time characterized more by scrambling to create new workarounds than engaging with leisurely projects. But our library is open again for regular summer hours, and that means summer tasks are back. 

Now that I have access to the stacks, a summer project I’m hoping to sink my teeth into is a collection review. The departure of key staff members involved in acquisitions opened an opportunity to reimagine our collection development process. In the past, all librarians in our reference department participated in suggesting titles from periodicals like Choice and Booklist. Two staff members made the final decisions without consulting collection or circulation data. Over time, this led to a lopsided collection reflecting librarians’ interests and impressions.  

Our new approach involves dividing up our collection by classification ranges and reviewing each range with an eye toward the college’s programs. We also recently gained access to Innovative Interface’s Decision Center, which we can use to detect circulation patterns. I hope that this more methodical strategy will help us update our collection and better align it with the needs of our users. Along the way, we may catch books in need of weeding, like some computing guides from the early 2000s we discovered this spring! 

Are you working this summer? What projects will your library be tackling during these quieter months? 

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Wildcard Wednesdays

CJCLS Fan Mail

The fun thing about running a WordPress blog is that the platform comes with a ready-made group of fans. No matter how small or humble the post, you’ll quickly be met with a swarm of complimentary responses… that just happen to also be peddling CBD oil or vacation destinations. In this post, we’re highlighting some of our favorite comments.

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Wildcard Wednesdays

ACRL Event Recap: Beyond Words

On Friday April 8, the ACRL Value of Academic Libraries initiative offered the panel discussion Beyond Words: Initiating, Implementing, and Sustaining Change. The panel centered four librarians who had been featured in ACRL VAL’s spotlight series focused on practices of equity and social justice. Their spotlights can be read at the links below:

Dr. Salinas works at a community college as the dean of library and learning resources, but all four discussed issues relevant to all libraries.

Topics touched on during the panel included:

  • Balancing sharing your voice with taking on additional labor. Panelists agreed on the importance of finding areas where they could be passionate and impactful, while being willing to say no.
  • Actionable items for co-conspirators. (Tips: do work on yourselves before bringing in people meant to ‘fix’ everything, leverage your sphere of influence, and act as an amplifier ready to pass the mic to marginalized colleagues.)
  • Programs worth imitating, which received the response, “Don’t replicate, originate.” Institutions were encouraged to consider their unique needs when planning programs and aspire to be their best selves rather than someone else.  
  • Self-care and imposter syndrome. A panelist recommended Nicola Andrews’ “It’s not imposter syndrome: Resisting self-doubt as normal for library workers”.

Watch the full video to hear everything the panelists had to say!

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Wildcard Wednesdays

Satisfaction Surveys: Reaching Students Where They Are

Sad, neutral, and frowning faces next to checkboxes. A hand is checking the box next to the neutral face.

My college enjoyed spring break last week, and this week we’re starting the second half of the semester. For my library, that means running our annual student satisfaction survey. This front and back paper survey asks students how successful they were at using the library to complete whatever task they’d come there for, requests they rate different parts of their experience, and offers some open-ended prompts for longer responses. The survey is run at all campus libraries, and the results are compiled by Institutional Research.

I have mixed feelings about the survey, which began before I started my position. It’s important for us to know how we’re doing, and the students coming into the physical library represent many of our users. However, our resources and services are increasingly available online, and we may have dedicated users who never set foot in the building. The paper survey will never reach them. Unfortunately, when I tried to send out a different electronic survey to our student population, it only received a handful of responses. Students (and the rest of us) are bombarded with emailed surveys, and it’s easy to click delete. Still, reaching our full audience is something for us to consider as our library becomes increasingly hybrid.

Do you formally assess student satisfaction at your library? If so, how do you reach as many students as possible? What kind of response do you receive?  

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Wildcard Wednesdays

Building an Instructional Menu

A nine-square grid with three columns labeled in person, virtual, and self paced with rows for objectives 1, 2, and 3. Three squares have a X marked on them. The grid is titled 'Design your library instruction menu!'

We love it, we hate it, we can’t escape it: gallons of physical and digital ink have been spilled over the library one-shot, where we spend an hour telling students everything they might ever need to know about research and the library. When I started my position, one-shots were the library’s primary way of providing instruction. Our most frequent visitors were English classes, as both English 101 and 102 are required courses for most degree paths. Unfortunately, library visits aren’t required – some instructors build us into our schedule, while others pass us by. I began to notice that some students got variations of the same presentation over and over, while others never saw us at all. Surely there had to be a better way.

I reached out to the heads of the English department and made my case. At best, students were getting a haphazard grounding in valuable research skills. Inconsistent coverage meant librarians had no opportunity to build on concepts between English 101 and 102. The faculty I spoke with agreed. They’d also noticed student dissatisfaction with current library instruction practices. It was time for a change.

The English faculty generated a list of library skills they wanted their students to master. I converted these into objectives and began designing synchronous lesson plans and asynchronous instructional materials for each one. Our goal is to allow English faculty to choose from a “menu” of synchronous and asynchronous options, so they can build a library instruction program that fits their schedule and course format.

The asynchronous materials, and a form allowing instructors to sign up for live library instruction, will be hosted on libguides to keep everything organized and easily sharable. The English 101 libguide isn’t quite ready for students yet, but you can preview the draft here.

I’m excited to see how faculty and students respond to our new plan for English library instruction. Although this could decrease live library visits if instructors favor the asynchronous options, I hope it will provide students with more consistent exposure to library instruction. Additionally, librarians teaching more specialized or advanced instruction sessions can assume a shared baseline of student knowledge. Other disciplines may even show interest in developing their own instructional menus!

A note on feasibility: Experience with video creation and a recent instructional design degree has helped me with this project. However, instruction is not my full-time role, and I’ve had to combine this initiative with my other duties. I believe a collaboration like this is feasible for most community college librarians, although the form your materials take and the timeline for development may depend on your personal skills and workload. If one-shots aren’t working for you, I encourage you to think outside the box. You may find your faculty are just as eager to come up with something new!

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Wildcard Wednesdays

Data Management in These “Unprecedented Times”

Like many academic librarians, I left my campus library at the end of the fall semester not knowing whether I would be coming back in the spring. Our administration hoped to begin spring 2022 on campus, but they had warned us to take anything we needed home, just in case.

A colleague spent much of 2020 carting physical file folders back and forth between her home and the library. I tend to travel lighter, but hopping from my campus desktop to my laptop still required the transfer of hundreds of digital files. With our work locations still up in the air from week to week, here are some data management tips that can help make those transitions as smooth as possible.

A file folder containing a sheaf of papers.
Image from Free SVG

Make regular backups

This is good data management practice in general. I back up some critical files every Friday, and I made sure I left at the end of the semester with up-to-date copies of everything I might need. Our library doesn’t use anything fancy, either – we’ve got a lot of labeled USB drives. What you back up and how often will depend on your situation.

Keep track of file versions

There’s nothing worse than working on a document for a while before realizing it’s an outdated copy. If the date created/modified isn’t clear in the normal display you use to view and access your files, you might consider adding it to the file name, at least for files that are updated frequently and contain time-sensitive content.

File naming

Take it from someone who had to figure out what a .jpeg titled ‘link issue’ meant – if you spend the time to name a file clearly in the present, your future self will thank you. This is even more helpful if you may be sharing those files with colleagues who won’t know what you meant when assigning vague names or abbreviations.

Folder nesting

A logical system of nested folders can help you pinpoint what you need faster. For example, imagine looking for 2020 statistics in a folder labeled 2020 within a folder labeled Statistics, rather than digging through 80 different documents piled into one folder for old materials. (Not that this example draws from real life experience, of course.) Your folder structure will be based on your workflow and preferences, but keep it consistent and it’ll be much quicker to find what you’re looking for.

As of posting this, I’m headed back to campus, although many teaching faculty at my institution will remain remote. Even so, these habits have helped me switch between devices and find the documents I need with minimal headaches. What data management practices have helped you?

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Wildcard Wednesdays

Survey Season: What to Expect from the ACRL Survey

It’s November, which means reporting season for the annual ACRL Academic Library Trends & Statistics Survey is in full swing. Invitations should have gone out in late October. If you’ve responded in the past but didn’t receive an email this year, contact acrlbenchmark@ala.org. ACRL is using a new data collection tool, and not everyone got their invitation.

If you’ve never responded to the ACRL survey, it’s an annual survey that collects data on academic libraries’ staffing, expenses, collections, and services. The survey also asks questions about a different trend in librarianship every year. This year’s trend focuses on instruction and group presentations, particularly how those services changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, the survey had a record response rate of 52.1%. High participation creates the best possible picture of academic libraries’ resources and impact, which aids in benchmarking, advocacy, and decision-making. Participating institutions get free access to summary results. View more of ACRL’s reasons to participate.

Depending on your library’s workflow and data collection habits, participating in the survey may be simple or time-consuming. ACRL encourages libraries to at least submit the data they are required to collect for IPEDS and offers a way to export those responses to make IPEDS reporting easier.

Curious about the results? ACRL publishes the ACRL Academic Library Trends and Statistics report every year. The book can be purchased through the ALA store.

Does your library respond to the ACRL survey? Have you ever used ACRL’s metrics for benchmarking and advocacy?

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Wildcard Wednesdays

Digital Accessibility: Quick Tips

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many institutions online. Although colleges are now reopening, demand for online materials and resources remains. When creating digital materials, librarians must keep access considerations in mind. Digital accessibility is a complex subject, but here are a few tips to start improving access to your materials.

Headings

Have you wondered what all those different sizes and colors in the Styles panel of Microsoft Word mean? Headings give your document a hierarchical structure. Breaking text up makes it easier to read and understand, and headings also allow screen reader users to navigate between sections.

Learn to create headings in Word and create headings in Google Docs. If you don’t like Word’s default look, you can customize headings once the style has been applied.

Alt Text and Image Descriptions

Alt text provides a description of an image or graphic for screen reader users, as well as people with poor internet connections who may have trouble loading pictures.

Alt text should be applied whenever an image is not purely decorative. If alt text is not supported, include an image description below the image.

For more details, read a guide to alt text and learn how to add alt text in Office.

Descriptive Links

Screen reader users can navigate directly to links, meaning that link text should make sense without additional context. Link text like “Library catalog” rather than “Click here” ensures users are clear on the link’s destination.

Captioning

Video is becoming a common format for sharing information, and captions benefit Deaf people as well as other users who may not be able to or want to enable audio. Some video editors include captioning tools, but if yours does not, here are some free captioning tools available.

Color Contrast

Color can make your materials stand out, but it shouldn’t sacrifice accessibility. Use contrast checkers to ensure any text on a colored background is readable.

Accessible tagged PDFs

PDFs are a popular file format, but they’re not always accessible. To create an accessible PDF, save the document’s structure and tags during the export process. (Make sure you’re converting an accessible document.) If you’re working with an existing PDF, you can use Adobe Acrobat to improve accessibility.

Accessibility Checker

This may seem overwhelming, but there are tools that can help. Microsoft Office programs have an accessibility checker, which can spot some (but not all) issues.

These tips only scratch the surface, and they aren’t intended as legal advice, but hopefully they can start you thinking about how you can make your digital resources better for everyone.

Are your libguides, tutorials, and online handouts accessible? What tools and resources are you using to monitor or improve accessibility?