Creating subject guides that students will use

I believe that subject guides are a potentially valuable but generally underused resource for academic libraries. As a student, my practicum project at the McGill Library involved conducting a focus group with students to learn what they thought about subject guide design. I asked them what they thought of the current design and had them offer suggestions for potential future designs. One of the most striking findings (from my admittedly small sample) was that almost none of them were aware that such resources existed, but most of them said they would find the guides useful for their work (they also had some criticisms of the layout being used at the time, which has since been improved). This study, along with anecdotal evidence from other insitutions, reinforced my suspicion that subject guides are somehow not quite connecting with students.

Later, as a newly minted liaison librarian, I relied heavily on subject guides in my work. While learning the ropes of the reference desk, I spent time between questions scouring the guides relevant to my subjects. I found this to be an incredibly useful way to discover the various resources my library had access to and how these resources could be used to research different subjects. When giving information literacy sessions in classes, the guides helped me choose which resources to recommend, and in almost every presentation I showed how to reach the appropriate subject guide, in the hopes that students would go there when researching their assignments. But no matter how much I promoted subject guides, students coming to the reference desk still seemed unaware of their existence.

Of course, there are some resources that only a librarian could love, and librarians sometimes foist these upon students because we believe they need them, without considering whether they will actually use them once they’ve left the reference desk. A good example would be old school Dialog-style search interfaces that require advanced search skills; some librarians still believe that we should train all students to use these databases so they can perform the most efficient searches possible. While some disciplines may require somewhat more structured searching, I think the typical undergraduate student will end up doing better research by learning to perform relatively simple searches in the appropriate modern databases, as they will be more likely to retain what they’ve learned and less likely to resort to plagiarism or a Google-only strategy. So is it possible that subject guides are great for librarians but not for students? Should we take them off our public websites altogether, and focus on other methods of getting the word out about resources, such as through information literacy sessions? Based on the interactions I’ve had with students, I still have hope for subject guides. Once they’re aware that the guides exist, students seem to appreciate being able to find all the best resources listed on a single page, and they usually indicate that they will use them in the future. So they still have potential, but there’s clearly work to be done to make them as usable and discoverable as possible.

Other libraries seem to be struggling with the same issues, and I am always interested to learn how other institutions are attempting to connect their students with subject guides. Today I noticed the following tweet from the libraries at Seneca College in Toronto (@senecalibraries):

I thought this was a great way to solicit feedback from students while also reminding them that the subject guides are available. What do you think about subject guides? How can we make them live up to their potential? Or should we get rid of them altogether? Let me know in the comments.


A new student reports on McGill’s MLIS program

I’ve already recommended Hack Library School, but today I want to point out a recent post on that blog. People often ask for my thoughts on McGill’s MLIS program, so this article may be of interest, especially to prospective students. As always, follow the link to read the full post.

From Back to the Beginning by Laura Sanders, AKA @laurainthelib:

Many students work part time through the year. However, because Montreal is a bilingual city, it can be tough to find work if you don’t speak French. That said, McGill has a Work Study program where you can find a job at one of the campus’ many libraries, and French is not required for these positions. Work Study is also a good option for international students, who may not be able to work off campus because of visa restrictions. (On that note, I should add that McGill’s program has a large number of American students. Although international tuition fees are higher than those paid by Quebec or Canadian students, they are still much lower than the tuition fees of many American library schools.)

Still inspired, no longer a student

For anyone who hasn’t already heard the good news, I’m extremely pleased to announce that I am now a Liaison Librarian at McGill! I had spent the summer at McGill as a casual employee, working on the new soon-to-be-launched Library website and applying to just about every academic library position I heard about. I became quite frustrated when I didn’t hear back from any of those libraries, but eventually I was invited to an interview at McGill and later offered a one-year appointment. I’m now in my second week in the new position and it’s all very exciting. I work with a great group of people, and I can’t wait for things to really get moving when the new semester starts in a few weeks.

I still haven’t decided what to do with this blog, since the title is no longer appropriate. I may just rename it, or I may start a new blog altogether. At any rate, I’ll keep you posted. For now, please indulge me while I link to the McGill Library newsletter, the June 2009 issue of which features a photo of me at graduation.

Oh, and one more thing. The fantastic Amanda Halfpenny has started a library blog of her own – she calls herself the Biblioblond. Go check it out, and be sure to leave her a comment!

CASLIS Bulletin Special Issue

If you’re like me, you’re still slogging through your final assignments: don’t give up! You can do it!

But if you’re lucky enough to be finished your semester and need a break between job applications, allow me to suggest some reading material. The Canadian Association of Special Libraries and Information Services (CASLIS) recently published a special issue of their bulletin that students should find interesting. The issue is freely available online, so go ahead and download it now. The first feature article is about student experiences with CASLIS and features a number of LIS students, including my classmate Sarah Severson (in fact, I participated in some of the CASLIS activities she helped organize in Ottawa last summer).

Scroll down to page 19, and you’ll find a piece summing up the year’s events at SIS, written by our very own Brittany Trafford. I need to remember to thank her for saying such flattering things about Web 2.You!

Current and prospective students should definitely check out this issue to get the inside scoop on how CASLIS is helping students, and to discover what’s going on at library schools across the country. As for me, I need to get back to my descriptive bibliography – but as of tomorrow afternoon, I plan to be entirely finished my MLIS!

Things are looking good for Web 2.You

Registration for Web 2.You is now closed, and the response has been great! 56 people are registered (not including speakers and volunteers), which is perfect because we were planning to cap it at 60 – in other words, we’ve filled the room without having to turn anyone away. Amanda and I have been working hard, but it looks like it’s all going to pay off.

I’m super excited to meet Michael Stephens, and I’m also looking forward to hearing Stephen Abram and Amy Buckland, who I know from experience are both fantastic speakers. The three McGill student presentations look promising as well, two of which will broaden our LIS scope by touching on the use of Web 2.0 in knowledge management.

To everyone who’s registered – see you on Friday!

2nd Annual Web 2.You Conference – February 13, 2009

Attention all library folk who will be in the Montreal area (or able to get here) next month: McGill’s School of Information Studies (SIS) will be hosting the 2nd Annual Web 2.You Conference on February 13, 2009. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to organize the follow-up to the event that first inspired me to start blogging. This full-day event will feature presentations about Web 2.0 in libraries and the LIS field from a few of my favourite people:

Michael Stephens

The Hyperlinked Library

Assistant Professor, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Dominican University, River Forest, Illinois

Stephen Abram

Shift Happens 2.0: What on earth is happening and how will it affect libraryland?

Vice President of Innovation, SirsiDynix, Toronto, Ontario

Amy Buckland

Joining the discussion: Using social networks for professional development (or developing into a professional)

Liaison Librarian, Howard Ross Library of Management, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec

There will also be presentations from some of the best and brightest students SIS has to offer.

I would absolutely love to meet some ILSS readers, so be sure to drop me a line if you’re able to come. I’ve put a lot of work into organizing this event (along with my co-organizer, Amanda Halfpenny), and it’s shaping up to be a great day.

Registration is very affordable and now open – for more info, check out the Web 2.You wiki.

See you there!

Professional Partnering followup

This post is going up a bit late because I spent most of reading week in New York City (visiting, among other attractions, the gorgeous New York Public Library) and then had to scramble to catch up on assignments. At any rate, I’m pleased to announce that the Professional Partnering kick-off was a great success! Everyone I spoke to was having a terrific time and the food was delicious.

My partner is Jared Wiercinski, Digital Services / Outreach Librarian and Music & Contemporary Dance Librarian at Concordia University. Although I have no academic interest in music or dance (I do, of course, enjoy both in my spare time), his work with library technology is right up my alley. He’s offered to show me around the Concordia campuses and let me see what exactly he does, so stay tuned when that happens, a couple of weeks from now. Did I mention that he’s also a really nice guy? For more about Jared, check out his research guides for music and dance.

Helping students connect with the professional community

Tonight the Canadian Library Association McGill Student Chapter will hold the kick-off event for its brand new Professional Partnering Program. Here’s how the program works: at the end of the summer, students interested in the program filled out applications including such information as the types of library that interest them most, and these students were matched up with local professional librarians who volunteered to be part of the program. Tonight, the students will meet their partners for the first time at a casual event, complete with food and suggested icebreaker activities.

As External Liaison Officer of the CLASC, I will be helping out with the event, but I’m even more excited to meet my partner, an academic librarian here in Montreal. I just hope I don’t overwhelm him with all my questions!

What will happen after tonight? As explained on the CLASC’s Professional Partnering page:

Partners are encouraged to determine what types of activities work best for them. Suggestions include:

* a tour of the workplace
* job shadowing
* regular e-mail correspondence
* informal chats on the phone or over coffee
* c.v. and job-seeking advice
* career planning sessions
* introductions to professionals at conferences, lectures, or meetings

Welcome to library school

It’s the beginning of September, which means that a new cohort of students is starting library school. I’d like to welcome you all, especially the McGill first years who I plan to peer pressure into reading my blog. But seriously, the LIS field is an exciting place to be if you take advantage of the opportunities available outside of school. Here’s my advice for having an enjoyable and fruitful experience.

Start with blogs – you’ve already found mine, but if you go through my blogroll, and then the blogroll of each of those blogs, soon you’ll be able to keep up to date on all areas of the biblioblogosphere. Of course, following more than a few blogs will be unmanageable without a feed reader, so anyone not using one should start right away (and if you need helping setting a reader up, feel free to email me or leave me a comment on this post).

Don’t be afraid to approach the second year students when you need help, advice, or just someone to hang out with after class. When I started library school, I was too shy to spend much time talking to the second years, but by the end of the school year, I’d discovered that they were actually more than happy to help. Don’t let this happen to you – make friends with the old-timers early, when you’ll have the most questions and feel the most overwhelmed. Start by adding me as a friend on Facebook, and be sure to join the SIS Facebook group too. Another great way to meet second years is to join a student group – at McGill we have the McGill Library and Information Studies Students Association (MLISSA), and student chapters of the CLA and SLA, in addition to a number of smaller student groups.

You’re embarking on a journey full of possibilities. Enjoy!

The ILSS takes on the Marginal (or perhaps vice versa)

I just wanted to let everyone know that the Spring 2008 issue of the Marginal is now available online. In its own words, the Marginal is “an e-zine published by The McGill Library and Information Studies Student Association (MLISSA),” and it features the reflections, poems, and other writings of students at SIS. Before you ask, yes, the ILSS is featured, but sadly, the material won’t be new to my faithful readers. At any rate, it’s definitely worth taking a look, and for extra credit, check out the history of the Marginal.