Original articles by academic faculty, librarians and other researchers.


Librarians and History Instruction: Getting the Most Out of the One-shot Session

A recent discussion on H-HistBibl—the H-Net list for the Study and Practice of History Librarianship—asked two questions related to the American Historical Association’s Tuning Project [1]: how do history subject librarians teach research classes, and what is the most accurate way to describe the nature of the activity, for example, information literacy or research methodology. Because I have been thinking about these questions myself and reading up on history instruction [2], I replied with insights based on my experiences over the past five years as the history, political science, and government documents librarian at my university. My response, which I have expanded on here, focused on two broad areas, collaborating with instructors and planning class sessions.

Collaboration with Instructors
To get the best results from an instruction session, especially one that is less than an hour long, the librarian and instructor should meet at least one week prior to the class, either face to face or via email, to decide on what the research component(s) of the class will be. The syllabus should be available; otherwise, the instructor should provide a basic outline of what needs to be covered. This allows the librarian to look at not only the scope of the class and the resources being used (textbooks, articles, primary and secondary resources) but also what is expected from students during the quarter or semester, i.e., annotated bibliographies, mid-terms, final papers, or other assignments. It is also important to learn how many students will be attending the class.

Some things to be aware of as you are planning research sessions:

Librarians and History Instruction: Getting the Most Out of the One-shot Session


Integrating Browse with Search: Finding Needles in Haystacks

Expert searchers know that one of the best strategies for getting precise search results quickly and effectively is to use metadata when constructing searches.

Many have dedicated countless hours learning the search fields, subject headings, search syntax and interface functionality of numerous databases in order to efficiently satisfy information requests. But in today's world, user expectations are higher than ever. Not only do they expect precise results quickly, they expect to be able to do it themselves without having to become expert searchers. Learning the advanced functionality of various interfaces or Library of Congress Subject Headings is not on their agenda.

Thus, the challenge for designers of information products is to expose those capabilities in a way that puts precise results within easy grasp of any user. The integrated browse/search design of the Readex Archive of Americana collections is an example of how to approach this challenge, and based on customer and user feedback, it appears to be a success. The following are the core principles behind the design:

Principle #1: Just because it's powerful and sophisticated doesn't mean it's advanced; presentation makes all the difference.
In most databases, field searching is relegated to the advanced search portion of the interface. Even when it isn't, users are generally expected to know what the fields represent, what values might be useful as search terms (e.g., Library of Congress Subject Headings), how to combine fields with other fields or full-text search terms, etc.

Integrating Browse with Search: Finding Needles in Haystacks


"Find Ten Primary Sources by Tuesday": Tips for Teaching Students to Use Digital Archives

Many of the topics librarians address in teaching digital archives of historical documents are common to bibliographic instruction of all electronic resources: explain the content and scope, demonstrate searching and show how to print and save searches. Digital archives, however, are sufficiently different from other search tools because their instruction requires a more specialized approach. Several suggestions for effectively teaching such primary source archives follow.

First, explain to your users how using a digital archive will benefit them. While it's easy to spend the limited bibliographic instruction time available on the what and how of the resource—content and searching techniques—it's essential to not neglect the all-important why.

What benefit does a primary source archive offer that a database of journal articles does not? This is a vital information literacy question, and your answer will depend, of course, on the expertise of the users you are teaching. Although historians with extensive experience using primary texts will find the value obvious, it's unlikely that all beginning undergraduates will share that understanding.

Why should students burden themselves with original historical documents—arcane and abstruse as they often are—when they have textbooks available to summarize and interpret the same information? Why would any professor demand such a thing? Teaching digital archives affords you an important opportunity to explore these questions with students. By encouraging an understanding of the value of primary sources—including the potential for original discoveries in unabridged historical documents—users often explore digital archives with a new pleasure in making the required deductions and inferences on their own.



Play Matters: The Academic Librarian's Role in Fostering Historical Thinking

History is a field of study filled with bias, ambiguity and complexity. Analyzing historical documents and other artifacts is the historian's primary occupation. For students of history and related fields, working with primary materials is recognized as an important way to develop critical thinking skills, in general, and historical thinking skills, in particular. This is serious stuff. Or is it?

During a discussion on library instruction and outreach for digital primary collections at the Readex ETC Workshop and Symposium in April 2005, I asked my colleagues and fellow participants to ponder the following "what ifs":

• What if we exposed students to primary resources without requiring them to navigate the library's Website or learn the intricacies of searching a highly structured database?
• What if we provided easy access to the secondary literature associated with the primary source materials they're using?
• What if we modeled how we found the sources through step-by-step Web guides for those curious to learn more?

I even suggested that we help faculty build digital sandboxes in the backyards of their course pages. These sandboxes would be filled with an array of engaging primary materials and tools that would enable students to explore, to discover, to play. My playful argument was based on a growing body of research that indicates that students need the opportunity to connect with primary sources on a cognitive and emotional level in order to assess their meaning and put them into historical context (Bass, 2003; Bass & Rosenzweig, 1999; Perkins, 2003; Tally, 2005; Wilson & Wineberg, 2001; Wineburg, 1991, 2000, 2001).

A year has passed since I attempted to make the case for digital sandboxes, and a couple of things have convinced me it deserves more serious consideration.

Play Matters: The Academic Librarian's Role in Fostering Historical Thinking


Serial Set, Breakfast of Champions: Setting the Table for Librarians

Although the "U.S. Congressional Serial Set" is an extensive collection of documents that makes the history of the United States come alive, many librarians have been reluctant to highlight this resource at the reference desk or in their library instruction classes. Until a few years ago, the Serial Set had been available only in often-fragile printed volumes and in microfiche with limited indexing, which made identifying and then finding relevant materials challenging, even for experienced librarians. In this article, I will describe how a new Web-based edition of these historical U.S. government publications became available at San Jose State's King Library.

Formed by a unique collaboration between the public library of San Jose and San Jose State University, King Library serves the diverse research needs of students, faculty, staff and the community. Prior to this merger, the San Jose State University Library was the designated federal depository for San Jose. However, most inquiries for federal resources came from the University's faculty and students. For example, history and political science students were often required to analyze the evolution of U.S. legislation and policy.

Since the merger, our academic librarians have become aware of the public community's research interests. For example, the California Department of Education has provided social studies teachers with a new set of frameworks that incorporate the use of primary sources to develop historical literacy concepts (California, 1997). As a result, students from local high schools have started to visit our library to find primary resources for their social studies assignments, many of which could effectively utilize the Serial Set.

Serial Set, Breakfast of Champions: Setting the Table for Librarians


"Meet the Students": Bringing Your Library's Online Resources Into Your Students' "Circle of Trust"

You don't have to be a retired CIA operative, like the one Robert DeNiro portrayed in the blockbuster hit "Meet the Parents," to realize that students need a lot of help when it comes to selecting resources for their research papers and projects. Despite the success of my library's instructional offerings and our university's commitment to information literacy, I often run into students—both undergraduate and graduate—who have no idea that their institution provides perfect electronic resources for their papers.

With many academic libraries now offering more than 100 electronic databases—replete with full text of both secondary and primary sources—it would seem that more students would be exploring the wide range of available resources. But sadly many of our valuable online resources remain largely untapped until instructional sessions or last-minute reference interventions salvage students' ill-conceived research methods. What can librarians and faculty do to increase student awareness of the many subject-specific electronic collections we have amassed? How can we better market the value of our own services and online collections to make sure that students go beyond search engines like Google?

While many librarians actively pursue and create effective subject-based, departmental-liaison relationships with faculty, the fact remains that to be truly successful the collaborative relationship must also generate trust between students and the library. As librarians know, solid research is seldom a one-stop shopping expedition. Therefore, we need to demonstrate to the student body that librarians and faculty are working together to select and provide the best resources for their research needs.



Worlds Apart? The Relationship Between Teaching and Marketing and What It Means to Academic Librarians

When I talk about library marketing with fellow librarians, they often react to my thoughts based on one of two points of view. While most librarians accept the notion that certain ideas from the business world can further our profession, some reject the premise that marketing practices have applications in library work. I have a difficult time understanding this resistance. Not only are marketing techniques compatible with the missions and values of libraries, but they also offer a practical—and increasingly necessary—means of connecting our work to users' needs.

Part of the reluctance of librarians to embrace marketing is due to the misperception that businesses and libraries operate in entirely separate and independent spheres. Businesses, after all, are out to make money. Libraries exist to enrich their communities. This false dichotomy ignores the fact that both marketers and librarians engage in strikingly similar activities all the time. Unfortunately, this thinking also erects barriers that keep librarians from taking advantage of the useful ideas marketers can offer our profession. To bridge the marketing and library worlds, it may be useful to compare marketing to something familiar and comfortable to librarians, namely, teaching.

The ultimate aim of any teacher or marketer is to modify behaviors and thinking. Instructors develop learning objectives that specify the behaviors and skills students are to have mastered by the conclusion of the course. Outcomes could include the ability to understand theoretical concepts, articulate ideas in a clear manner or critically evaluate works based on acquired knowledge. Teachers assess students' progress toward the objectives by means of tests, papers or other exercises. Achieving these outcomes requires that students think and act differently than before they entered the class.

Worlds Apart? The Relationship Between Teaching and Marketing and What It Means to Academic Librarians


Planning a Government Documents Instruction Program: A Strategic Approach to Outreach

Everyone who has worked closely with government information knows that fascinating details hide behind such dry titles as the "Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology" and "U.S. Congressional Serial Set." To uncover the valuable information in materials published by the U.S. government, including congressional reports and hearings, most users require orientation and even some civic education. The importance of understanding the purpose and significance of most government documents is equally true for information buried on CD-ROMs or in online databases.

Many government information specialists turn their knowledge into a passion for outreach, promoting the treasures in their realm to library users who may not know that government information is exactly what they seek. In academic libraries, instruction is one way to promote government information to students and researchers who need it. However, in an organizationally complex university setting, it can be particularly difficult to identify which classrooms or groups to speak to. While responding to instruction requests from individual instructors benefits a specific group of students, relying exclusively on this approach assumes that everyone who needs instruction knows that you are available and willing to help. A proactive approach to instruction can dramatically increase the number of students and faculty who use and value government information.

A good first step toward developing an effective instruction program is to become familiar with the ACRL Information Literacy Standards. 1 These standards not only provide a common vocabulary with other instruction librarians, but also help clarify what students can learn from government information about being better researchers.

Planning a Government Documents Instruction Program: A Strategic Approach to Outreach


Playing Harp and Accepting Change: A Conversation with Tim Dodge, Auburn University

Tim Dodge is reference librarian and history specialist in the Ralph Brown Draughon Library at Auburn University. Past president of the Alabama Association of College and Research Libraries, Tim has also served in numerous capacities for the Alabama Library Association, including President. He is also a member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Southeastern Library Association. In this conversation with Readex account executive Amanda Mottorn, Tim discusses current library challenges, a digital diary and Boogie-woogie music—in addition to offering some advice for new librarians.

Tim, what led you to library school?
It was actually a surprisingly casual decision. After graduating from college with a B.A. in History, I floundered around for a couple of months. My father encouraged me to start making career plans. Despite having enjoyed previous jobs as a cemetery maintenance man, shuttle bus driver and farm worker, I knew that a white-collar profession would be a smarter choice for long-term financial security. Rather casually, it came to mind that I had always enjoyed being in libraries. Learning that a Master's degree was required for a professional-level library career, I applied to the now-defunct School of Library Service at Columbia University and—to my surprise and pleasure—was accepted.

Playing Harp and Accepting Change: A Conversation with Tim Dodge, Auburn University


How Libraries Can Win in Today's Web 2.0 Environment

When librarians talk about developing patron services in the Web 2.0 environment, I often wonder if they are simply expressing a desire to deliver more engaging services, or whether they are truly embracing the Web 2.0 philosophy. For most, it’s likely the former, but over the past 18 months, a growing number of library administrators have been actively searching for ways to capture the fast-paced development environment utilized by Web 2.0 organizations.

In October 2008 at the Readex Digital Institute, Dartmouth College’s David Seaman presented "From Ponderous Perfection to Perpetual Beta: Library Services and Superabundant Information." He talked specifically about his institution’s desire to develop a more nimble infrastructure for creating and testing new patron services. In a sense, Seaman was asking if a library can become a Web 2.0 organization.

It’s an interesting question, as the Web 2.0 concept is, in many ways, more about a philosophy itself than the technologies or services that the philosophy has spawned.1 More specifically, Web 2.0 is grounded in the idea of perpetual development, or “perpetual beta,” and of treating users as equal partners in the development process. Seaman’s talk raised two important questions that I o;d like to explore further: first, what happens within this environment when library services are not successful? And second, what is that one thing—that “big win" for libraries—that will keep users coming back, even if new services fail?

How Libraries Can Win in Today's Web 2.0 Environment


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