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Peer-ing into the Information Commons

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Results of a survey about student assistants answering reference questions in a library learning commons

Results of a survey about student assistants answering reference questions in a library learning commons

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    • 1. Peer-ing Into the Information Commons Making the Most of Student Workers in Academic Libraries BIG 2009
    • 2. What is an information commons?
      • From ODLIS:
      • “ A new type of technology-enhanced collaborative facility on college and university campuses that integrates library and computer application services (information, technology, and learning) in a single floor plan, often equipped with a wireless network and, in some cases, equipment for multimedia production. Most ICs are designed to support librarians engaged in assisting individual students and in teaching research skills to groups, teaching assistants helping individuals and groups of students with class assignments, and individual students and groups independently accessing information in print and online. Some ICs are open 24/7”
    • 3. Key Elements
      • “ Technology Enhanced”
      • “ Information, Technology, and Learning”
      • “ designed to support librarians engaged in assisting individual students and in teaching research skills to groups”
      • Where can/do student workers play a role?
    • 4. Survey
      • Conducted April/May 2009
      • Created using Survey Monkey
      • 8 Questions
      • +- 100 Responses
      • Posted survey to Twitter, Facebook
      • ILI-L, LIBREF-L, and LIBSUP e-mail lists
    • 5. Questions—Question One
      • Does your library have a learning commons?
      • Responses= 99
        • Yes………………24 (24.2%)
        • No………..........75 (75.8%)
    • 6. Question Two
      • What 3 qualities do you look for in student assistants who answer questions at public service points?
      • 97 Responses
      • We want to hear from you on this one!
      • Then we’ll share
    • 7. Question Two Responses
      • “ initiative, service orientation, show a real interest in people/things beyond themselves”
      • “ punctuation, communication skills, Computer skills”
      • “ Attentiveness Approachability/Courtesy Ability to refer”
      • Willingness to admit they don't know the answer; pleasant personality; and the "general ability to walk & chew gum at the same time”
    • 8. Our attitudes revealed
      • We want them to be able to field questions:
        • "attitude of service *basic knowledge of the library collection. *willing to learn basic reference assistance." (Are we willing to teach them or help them learn on the job?)
        • "customer service skills, good listener, researching experience" (Experience suggests we must think they will use these skills.)
        • "friendly, knowledge of library, and willing to go that extra mile for the customers." (Does going the extra mile mean helping students themselves or simply referring?)  
    • 9. Our attitudes revealed, cont’d.
      • With these, there's the assumption that they CAN'T or WON'T be of use with reference questions:
        • " intelligence, sense of humor, knowing their limits" (ouch!)
        • "we don't have student assistants answering questions” (Why not?)
    • 10. Question Three
      • Do your students—
      • 94 Responses
        • answer information questions (directions, equipment, need this book, etc.)
        • 92 97.9%
        • find articles in a database
      • 37 39.4%
        • answer citation questions
      • 20 21.3%
        • show patrons how to search catalog or database
      • 63 67.0%
        • evaluate and recommend sources
      • 9 9.6%
    • 11. Question Four
      • For which areas do your students receive training?
      • 74 Responses
        • Reference interviews
        • 28 37.8%
        • Technology - troubleshooting, assisting patrons with use of
          • 65 87.8%
        • In-depth training on reference sources
        • 12 16.2%
    • 12. Question Five
      • When does training occur?
      • 93 Responses
        • One time only (upon hiring)
        • 27 29.0%
        • Every semester
        • 13 14.0%
        • As needed
        • 53 57.0%
    • 13. Question Six
      • Training is done—
      • 97 Responses
        • individually
        • 88 90.7%
        • in groups of other student assistants
        • 39 40.2%
        • in groups of student assistants and library staff
        • 19 19.6%
    • 14. Question Seven
      • What is the attitude of library users towards student assistants who are the peers of the users?
      • Your response?
    • 15. Question Seven-Responses
      • 92 Responses
      • “ Many students begin their questions with our student workers. Our student workers refer them to the reference desk or other area. I do know that our student workers recommend certain professional staff members and warn against others. They are very perceptive and they know we have some librarians that are neither friendly nor knowledgeable.”
    • 16. Responses-Peers
      • “ As part of a small community college campus, our student aides know or at least recognise most of the students and, in many cases, went to high school or even elementary school with their fellow students. The only problem we have is keeping the socialising to a minimum and even that's not much of a problem.”
    • 17. Peers, cont’d.
      • “ This is a small college...sometimes students feel more comfortable approaching a peer with a question--however, once they become familiar with one or more of the librarians, they tend to ask the librarians for reference help.”
    • 18. Peers, cont’d.
      • “ They appear to be more willing to talk to the students and ask basic questions (rather than spend time with a librarian)”
      • “ ambivalent; sometimes the users aren't convinced of the student assistant's qualification, other times they would prefer to talk to a student assistant as someone who knows the user's situation”
    • 19. Peers, cont’d.
      • “ Generally, they are fine. Some older students may have issues as some students are unable to answer their questions or assist them.”
      • “ Mostly library users are relieved to have someone on their 'level' assisting them but some faculty or graduate students want a "real" librarian assisting them.”
    • 20. Peers, cont’d.
      • “ They seem to like having students to assist them. They sometimes don't realize that librarians aren't students anyways, so don't notice this difference (we have more than a few young-looking librarians)”
      • “ Most students appreciate speaking with a peer who is competent in the area where assistance is needed.”
    • 21. Peers, Cont’d.
      • “ Positive; most students are afraid of the librarians for some reason, and having a student at the desk allows students a certain comfort at the desk.”
    • 22. I think this says it all very well…
      • “ Generally quite good. In fact, we do have to really work at the referral portion of our student workers responsibilities. Most are VERY good at not getting in over their heads with students, but we do have to kind of keep our ear to their desk as on occasion we've had students taking on more than they are really trained for. Their friends often stop by to ask questions that they simply aren't comfortable asking a librarian. And, honestly, I've been proud of our workers because they either tend to answer these questions appropriately (after working at the library for a while) or to refer them when they can't. We have really worked on our Reference staff not to take the "quiz" attitude. To not *test* student workers. We had a few librarians who did that in the past and it made student workers extremely nervous about NOT taking on questions. Now our staff is much more open. We work hard NOT to scold students if they answer something inappropriately - we just jump in a friendly way, hopefully educating both the student who asked the question, and the student worker.”
    • 23. Question Eight
      • Finally, please describe experiences you'd like to share about using students in the Learning Commons
      • 53 Responses
      • First, what would you like to share?
    • 24. Commons Responses
      • “ Our student workers help keep things running. When they are not here, there is a definite impact on the rest of the staff, and on the quality of service that we are providing.”
      • “ The sooner we all realize that peer learning is another positive route to follow, the sooner the benefits will be seen.”
    • 25. Commons, Cont’d.
      • “ We do not currently use students in the Learning Commons -- only Librarians. However, many patrons come to the Circulation Desk to ask reference questions. Wanting to be helpful, sometimes SA's take on more than they're qualified (i.e. research-based questions), so we're trying to work with them more on referring questions.”
    • 26. Commons, Cont’d.
      • “… I would like to say that student assistants are extremely important in what in our case is more an Info commons in a library than the newer Learning commons. They know things about registration, distance learning, assignments, and professors that we as staff do not know, and this is extremely helpful to us.”
    • 27. Can they do more?
      • “ Our student workers take on some of our most unpleasant, repetitive tasks. They are invaluable. They fill paper in the copiers, fix paper-jams, deal with computer challenges of all kinds and in general answer a myriad of technology problems.”
    • 28. Key—Quality Training
      • Answering questions
        • “ do you have any books on windows?”
        • Andy Griffith allusion-expectations
      • Basic resources
      • Knowing the library (and staff) as a whole
      • Best utilizing student talents and interests
    • 29. Is it just a paycheck?
      • What are our responsibilities to our student assistants?
      • What could they get out of their library job besides a paycheck?
    • 30. Thoughts? Questions?
    • 31. Next steps
      • Refine our survey
        • Focus on library type
        • More specificity in questions
      • Talk to library users about their experiences
      • Suggestions?
    • 32. Thank You!
      • Andrea Stanfield, University of West Georgia, Ingram Library
      • [email_address]
      • Russell Palmer, Lyrasis
      • [email_address]