When I started thinking about the idea of keeping academic libraries at the center of campus life, I got a clear vision of a whole campus full of students away from home for the first time, searching the library catalog from their dorm rooms because they don’t know their way around yet, and they feel uncomfortable going into the library, and they’d rather chat with their friends on the internet. And I thought, just get these kids to know the librarians from the safety of their dorm rooms, and then they&apos;ll get to know how useful the library is, and the library will become a cool place for them to be.
This is how the library looks to the students who have tons of friends but don’t really step outside their comfort zones - intimidating. Going to the library for information means stepping into an unknown place where they share no common ground with the people there. (Trinity College Library, Dublin)
Contrast that scary library with the record store, where everyone’s comfortable. At the record store, everyone’s into music, so there&apos;s a common ground. You know what to talk about because you’ve read about your favorite bands on MySpace. You can hold your own with the people at the record shop and feel comfortable enough to ask for help finding something specific.
When you don’t feel comfortable going to the library, this is how you keep the library central to your life. Online research by yourself on the sofa, which is fine, but doesn&apos;t always produce the best results.
As a distance learning student, I use my university’s library website for almost all of the information I need, because that’s what I have access to. Even students who live on campus may prefer using the online catalog and databases because it’s comfortable. It’s how they’re used to finding information. It’s not realistic for librarians to expect students to come into the library automatically to do research. Now information is available online even inside the library, so when students ask for help, it’s most likely because there&apos;s a problem - they can’t figure out how to use the databases, or their searches aren’t returning the right results, or they can’t find a book that’s supposed to be on the shelf. So the initial relationship that develops between the student and the librarian is one of frustration.
What we need is for students to look forward to going to the library because it’s a comfortable, positive place and the librarians are dynamic and interesting. Students can develop online relationships with the librarians based on their personalities and mutual interests, then going to the library becomes something they want to do, not have to do.
First-year students and those who have been out of academia for a while especially benefit from coming into the library. Spending a few minutes with a real person helps to avoid the frustration of struggling through research alone, and provides a human interface. I know I learned so much more from Florida Tech&apos;s research workshop librarians than I did by fumbling through database resarch on my own for four years, so there&apos;s a real benefit to getting to know the librarians. But some people need to feel invited. The idea is to welcome students with a bond of human experience that will get students off of their sofas and into the library.
So how do we create a human presence online, where the students are?
This pretty much comes down to being everywhere the students are, which is Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and I&apos;m sure lots of places I don&apos;t know about. Introduce the librarians - it&apos;s important to provide access to the catalog and databases, and information about library services and programs, but it&apos;s also important to show students who the librarians are and what they&apos;re about, because they provide the human interface to the library that might be fading as libraries become more high-tech. Advertise the librarians’ blogs on the website, and advertise the cool things librarians are doing in the library on the blogs.
What makes students comfortable in the library isn’t just the cushy chairs and free internet access, it’s the feeling of belonging - a rapport with the people who work there. So focus on the humans in the library as much as the physical environment.
Librarians are interesting people. What students might not know is that most librarians have secret caches of knowledge that make them pretty interesting to talk to. Librarians can carry on some heated discussions about current issues, like copyright law, the free culture movement, censorship, environmental issues, cameras in classrooms... lots of things that students are also interested in. So when students become involved in online discussions, or respond to blog postings with librarians, they develop a shared experience. Communicating with students in a comfortable environment goes a long way toward making the library feel like a human place.
These days it’s becoming the norm to be connected to people and remain at a distance. Look at how popular online dating is. Think about how many people tell you each day, &quot;I found an old high school friend on Facebook and we&apos;ve been emailing each other every day now.&quot;
Librarians can capitalize on the safe environment people find in social networking, and join in. Create a presence online and become a part of students&apos; lives. Then, once students know that librarians are out there, that they&apos;re cool people with interesting perspectives and they can add value to their experiences, invite them into the library with an extension of that online presence.
So librarians can essentially bring their lives to the internet, and bring the relationships that come from sharing their experiences, back to the library.
If a librarian has an interest in local history, for example, why not blog about it? Why not start a virtual reading group, and discuss books in an online forum? If a librarian is crafty, why not have a crafts blog that encourages people to create some craft and blog about it, then also have a monthly craft workshop in the library? If an information advocate is having a study hall for a particular course’s exam, why not post invitations and reminders on Twitter? If a librarian blogs about gaming, why not also have a game night in the library? Or an afternoon concert of student musicians? Or a student art exhibit? Librarians’ blogs are nothing new. But what I’m suggesting is that the library make it their policy to encourage librarians to blog about what interests them, and to develop programs around what interests them, and get students connected to the library - and the librarians - through shared personal experience.
Putting a FACE on the libraryPutting a FACE on the libraryPutting a FACE on the libraryPutting a FACE on the library
establishing rapport with students through social connectionestablishing rapport with students through social connection
How students see the
...and a bit intimidating.
How students should see
More like a
...less like a museum.
• Be available where students are...
• Introduce the librarians on the library
website and in social networking sites
• Provide RSS feeds to librarians’ blogs
on the library’s website
• Advertise on-site and virtual programs
in the librarians’ blogs
• Librarians are more interesting than
most students know at a glance
• Librarians have useful perspectives on
• Librarians can share academic or
• Librarians are as helpful and easy to
talk to as the folks on the record shop
connection at a distanceconnection at a distance
• Capitalize on the safety of social
• Establish rapport with students in safe,
• Invite students to the library after
virtual introduction to librarians
• Blogs emphasize librarians’ experience
and offer human connection
• Virtual reading groups offer connection
at a distance and safe intro to library
• Gaming, movies, music, art make the
library a personal place
• Being part of a library community
adds value for librarians and students
Thanks for listening!
I’m Rose Petralia. Find me all over the web...
Photos licensed from iStockphoto.com, except where noted.