Fairfield Now - Spring 2007
By Alejandra Navarro
Just back from her turn at the reference desk at the DiMenna-Nyselius Library, Jacalyn Kremer, senior reference and outreach librarian, is elated. "I just got another IM from a study abroad student today," she says cheerfully, referring to the real-time "instant messages" students can now use to send queries to the reference desk from a computer or cell phone. "I sent her the link she needed and boom, we were done." Pausing to smile, she added, "I got to help someone who could be halfway around the world."
The short text message didn't mention the student's location, but whether in China or nearby Loyola Hall, instant messaging (IM) is just one of the ways the library is making it easy for students to get help. Kremer's interaction was fast and simple. With a couple of clicks, she provided a Web address that linked the student to the library's online resources, namely 150 databases of journals and publications (containing millions of articles). The library's virtual existence on the Web, with all of its resources and services, is just as vibrant as its physical one.
Students have the option to e-mail, call, chat online, or even post a question to the library's blog. And soon, students may listen to reference tips through a podcast on iTunes U. "While most people don't associate the word library with hip or cool," Kremer says, "library staff here are not afraid to experiment with cutting-edge tools."
Fairfield's academic librarians - among them (l-r): Vice President for Information Services James Estrada, Jacalyn Kremer, Susan Marcin, Ramona Islam, Christina McGowan, and Joan Overfield - have become major players in using new technologies to enhance the teaching and research process.
For those of us accustomed to stepping up to a reference desk for help, these technologies may seem a little impersonal; perhaps they even appear to lessen the value of the library and its staff. But nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the more we embrace technology and new emerging online tools, the more we need the assistance of librarians like Kremer to provide high-tech help not only to find information online, but also to make the most of the valuable resources available in the library.
The job of the librarian - uniting its patrons with information - has not changed. "How we deliver the information has changed," Kremer explains. "It's a different way of thinking about the library, not only as a place, but as an entity that connects its users to content."
The result is that the library and its staff have become a more integral part of the dynamic learning environment at Fairfield University, which has been a goal for Vice President for Information Services James Estrada since he first arrived in 1996.
From CD-ROM to Web: the evolution of research
In 1996, the library was a very different place. Advanced research equipment consisted of a collection of CD-ROMs that could be searched on 10 computer terminals, and certainly not from outside the library. It was still a time-consuming process: searching one CD-ROM with the index, and another disc with the articles, without the possibility of the articles' being updated (as they can on the Web). But it was still faster than poring over microfiche or bound indexes.
|Librarian Jacalyn Kremer (right) guides Dr. Elizabeth Dreyer, professor of religious studies, and Charles Allen, S.J., executive assistant the president, through the intricacies of a Google Scholar database.|
Today, computers are omnipresent and information is shifting from printed material to electronic form. About six years ago, only 5 percent of the library's budget was dedicated to electronic resources and media. This year, it's closer to 23 percent, says Estrada. In addition to its print collection, the library owns approximately 2,000 DVDs and 3,000 CDs, possesses more than 6,000 electronic books (e-books), and subscribes to more than 150 electronic databases. The library has also added music and art databases, such as ARTstor, a digital collection of images including paintings, photographs, and political cartoons that can easily be organized into a digital presentation. The library began offering a MultiSearch tool that allows users to search multiple databases, which is ideal for topics that cross over several subject areas.
Through the University's Stagweb account, faculty and students can access many of the library's electronic resources from any computer at any time, making it an appealing way to get information. It's not surprising that searches on electronic databases jumped from 272,000 in 2002-03, to more than one million last year. Similarly, e-books have gained popularity, particularly among graduate students. "It's a good example of the different ways students are learning today," Estrada explains.
In our convenience-driven society, many students expect to be able to find information with the same ease they have heading through a drive-thru window. "Students want to go in and grab, not the universe of information on a subject, but a finite amount of information that will help them finish a paper that's due tomorrow at 9 a.m.," Estrada says, slightly concerned. Sometimes, students head straight for the Web. "Searching the Internet has become like drinking water from a fire hose."
Instant information: more than everything you wanted to know
A simple search for "Chinese commerce" in Google, for example, yields millions of entries - 32.9 million to be exact. And those listed on the first few pages are only the most linked-to pages, not necessarily what the researcher needs. In response, the library has become more proactive in encouraging students to use its resources.
"Before, you were the only game in town," says Director of Library Services Joan Overfield with a chuckle. "You had the building and you had the books. You were it. Now, there's a lot of readily accessible information out there, but it's difficult to use that material efficiently and effectively because there is so much of it. Also, you often don't know the accuracy of the information you find." Academic librarians, Overfield adds, have exciting opportunities to work with faculty to integrate research materials in all formats with course design and to be leaders in technology implementation on their campuses.
"Students don't always have the skills to evaluate the information, and then to synthesize it and build on it and make it their own without compromising someone else's work," says Ramona Islam, M.A.'03, senior reference librarian and instruction coordinator. In fact, a survey released in fall 2006 by the Educational Testing Service found that only 13 percent of the 800 high school and 3,000 college students assessed were deemed "information literate."
To provide direction to students, Islam has created online tutorials on plagiarism and on critically evaluating information, which are two of the four touch points the library has with first-year students. The library staff also teaches a segment in all English 11 and English 12 core courses to provide a foundation in the research process. In addition, the library teamed up with the Dean of Freshmen to offer an introduction to the library during the New Student Welcome in September - an example of the learning opportunities that exist both in and out of the classroom. "We're trying different ways to integrate our instruction into the curriculum," Islam says.
Academic enrichment: the library joins the syllabus
|As Meghan Tammaro '10 knows, there's nothing quite like finding a cozy corner and curling up with a book, especially in DiMenna-Nyselius Library!|
Teaching is a relatively new aspect of the job, a trend that emerged in the mid-1970s and recently boomed with the addition of new technologies. In an effort to help students sift through the flood of information available and direct them to useful and quality reference material, the library staff collaborates with faculty when invited to teach a research class, tailoring it to students' assignments and preparing an online research guide as well.
Dr. Jesús Escobar, professor of art history in the College of Arts & Sciences, is very pleased with the research classes taught by Kremer, Islam, and Head Reference Librarian Christina McGowan for the introductory art history courses. "Jacki, Christina, and Ramona walk students through a sample assignment and use the research process," he says. "It's worth the out-of-class time these sessions take because the sources students learn to use really matter in research."
In 1997-98, the library taught 65 such classes, with 1,168 in attendance. Last year, the library staff taught 183 classes - on topics from research methods to new technologies - to more than 3,700 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff. In January, the library offered a workshop on social networking. Making the most of technology, it launched a blog on the topic to boot.
A previous workshop had introduced faculty to tools such as RSS feeds and blogging, and this workshop added del.icio.us, flickr, and other technologies into the mix, focusing on ways they can be applied in courses. Del.icio.us, for example, allows its users to collect and organize bookmarks of Web pages, which can be accessed from any computer. A professor can create a del.icio.us page of reference links to Web pages relevant to a course, explains Susan Marcin, MBA'06, head of the newly established Digital Services and Technology Planning Department, which oversees the library's Web pages, the 150-plus computers and servers (not including the facility's two large computer labs), and - most intriguing - the development of new technology projects. "We're mapping out the technological route the library is going to take over the next several years," says Marcin, who is a go-to person for emerging innovations that can play a role in education. "It's very exciting."
Creative connections: putting technology to work
The entire library staff is typically involved when implementing a new technology tool. Currently the library staff is creating podcasts of faculty members discussing the research process; they plan to make research-tip podcasts available for certain courses using iTunes U.
Islam and Kremer headed the development of the "Your Voice Counts!" blog tied to Convocation. The online forum gave faculty and students an opportunity to discuss the book freshmen were required to read over the summer, Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains, and be part of an academic community before they arrived on campus.
Students are accustomed to social networking tools like podcasts and blogs. A survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project released in January 2007 found that 55 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds had a social networking site, and 70 percent of the girls in the survey did so.
In 2002-03, the library joined the virtual reference collaborative service with libraries in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities to add a real-time, online chat service, where students can ask reference questions 24-hours a day, seven days a week. It has been well used, says Marcin. To complement the service, the library introduced instant messaging (IM) in fall 2006, a real-time mode of communication similar to online chats, but with additional features, like the option to see when someone is online and available.
"It's appealing because it's immediate," explains Jessica Lew '07, who sent an IM to the reference staff the last time she had trouble finding information in the LexisNexis database of articles. They not only provided a few better search phrases, but also guided her through the search while she was on the computer and were able to push files to her computer. "It's a great way to reach out to students," she says.
Many adult students - particularly those working full time - are eager to embrace these timesaving tools. Offering them is part of the University's effort to create a flexible learning environment that helps students reach their goals.
To Marcin's delight, students have added the library to their Buddy List®, a list of frequent IM contacts. "We're their buddies now," she says with a smile. McGowan is also thrilled by the way IM has caught on. "We're getting more questions per day via instant messaging than via our e-mail service," she says. "As new technologies are introduced, the library will continue to adapt to students' preferred modes of communication." Much like assessing the value of and need for a book in print, librarians also evaluate the tools and services they offer.
"Librarians play a critical role in evaluating not only the information behind the technology, but the technology itself," says Estrada. "We can't always keep up with the cutting edge technology, but we come pretty close to it."
Nothing quite like it: a quiet place to read
Despite the numerous ways information can be accessed remotely, the library remains a destination for students and faculty. Since DiMenna-Nyselius Library's renovation and expansion in 2001, more than one million people have passed through its doors. That fact is most satisfying to Joseph DiMenna '80, a University trustee whose generous $5 million leadership gift launched this centerpiece project of Our Promise: The Campaign for Fairfield.
"It is fabulous to be able to pull up on the Internet thousands of images of great art, but that is not the same as seeing it in its original form," says DiMenna, whose personal collection of rare books hints at his passion for the printed word. "While it is important to use technology in gathering data, information needs to have dimension to it: to be alive and have a feel," he says. "Technology is flat in that aspect. Books and documents and periodicals add a richness to the learning process. There are more senses involved: the sight and smell and touch of it all. To handle a book also allows more time to ponder the content. It's the same with libraries; there's still something attractive about being in a library while using its resources."
That certainly is the case with DiMenna-Nyselius. "People like to be in nice spaces, and this is one of the nicest spaces on campus," says Dr. Escobar. He was a member of the library's design committee, a project he considers his "greatest contribution to Fairfield University." The library's forward-thinking design allowed for more computer terminals and more group work spaces, and there is room to adapt to the changing needs of the 21st-century library, says Dr. Escobar. "The library is also a great social place for students."
Meghan Tammaro '10 frequently visits the library for group projects, but also for some focused work time on her laptop. In addition to connections for laptop computers throughout the building, the library is also wireless. "I have less distractions in the library than I do in the dorm," she says. Visit during finals, and you'll find the library packed with students - in every corner and at every terminal.
Just because the upcoming generations of students flock to new technology, doesn't mean books will fall out of favor any time soon. Tammaro admits that reading more than a few pages from a computer screen hurts her eyes. "Given the choice between a book and my laptop, I would choose a book," she says. "You can't curl up with a laptop the way you can with a book."
Today's must-know tech terms
Avatar - A digital representation, most often a self-representation, typically used in computer games and in social networking websites, including Second Life, a 3-D virtual world created and inhabited by more than 2.5 million users.