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Intern Blog

Laurie's Story - Information Media

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Entry 6/Final Entry

The End is Here

Well, the end of my internship has arrived and I am shocked at how fast this semester went by.  As I look back on my experiences this past semester, I am compelled to look ahead at my future in librarianship.  I feel that I’ve absolutely gotten as much as I possibly could out of my internships.  Splitting my time between a smaller private college and a larger state university was incredibly valuable to me.  I was able to view two completely different academic libraries and compare how their library structures are different or similar. I also found it interesting to see how a librarian’s job duties/expectations are different at each university. Getting an inside look into these libraries has given me a more well-rounded perspective on academic librarianship.  On top of all that I was able to spend quality time with librarians from all different backgrounds and make connections that may be useful to me in the future.

The following is a summary of the things I worked on, learned and discussions I’ll take with me to graduate school.  Working at the reference desk has led me to understand just how important the "reference interview" is when helping patrons, particularly students.  Without truly understanding what a library patron needs a librarian cannot successfully help them. There are several issues that create a hindrance to this service including, unclear assignments given by faculty and also students not really knowing themselves what they are looking for.  By asking probing questions and understanding the assignment given, librarians are more likely to successfully help a patron.  This brings me to think about what happens when students are doing research in an online environment, where there is no face-to-face help.  While working on the library catalog usability testing project I saw how important it is for a library catalog interface to be as simple and easy to use as possible.  With a good online catalog a student should be able to find what they are looking for without help.

Shadowing librarian led library instruction sessions has given me the opportunity to take the instructional design principles I learned here at SCSU and see how they play out first hand.  It’s one thing to read about instructional design theories but when you see a really effective instruction it’s easier to make the connections between what I’ve read about and what I’m seeing.  The analysis of the library instruction I did also solidified what I already know about the importance of librarians in an academic setting, not only in the library but in the classroom as well.  The reference restructure meetings I attended were fascinating to me and I got to see firsthand how a library is attempting to evolve to better fit the needs of their students. Overall, I feel confident that my internship experiences will be helpful in the discussions I’ll be having in graduate school and I feel better prepared for what lies ahead. 

Entry 5

Things are Wrapping Up

As the end of the semester nears, both my internships appear to be wrapping up nicely.  I have been reflecting on how my major and minor classes have prepared me for my internships.  The library catalog usability testing is finished, with only a few minor follow-up meetings yet to occur.  This entire project was very similar to a group project I had worked on in a professional writing class I took for completion of my English minor.  Both projects consisted of usability of websites wherein a list of tasks was created and then testing of the prime audience was done.  The final reports I wrote for both projects were very similar with a description of each task, comments and then recommendations based on findings.  I actually really enjoyed the library catalog usability testing I did for my internship; I found it fascinating to actually watch students try to find resources using a library catalog.  Some students were very good at utilizing tools the online catalog has to offer, while some students simply completed basic search after basic search, but ultimately still completing the task with minimal problems.  I look forward to conducting more library user testing in my future career as a librarian and also reading studies done on this very topic.

For my Information Media degree I have taken several classes that included elements of instructional design, including a course by the same name.  These courses have come in handy for the other part of my internship, library instruction analysis.  Knowing the basic elements of effective instruction has allowed me to view the library instructions from an instructional design perspective, as well as a student perspective. I am no longer shadowing librarians, but have instead moved on to conducting individual interviews with the librarians. I ask them questions about their fall and spring library instructions and their experience working with faculty. These interviews allow me to talk to them in a casual way about their process of creating instruction and what they deem to be important aspects of creating engaging and effective instruction.

In my last couple of weeks I will concentrate more on my experience at the reference desk and compiling all the data from the interviews I have conducted. It’s hard to imagine there are only a couple of more weeks until graduation!

Entry 4

Time for Change

Along with reference desk hours and viewing library instructions, I have also been helping a librarian with some library catalog usability testing.  This particular college I’m working at is switching over to a newer version of a library catalog during the summer.  Before the switch takes place some testing needs to be done to see how students are using the catalog and whether or not things need to be changed.  My supervisor and I began by revising a set of 8-9 tasks/questions to use in our usability testing.  These tasks included things like; looking for books, searching for authors, searching for DVD’s, refining searches results, etc.  After the script was ready we asked several librarians to allow us to take over their class for a half an hour and test their students.  We asked the students to get into groups of two, where one student completed the tasks and their partner wrote down their steps, rated each question if it was easy, struggled slightly or difficult, and we also asked them to make comments/observations. We tested 28 students and most of them did really well at completing the tasks and overall really liked the interface for this library catalog. 

We also completed five different individual tests, with just one student and then my supervisor and I.  The individual testing was a lot more interesting because we were right there watching the students completing the tasks.  After all the results are in and I have evaluated them, my supervisor and I have discussed possible changes to the catalog to be made and will work together to write a more in-depth analysis with a summary and recommendations for change.  I was really lucky to be a part of this project since libraries revolve around the needs of the users, it’s important to understand how they search for information.  Since most people are familiar with searching Google, which is fairly intuitive, it’s important to make library catalogs easy to use, understand and also be intuitive.  I’m actually really excited about this library catalog because it’s so much better and easier to use than the current main catalog being used at this university. 

Entry 3

Looking Ahead

As most of us know libraries are constantly changing and evolving to better fit the needs of the users.  As part of my internship at the smaller private college I have been invited to sit in on their "reference futures" meetings.  So far I have found these meetings fascinating. At the beginning they were talking about libraries, in particular the reference desk service, in a more philosophical manner, such as identifying exactly what reference is.  The reference desk traffic at this particular college is really low, on average about one question an hour.  The desk is staffed by librarians and because of the low traffic statistics they are considering drastically changing this service.  Lately, the topic of discussion at these meetings has been solutions or models of reference to begin implementing in the fall of 2010.  There has been a debate regarding the need for an actual librarian to staff the reference desk in the library.

One thing that I have noticed in comparison with the other half of my internship at the much larger state university is the quality of reference.  At the smaller private school, the reference desk traffic may be slow but each librarian does a substantial amount of what they call individual research appointments, where students meet with the librarian for an average of 30-40 minutes.  At these research appointments not only do the students receive research help for specific assignments, but they’re also receiving quality one-on-one instruction full of teachable moments.  I have also witnessed a lot of outreach by the library including instant messaging with a librarian, texting a librarian and even the use of Facebook and Twitter by librarians.   This isn’t to say that the students at the larger university aren’t receiving quality research help or that the librarians aren’t giving quality reference, but with a much larger student body and more demanding job requirements the reference is different.  At the larger university the demands of the librarians might take away from individual help with students.  These demands include teaching a three credit semester long course, conducting smaller 1-2 hour library instructions, hours working at the reference desk, participation in meetings and committees, purchasing books for the library, pressure to do research and get published and on top of all that a much larger student body and higher library traffic.

Entry 2

On To the Next

As the middle of the semester approaches I am beginning to participate more instead of idly standing by.  Essentially, there has been more doing than watching. 

Working at the reference desk in the library at the state university has become busy, as the mid-term approaches.  This has meant that I have actually been able to show my research skills and my knowledge of the library website by actually helping students finding what they need.  It has been interesting to see how students of all ages and cultural backgrounds approach the process of research.  By viewing librarians in action, talking with the reference librarians and my own experience helping students  I have discovered that most of the time when students approach the reference desk they are not even sure exactly what they are looking for.  I am looking forward to helping students more and get more experience with what librarians call "the reference interview," that is trying to ask inquisitive questions to fully understand what the student/library patron really needs. 

Along with my reference hours I have been working with one particular librarian on developing a usability test for a library catalog. After we revised the testing script we finally got to try the test out.  Some fellow librarians have allowed us to take over their class and use their students as guinea pigs, if you will.  My supervisor let me facilitate the test, which was good experience for public speaking and getting a feel for the setting of a research strategies class taught by librarians.  We have one more class to test then the next step will be compiling our data and making conclusions and recommendation for the library catalog.

Although at the smaller private college I am still viewing library instructions, I have now been asked to compile my data.  This data includes a comparison of the content of each instruction to see what the librarians are doing similar and different from each other.  The hope is that eventually there will be a consensus made between the librarians about what databases or research strategies should be included in all library instruction sessions.  After compiling all this data my site supervisor appeared to be pretty excited about my observations.  It is spring break for this school so I have a little break. Next week I will meet with my supervisor to discuss what the next step it, more likely than not it will be interviews with librarians regarding their experience teaching library instruction.  We also discussed possible hours working at the reference desk, which I would find fascinating to see how different the traffic and nature of reference questions would be at a smaller private college compared to a larger state university. 

Introduction/Entry 1

New Beginnings

My name is Laurie and I am currently a senior at St. Cloud State. My major is Information Media (IM) and I’m minoring in English. I will graduate this spring and the last piece of completing my degree is an internship.  I came to St. Cloud State a year and a half ago as what they call a non-traditional student, I am a lot older than most of my fellow students and I had already completed an Associate’s degree.  About two years ago I finally decided what I wanted to be…….a Librarian, which is part of the reason I chose the IM major.  I have plans to continue on to graduate school and complete my Masters in Library Science. I have already applied to two graduate schools and am anxiously waiting to hear if I have been accepted or not.  That being said, I sought an internship at an academic library, but I am actually splitting my three credit internship between a state university and a much smaller private school. 

Every week I spend four to five hours at each college doing very different things. At the state university I spend three hours a week shadowing librarians at the reference desk located in the library.  Then I spend an hour working with my supervisor helping her with a usability testing project for a new library catalog.  For the other half of my internship, at the smaller private school, I shadow librarians conducting smaller 1-2 hour library instructions.  I also attend their weekly meetings for their library reference staff.  I have just started at both places and so far the experience has made me really excited for graduate school.  I also love seeing the two different perspectives at two very different academic libraries.  Every day I am given the opportunity to meet librarians and discuss the current issues within the field of librarianship.  Some librarians I work with have been working in the field anywhere from 5 to 20 + years, which allows me to get difference perspectives.

All throughout my academic career here at SCSU, I have taken the initiative to make the most out of my experience here and these internships are the most valuable piece of my education. I have just began and so far, I am mostly just viewing librarians in action, but soon I will be given the opportunity to take on more responsibilities and I really can’t wait!




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