The college library offers a wealth of resources. Academic librarians work hard to offer services and curate resources that will be of great use to our scholarly, professional, and personal work and interests. But do we make the most of what’s on offer?
In our recent Engagement Insights Surveys, sent to both students and instructors, we asked: “Do you wish you took more advantage of the library and its resources?” We found that 75% of students and 66% of instructors said that yes, they would!
Below, we’ve shared a few ways that you can encourage students to use your college library. Perhaps you’re already taking all these steps… in which case, please add your tips for success in the comments! But if you’d like to add more “library” into your students’ lives, read on!
Seven ways you can take advantage of your college library’s services for student success
1. Encourage students to use campus librarians as a resource. Does your course require a research project, or perhaps a reading-heavy assignment such as an annotated bibliography? Mention to students that, as they do their work, they can ask the librarian for assistance in using the library’s catalog and reference tools. Also tell them that the librarian can also help them determine whether or not a particular resource is appropriate for their needs. By mentioning this in class, you can raise student awareness of this valuable service; after all, only 30% of students in our Spring Engagement Insights survey said that they ask the librarian for help with their assignments.
2. Recommend specific library resources in your reading list. According to our Spring 2015 Instructor Engagement Insights survey, 37% of instructors do not recommend library resources on their syllabus. If you’d find yourself among those numbers—but you’d like to start making effective recommendations—here are a few tips.
If your library has reference resources specific to your discipline, or if there are particular journals or databases affiliated with your course’s subject area, list them in your syllabus. This is a great way to encourage library use while also creating awareness of the respected publications related to your field.
Of course, you can also link to specific journal articles on your syllabus. When doing so, be sure to use the “persistent link” associated with the article; when students click on that link, they’ll be prompted for their library login information. (Also note: for this to work as you wish, the journal articles in question must be available through your library’s databases in the first place.)
3. Request or require students to take part in an information literacy session. Want to see your students selecting better sources and conducting research more efficiently? Want to help them reduce their acts of (intentional and unintentional) plagiarism? Then, if you aren’t already doing so, direct them to the library for an information literacy (or “library instruction”) workshop. Most college libraries offer workshops and seminars on information literacy, covering such important processes as identifying a research topic; finding, selecting, evaluating, and citing sources; and, of course, avoiding plagiarism.
Some schools also offer sessions crafted for specific disciplines or majors, outlining the processes, sources, and style guides used in those fields. You may also be able to request a library instruction session designed for the particular needs of your course; contact your school’s librarian to see if this option is available to you.
4. Refer students to the library’s website. The library’s website offers far more than just a listing of hours and a library catalog! Typically, the sites will also include tutorials on information literacy, news about upcoming events and exhibits, and other topics germane to the services offered at the library.
Students will also find a wealth of convenient ways to make use of the library from home, such as links to electronic databases and “Ask a Librarian” online chat. What’s more, the site will include forms for requesting holds and interlibrary loans, information about making room reservations, and other important guidelines about library use.
5. Include the library’s subject guides on your syllabus. As part of their service to their institutions, academic librarians often create helpful subject guides, which are then posted to the library website. In addition to listing the databases and reference sources relevant to a particular subject or field, they’ll often include information on contacting the subject librarian, RSS feeds from insighful blogs and websites, tutorials, and videos that encourage further exploration of the subject. These guides are especially useful to students as they work through their research projects.
6. Have students take a library tour! (It’s not just for freshman orientation!) On a library tour, students will become more familiar with the location of the resources they’ll need as they complete their coursework. They may also find a great study spot, or simply become more comfortable using the space.
7. Take a trip to your college’s special collections department or archives. If you’re a history instructor, you’re more than familiar with using primary-source documents in your research. Over the course of your own education, you’ve probably logged numerous hours in archives and special-collections rooms.
However, special collections and archives have great value beyond the history course. Consider how you might incorporate your library’s valuable collections into your teaching. Teach literature? Have students look at first edition printings or manuscripts. Teach art or design? Introduce your students to artists’ books, broadsides, and other creative works they may have never seen before. Teach health? Perhaps your library has a collection of medical pamphlets, which can add to students’ understanding of how medical information has been communicated throughout the years. Teach communications? Find archived magazines and ask students to think critically about how advertisements reflected the popular culture of their time. The list can continue; we’re sure you can think of a way to use your library’s unique holdings in unique ways.
If your college library doesn’t have a special collections department, consider directing students to one housed in another local college library. Many will allow students temporary access, as long as they can prove that they’re affiliated with another educational institution. Also consider going the digital route. Many institutions have digitized selected items from their collections. While this isn’t quite the same experience as getting your hands on the “real thing,” it still familiarizes students with the process of using and evaluating these special documents.