The librarians and staff of the Grinnell College Libraries seek to foster a sense of shared ownership of our collections, services, and mission. We cultivate engagement by making the college community aware of the resources and assistance available to them, facilitating the use of library resources, and discovering the real needs of the students, faculty and staff at Grinnell College. Through educational programming and publicity, we take the collection to the campus, reaching students and faculty at critical points of need. By establishing a responsive relationship with the college community, we gain insight into unmet needs and involve the community in the process of deciding how library resources will be used and developed. This is connected to but also distinct from library services; librarians and library staff work to provide excellent services, and outreach is then necessary to make our patrons aware of these services.
The Key Challenge
The Grinnell College Libraries must reach out to campus constituencies to increase awareness of services, to facilitate the use of library resources, and to discover the real needs of the community.
Connecting with faculty
Grinnell College librarians seek to work with faculty members in their assigned departments by understanding the department's teaching program and information needs, keeping the department informed about the services offered by the library, assisting in locating information resources and developing collections, and collaborating for information literacy instruction in first-year Tutorials and 100- through 400-level disciplinary classes.
Connecting with students
We want to bring students into Burling and Kistle Libraries, for these are places where they have proximity to personal assistance, print-based materials, and others who are engaged in similar activities. We want to help the students feel a connection to the space, to encourage engagement with the collection, and to bring active and participatory learning into the Libraries.
At the same time, we want to connect with students in the online world that they, much more so than previous generations of students, inhabit. Students have a multitude of electronic options for performing research, and we need to be sure that students are aware of and comfortable with the online services that the Libraries provide for them.
Meeting the Challenge: What We Can Do
The Libraries will focus on four areas of action, with the overall goal of promoting the resources and services provided by the Libraries to the college community. These recommendations are based in part on the results of a short survey created and implemented as part of the self-study process. (The task force created a short informal survey that was left in various places on campus. 107 responses were received. Questions covered frequency and purpose of library visits, resources used, and activities performed in the libraries. See Appendix 15.)
A. Increase the visibility of personalized consulting and research services
If the personalized services provided by our reference librarians were better understood and more visible, it is likely that they would be sought more frequently. We see three possible strategies for increasing awareness and use of research consulting services:
- Better and more creatively promote our existing Ask-a-Librarian services, including instant messaging reference, telephone reference, and the reference desk. Although much of this promotion would need to occur outside of the library facilities, we should not neglect the potential impact of making consulting and research services more visible within the physical Libraries by, for example, increasing the signage around the Burling reference desk, installing phones on every floor in Burling that ring directly to the reference desk, and posting the reference desk phone number throughout the Libraries.
- Use creative programming to promote consulting and research services. For example, we might hold “open research” sessions a few times per semester, hold study methods workshops, or try new kinds of study breaks, such as a quiz night or “Library Olympics.”
- Strengthen our referral networks. For example, ask faculty to encourage their MAP (A Mentored Advanced Project (MAP) is an approved course of faculty-directed scholarly or creative work, serving to integrate the knowledge and skills gained by the student's course of studies, and aiming to produce results that merit presentation to the college community or the wider scholarly world. See http://www.grinnell.edu/Offices/dean/map/) students to talk to a librarian early in their research process, and also ask faculty to list the consulting librarian for their department on syllabi as a resource for students. (Some departments currently do this, but the practice is not consistent across the College.) Additionally, ensure that the Writing Lab and student employees in the Libraries are referring research-related questions to reference librarians.
B. Develop and strengthen ties with faculty
In addition to the above strategies for increasing the visibility of the Libraries’ research and consulting services to students, we also need to increase our visibility among and our connections with the teaching faculty. Examples of ways we might accomplish that include:
- Arranging to be, at least briefly, on interview schedules for new candidates for faculty positions; arrange to be notified about job candidate talks or pay closer attention to general announcements.
- Providing short lunchtime workshops and information sessions for departments.
- Continue to offer to work with individual classes in all the ways we can imagine possible; continue to evaluate the ways we can work effectively with Tutorials.
- Continue to work with collection development contacts and brainstorm for new creative ways to promote the collection, databases, and other library resources (e.g. Center for Research Libraries, Interlibrary Loan, and alerts).
C. Make active learning a priority
Active learning invites interaction with other students and with the collections, including discovering, processing, and applying information. Active learning takes place in a context relevant to the learner. We should build on our strong start at developing active learning programs in the Libraries, tying to the College’s Strategic Plan as we offer resources and opportunities for inquiry-based learning. Examples of ways in which we might strengthen active-learning opportunities in the Libraries include:
- Building our public programs of literary readings, collection-related lectures, study breaks, art programs, and similar activities. These presentations in an intimate space invite more interaction among the students, the presenters and the collection than similar events held in larger spaces on campus.
- Increasing the participatory dimension of this programming with -- for example -- student-created murals; Wednesday and/or Thursday night “happenings,” held in conjunction with Faulconer Gallery; open mics in the art gallery bringing together images, words, and music; one-act play reading sessions; and encouraging artists to do work that is about cataloging and collections.
- Encouraging activities and student installations that happen outside the library facilities. This would draw attention to the Libraries' presence on other parts of campus, provide students with a sense of ownership, and be an opportunity for creativity.
- Expand the membership of the Student Outreach Committee to include students neither working in the Libraries nor serving in student government.
D. Develop our physical spaces
Meeting the needs of the campus and creating spaces in which to provide flexible interactive programs will motivate the changes that we make in our physical space. Opportunities for this development that we have already identified and implemented include rearranging the West Lounge to provide greater flexibility for workshops, study breaks, and readings. Having a tea cart and Wednesday-night refreshments in this area further enhances its role as a space for relaxing and socializing in Burling. Written comments volunteered by the survey respondents suggest that the Libraries should consider ways to provide better group study space in Burling, similar to the group study rooms in Kistle.
We may also be able to create shared spaces with the Faulconer Gallery and Bucksbaum Center for the Arts. The art gallery and the Libraries are cultural resources. They are repositories and places of creation; they represent the past and make possible the creativity of the present and future. We should work together to promote what we have to offer and to develop creative activities and opportunities for learning.
Strengths to Build On
Some forms of cultivating engagement are ongoing and well-established. For example, librarians currently meet with all Tutorials and, as part of this, contact the instructor to plan the librarian’s contribution to the tutorial. Other activities are more serendipitous. For example, librarians create exhibits to support campus events such as readings by visiting writers, symposia, and art exhibitions.
Librarians’ relationship with faculty
Librarians work with faculty members in their assigned departments by answering questions about the library, providing support through library services, and collaborating for information literacy instruction. Consulting librarians may attend departmental meetings, meet with new faculty, identify and work with classes that will benefit from librarian collaboration, work with other librarians to present workshops, attend workshops with faculty members, attend MAP presentations, and attend job candidate presentations. Librarians also serve on faculty committees.
Librarians’ relationship with students
Ideally, the relationships built with faculty members lead to student engagement as well, such as when faculty add librarians as a contact on course syllabi or refer their students for Library Labs. Reference desk and Library Lab services at both Burling and Kistle Libraries are among the most important ways in which librarians work with students to provide research assistance, provide guidance and direction in the process of learning to do research, develop critical judgment, and introduce students to disciplinary tools and resources. In addition to the formalized program of Tutor-librarian collaboration for information literacy instruction in Tutorials, librarians pursue opportunities to work with other classes in their consulting departments. The Libraries also regularly offer a two-credit course and currently teach a four-credit special topics course.
The Libraries have sponsored a variety of events and programs to provide opportunities for active learning and creating memorable experiences that may stay with students after they leave Grinnell. Types of library events have included literary readings, "open mic" nights, study breaks during finals week, and art in the library.
The Libraries solicit student participation in decision-making processes in a variety of ways. The Libraries’ Student Educational Policy Committee (SEPC) is intended to give students a more direct voice in library operations and the library environment. The Committee provides a connection to the Student Government Association (SGA) through its SGA-appointed members. The public comment board on the first floor of Burling Library allows students to ask any question they want, with many of them answered by the Librarian of the College.
The contributions of the library staff
Library staff members are also involved in engagement with students, faculty and others on campus on a regular basis. For example, Acquisitions, Interlibrary Loan, and Circulation staff communicate with faculty and staff about purchases, ILL requests, and reserve materials. Supervisors and student assistants at the circulation desk provide greetings, service, information of all kinds, and even complimentary hot water and tea to students, faculty, staff, community members, and visitors. In addition, the direct contact between individual library staff and student employees creates a personal connection and may perhaps be an opportunity to engage students in other aspects of the Libraries.
The Libraries’ Web site: The Libraries’ Web site has been updated to include many features that highlight new collections, services, and events. The Book Review & Favorite Books blog publishes community members’ critiques of recently read books, and the Library News Blog allows the library to communicate with users about upcoming events, new services, or changes to existing services. A New Titles page spotlights intriguing recent additions to the collection, which supplements a more exhaustive list of new books generated on a monthly basis. We recently added Research Pro (http://www.lib.grinnell.edu/research/researchpro.html) and SubjectsPlus (http://www.lib.grinnell.edu/subsplus/subjects/) to our Web site to facilitate student and faculty research. Nevertheless, while we count the Web site as a strength to build on, we realize that we are not where we would like to be concerning our Web presence. We will continue to modify our site, knowing that significant work needs to be done.
The Black, Latino, and Smith Memorial Collections create spaces in Burling Library to browse books in a specific area of interest. New books carts in both Burling and Kistle Libraries and a new reference books cart in Burling provide a quick way for users to browse new additions. The online and print Movie Browser maintained by the Listening Room staff gives users quick access to DVDs they might want to watch for fun. We have modified existing space by rearranging the West Lounge to provide flexibility for workshops and study breaks as well as readings. Having a tea cart and the Wednesday night refreshments in this area further enhances its role as a space for relaxing and socializing in Burling. These efforts help members of the community connect with the Libraries by bringing services and collections to the fore in fun and interactive ways.
Weaknesses and Constraints to Overcome
- Event space in Burling Library is currently limited and the furniture in it is not designed to be easily movable to accommodate a variety of programs.
- There is very little signage to promote the availability of reference services on the first floor and in other areas of Burling Library.
Librarian and staff time
Many exciting engagement programs are within our reach, but all programs will require a significant amount of time to develop, promote, and launch. These responsibilities may need to be a component of future positions created at the Libraries or be made a priority as a key responsibility shared by several Librarians and staff members.
Developing effective methods of forming partnerships
The Libraries’ previous efforts to strengthen ties with faculty and other constituencies on campus have not been as successful as we might like. In order to foster more and stronger relationships across departmental boundaries, new strategies may need to be used.
Return to Grinnell College Libraries Self Study