By Alice Eng
[alert-info]Recently, we issued a challenge to all those who planned to attend the Charleston Conference this November. Answer a question in 1,000 to 1,500 words, and when a travel scholarship to attend the 2014 conference. While, we received many thoughtful responses, our far-and-above favorite came from Alice Eng, Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of North Florida. This is her winning essay in response to our question: “What is the best way for library resources to be integrated into the university or college curriculum, and how, in your opinion, could this be achieved?”[/alert-info]
The integration of library resources into any college or university curriculum is an ambitious and long term project requiring many willing participants who see the value of the library and information literacy. The simplest solution to integration is every professor should design classes involving the use of the library and its resources which would also provide measurable outcomes. However, this is not the reality. Many libraries and library resources are often not integrated into a university’s academic curriculum as part of the education policy and core competencies.
One step to integrating library resources into a curriculum is advocating information literacy as a core competency for students. Knowing how to identify credible resources and useful methods of research are the foundation of a strong academic education. However, the library is viewed as an accessory used only for aiding and assisting users when they have run out of options or are forced to use the resources for an assignment. Rather, libraries need to be seen as a primary component of the learning and research processes and utilized as reinforcement for diverse critical thinking skills. If faculty treated libraries as fundamental to their class, much like labs, libraries would have a great chance of having its resources integrated and valued.
Once the library’s resources are incorporated as part of the class curriculum, relationships with faculty members need to be maintained. Especially at larger universities, libraries and college departments operate as autonomous units. This creates disconnect between the resources a library assumes are useful and the information faculty and other users actually find helpful. If a library’s resources are not used or known then it matters not that the information is germane.
Sending generalized mass emails to the university community about the library’s available resources is not an adequate form of communication. With face-to-face initiatives such as subject specialist liaison programs, the library can point faculty to discipline specific resources. Faculty can also communicate which resources are considered necessary and valuable. This open exchange is necessary for the library and faculty in terms of collection development as well as for the success of the student.
Research tools provided by the library, such as LibGuides, are an effective method for libraries to communicate with faculty about resources. LibGuides can even be specifically created for individual professors for class use. By continuing an ongoing dialog with faculty about the expectation of classes and resources, librarians can assist in assessing and selecting which resources are necessary and relevant to curriculum and class development.
Providing platforms for faculty to display their research is another service the library can offer. In addition to archiving and digitizing published works from professors, a digital repository can also be used to directly submit dissertations and theses from students. Universities have the authority to make policies requiring students submit their dissertations and theses through the library’s digital repository.
Understanding how students are learning is integral to arguing the case of curriculum relevancy. While a physical collection remains pertinent to on-campus students, online resources make up an increasing percentage of the library’s budget. Though libraries are traditionally known for their stacks of books and other physical items, libraries are quickly evolving to providers of digital information. As universities push forward to provide online and distance education, those physical materials are losing their relevancy.
Faculty and libraries need to collaborate to create course adoption title lists that are dynamic. With the library’s expertise, it can help select which digital resources such as ebooks, streaming videos, and databases are most up to date and relevant. Though they can be more expensive than traditional resources, neither universities nor libraries are able to minimize the need and necessity of electronic resources in the virtual classrooms. Electronic resources are not just for the use of online students, traditional students also benefit from these types of resources. For example, there are fewer limitations to access to electronic resources. With a book or physical media, only a finite amount of students can view these at one time. Additionally, the current generation of students has a different expectation of their educational experience. Traditionally, classes were structured such that students were observers or limited participants in the classroom. Now, students expect an experiential education in which they participate as interactive learners.
Separate from resources being integrated in classes, university curriculums should include at least one library research class as part of its graduation requirements. If taught as a freshman class, this would immediately expose students to more than Google and Wikipedia and why those resources are not acceptable for academic research. It would also teach students responsible researching through critical thinking. These learned skills would be applicable for a student’s entire academic career as well as life after school.
Assessment is the final step in evaluating these implementations. Again, librarians and faculty must work together creating metrics measuring the impact of the collaboration of libraries as a primary part of the curriculum. Assessment is one of the most difficult parts of this project. There is no absolute method or metric that quantitatively measures impact. Educators can assign indicators such as high exposure to information literacy and use of library resources in relation to higher GPAs as a measurable result but at this time, there is not a universal standard of measurement. Libraries typically collect usage statistics as a measurement of use of library resources. Measuring success is an evolving process.
The library must be a strong, visible advocate of its resources and stress the impact of its resources on student success. Justification for becoming part of a university’s academic curriculum requires support from faculty. The best way to garner support from faculty requires frequent collaboration and education regarding all the library’s assets. Libraries must show that their resources are customizable, current, and useful. Part of validating its resources is assessing students’ use of its resources and demonstrating information literacy competency in their research. Students benefit by becoming better critical thinkers and evaluators of information resources. These skills will extend through their lifetime.
Alice Eng is the Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of North Florida. Ms. Eng received her BA in Communications from the University of North Carolina and her MS in Library and Information Studies from Florida State University.