Hi, my name is Jo and I'm a newly qualified librarian working in several academic libraries in Cambridge.

I originally created this blog as an electronic learning journal whilst participating in an extended shadowing programme prior to starting the MA in Information Services Management at London Metropolitan University.

The views expressed here are entirely my own.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Eleven - Observing a Student Appointment

Yesterday afternoon I observed an appointment between the Subject Librarian (A&L) and a second year undergraduate student who was apparently looking for a general introduction to using the library.

To clarify exactly what the student wanted from the session, the SL (A&L) started by asking her how she currently uses the library. Her library account had previously been checked and a clear circulation record seemed to suggest that she had not used the library at all. However, this initial discussion revealed that she has in fact used our digital resources, but the books she has used have either been bought or borrowed from the university where her mother studies. As the student is about to start researching her dissertation, what she actually wanted from the session was to learn more about the resources on offer. This clearly demonstrates the importance of establishing the reader's previous experience and learning objectives without making assumptions.

Having established the aim of the session, the SL (A&L) went on to give an overview of the library catalogue, My Library Account, e-books, the digital library and inter-library loans. Throughout the appointment the librarian's tone was informal and friendly which seemed to put the student at her ease and encouraged her to talk openly and ask questions. Although on the surface the appointment seemed to progress quite casually and spontaneously it soon became apparent that the librarian was actually skillfully extracting the necessary details to tailor the session to the student's particular needs.

For instance, at each step she asked the student which resources she uses and why to establish her preferred learning style. This also enabled the librarian to discover what the student already knew. In the case of the digital library, this allowed her to focus on using the advanced search facility rather than spending lots of time on the quick search option which was already familiar. As the librarian went through the various databases on offer and demonstrated how they work, she encouraged the student to think of her own search terms to keep the session meaningful and memorable. She also paused at appropriate intervals to check that the student had understood and wasn't being overloaded with too much information. This also provided an opportunity for the student to ask more questions and to go over things again.

Throughout the appointment the librarian also gave her some specific tips and advice to take away and to consolidate what she had learnt. For example, she advised starting her research by searching different databases to ascertain which are the key texts, authors and themes. This would also help her to become familiar with the way each database looks and works. As the student seemed to prefer using online resources, the librarian also stressed the importance of using quality sources rather than relying too heavily on the internet.

Towards the end of the appointment she checked whether there was anything else that the student needed that hadn't already been covered. She wanted some help with referencing and so the librarian directed her to the Guide to Harvard Referencing which is available on our website and briefly explained how Refworks can be used to compile a bibliography. As the appointment time was almost up and the librarian had not personally used Refworks to any great extent, she advised the student to look at the online guide and to make an appointment with the FLL if she needed further help. This helped to remind and reassure the student that although the session was over, the library staff can be called upon again if needed.

As with the user education session I observed, it was useful to focus on the interaction between the librarian and the student and to analyse the underlying teaching and learning processes at work. I suspect that many students feel a little nervous about asking for help and admitting that there are things that they don't know. I was therefore particularly impressed with the skill with which the librarian used her friendly and informal style to make the student feel secure enough to open up and get what she wanted from the session. I am sure that the strategies that I observed during this appointment will certainly prove useful in my future career.

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