5 Feb 2016

Snapshots of library training spaces in Ireland

In DCU Library we recently discussed whether we wanted to keep our training rooms in their present form. Since the library opened in 2001 we have had two training rooms, largely unchanged:
1. Training room one, on the library's ground floor, which seats up to thirty students in rows of PCs and no natural light. The air conditioning can be difficult to manage, sometimes with the people at the centre freezing and everyone else too warm. 

2. Training room two: more of the same - fifty PCs in tight rows, in a large room again with no natural light. If you're teaching to a half full room, the atmosphere feels dead (students are invariably scattered). If you're teaching to a full room, it's too much to interact with students at their PCs and you need someone else acting as a teaching assistant. Another downside of this space is that it's a bit hidden away under the stairs in the lower ground floor, with access via a narrow, dark corridor:

The two rooms are usually available for use by students outside of opening hours, and some of us have had trouble booting them out before classes. 

On the Library ground floor we also have a large room for the Maths Learning Centre and a smaller room for the Writing Centre. Neither have been used for library training. 

We're aware that the tight rows of desks work against group interaction and even hinder student-tutor interaction. I'm often wonder how they shape what I teach: does the arrangement lead me to focus on low-level task like how to search a database and lead me to focus less on higher level IL skills like how to evaluate sources and brainstorm for keywords? 

For now we're inclined to leave the setup as it is (aside from the fact that we don't have a budget for doing anything). If we moved to an arrangement with, say, laptops and round tables it would lower the room's capacity and managing thirty/fifty laptops would bring new problems. 

With these issues in mind, and being nosey, I decided to put it out to other teaching librarians in Irish HE institutions, asking them what their training rooms looked like and it they were happy with them. Here's what I got back (slightly edited for brevity):

NUI Galway

Kris Meen wrote:
  • The photo above is of one of two training rooms we have at the library. It’s quite a pleasant space, with environmental control, the ability to dim lights, and the ability to let in just the right amount of natural light with the blinds on the window. The room still has a very roomy, airy feel that is conducive to training and study. 
  • Our second training room, in the library’s main floor reading room, has many positive qualities. Somewhat of a drawback is a lack of natural light, due to the positioning of the room. Still, it is outfitted with excellent technology, including a projector that has recently been replaced and an interactive SMART board.

Maynooth University

Rachel Hynes wrote:
  • We have 5 Training Rooms in Maynooth. They are all identical in setup i.e. layout, furniture, user PCs and seats all facing forward, with presenter podium, PC, screen and microphone.
  • Most of these rooms have flexible partition walls which can be taken down thus the rooms can be repurposed into one big training room. 
  • The rooms were designed with the best of furniture and materials. They have great flexibility so that we can have small or bigger training areas. User PCs are sunk down into the desk so the presenter has an uninterrupted view of the class. The desks and seats are comfortable and conform with Health & Safety and accommodate wheelchairs etc.

University College Cork

Ger Prendergast wrote:
  • The desks are configured as in rows. This doesn't suit modern, interactive teaching methods all that well.  For example, if you want a class to work in groups this configuration makes it more difficult. It also makes it difficult to get around to individual students who might be having problems. I would prefer if the classroom had a group seating arrangement.
  • The training room is in the basement. Students find it difficult to locate. No matter how many signs we put up and no matter how many times and ways we tell people how to find it there are always a few latecomers who got lost along the way!
  • The presenter’s PC is located on a desk which is at the same height as an office desk. This means that you are constantly bending over if you need to type search words. 
  • There isn't a microphone so it can be hard on your voice during busy times. 

University College Dublin

James Molloy wrote:
  • A bit of background.  We had a really small T&L room here in the James Joyce Library and it was not really used much (or as a last resort) due to the size, lack of natural light, a noisy air conditioning system and also the lack of flexibility (it had fixed desks and fixed PC's). It was somewhat out of bounds, locked when not in use and over the years used less and less.  We also have a training room located in the Health Sciences Library, this has 35 PC's and is a much larger space.  So this became the primary option for staff if they were to provide training/workshops etc.  However this room also has problems, the desks are fixed, as with the PC's and also the location is out of the way.
  • Late last year money appeared to create a new Library T&L room. Here are some of the issues that we have encountered:
    • Not getting the furniture right: we have half circle desks which were too small and while they work well as an individual desk, when pushed together into a circle they do not always fit to give a level surface.
    • Only getting an hour of battery life from the old laptops (powered from a portable laptop cart).
    • Setting up the room into different configurations can be time consuming and also a lot of physical work.  This physical element of moving furniture can have a greater effect on different staff members (some need assistance).
    • We wanted a room that students could use when it was not in use for training/meetings. However, this has raised a few issues. It can be difficult to get students to vacate the room.
    • Getting the temperature in the room is important, if the room needs to be ventilated, having no windows is an issue. 
    • Leaving a room open for students to use means that any valuable equipment has to be securely locked. 
    • The acoustics are generally good and we have installed sound boards from the ceiling.
    • The glass front gives a very visual message to students using the library so they can see that we are being productive (providing classes etc).
Library Link 1, used by Maths Support 
Library Link 3 used by UCD Library T&L 
 Library Link 3 with a different furniture layout
Health Sciences Library, Information Skills Room

Dublin Institute of Technology

Sarah-Anne Kennedy wrote:

  • We only have one training room now as we gave the second smaller room over to the postgraduates for a dedicated postgrad room.
  • The room functions OK but it is in the traditional set up of linear desks with all students front facing. There are a number of reasons why this linear layout doesn't work as well as we would like. We have restricted access to students on the rows who need individual help. 
  • We cannot see the student PC screens from the top of the room. We have to walk around. If you are demonstrating a database you cannot easily see what errors or steps the students are missing.
  • It's also difficult to see if the students are paying attention and not off surfing or looking up Facebook (this also acts as a distraction to others in the class behind a particular student).
  • We also just have the basic PC/Projector set up along with a white board. More interactive tools would be nice such as a smart board etc. to move the sessions away from the more traditional style of class.

Posted on Friday, February 05, 2016 | Categories:

25 Jan 2016

An Appeal to Assist an African University Library Devastated by Fire

Guest post by Dr Rosarii Griffin, UCC Governor, Lecturer in Adult Education and Researcher in the Vice President’s Office for Teaching and Learning. Rosarii is also a member of the Executive Committee of the Centre for Global Development at UCC

picture courtesy of  Nathalis Wamba 

Mzuzu University Malawi is partnered with University College Cork, Ireland. On Dec 18th, we received the news that a devastating fire at MZUNI University Library had just destroyed 45,000 books, the lifeblood for 4,000 University students who depend on it. The staff and students at MZUNI are appealing to anyone, but particularly its partners, for help. Help includes: funding to support a temporary library facility, access to e-resources and/or gifts of books to populate the temporary facility. Any assistance from Higher Education Institutions and particularly Libraries, would be most gratefully received to assist them in their plight. Please help if you can.

I recently visited MZUNI on a capacity building project and I was in that Library in September, and I admired it, especially the dedication of its staff’. Although not resourced with ‘state of the art’ facilities – and still very much dependent on the text book - and with little access to computers or the internet, nevertheless, it worked. It was a lovely library with a lovely atmosphere. It was used and loved very much by the students. They had study areas attached to the reading areas, again, equipped with no powerpoints, indicative of the lack of technical resources available to staff or students. Nevertheless, the Library hummed of busy minds reading, studying, and the sound and smell of turning pages and older books was one I had not experienced for a while. Impressed by its form and function, I took many photos of the library, and that is what made the news so shocking for me. And if it was bad for me, it must be totally devastating for MZUNI staff and students – their bright, airy, vibrant library resource lost, overnight. Devastating, just devastating!

picture courtesy of  Nathalis Wamba 

Fr John Ryan, an Irish Kilteagan priest and Professor of Maths at Mzuzu University, with over 40 years experience in Africa says  "The fire has indeed been a devastating blow to MZUNI and it is only by a concerted effort by all partners, stakeholders and friends that we can 'solve' this one. The main focus of the university is to remain open and to keep to the academic calendar for the sake of the students. Any help given will certainly be very much appreciated by Mzuzu University. Mzuzu is the main city in the northern region of Malawi which is often regarded as isolated and 'not developed' even to Malawian standards.  And Malawi is now ranked the poorest country in the world, ranked according to per capita income."

The Vice Chancellor, Robert Ridley, says ‘We are planning to convert the hall into a temporary library and to move the student cafeteria to the Community Development Centre just outside campus. We will also seek funds to build a prefabricated structure to take the place of the hall for exams and other events - possibly located on flat ground close to ESSUP building.   We are finalising our book lists and various needs and losses and should have lists for people and institutions to provide gifts in kind by the new year. We are also setting up an account to receive donations under the Trust Fund and will be advertising that soon.’

See below for more information on the fire

 45, 000 books destroyed in Mzuzu University library inferno

Govt pledge support to Mzuzu University after burnt libary:

Dr Ridley is trying to connect with as many partners and stakeholders as possible as it is only through a concerted effort that this can be solved. Any assistance for MZUNI library would be gratefully received.

If you are able to, and wish to, help please find details of the account as well as the Bank Swift code for Standard Bank Limited, Mzuzu Branch. Funds can be transferred through TT (Telegraphic Transfer) to this account. Note that it is a US$ account.

Account Number: 0240036228300
Account Name: Mzuzu University Library Fund
Branch Code: 1021
Swift Code: SBICMWMX

Mobile: +265-888-824-095 or +265-999 274-224

18 Jan 2016

SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award

Guest post by Neasa McHale. Neasa is a Senior Library Assistant at Mason Hayes & Curran law firm. Follow Neasa on Twitter @neasamchale

In March 2015, I was delighted to receive the news that I was the recipient of the SLA Europe Early Career Conference Award (Legal Division) for 2015. I first heard about the Special Libraries Association when I attended the first SLA Europe Chapter event that was held in Ireland, the “New Professionals Guide to Knowledge Management in Legal Services. The event was hosted by Lauren Lawler (winner of the SLA ECCA (Legal Division) 2013). Shona Thoma wrote a summary about this event for the SLA Europe Chapter website. Hearing about the excellent experience Lauren had at the SLA Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO really motivated me to get involved with SLA and apply for the award. The application process was a really useful exercise. I found that it was a great way to reflect on different skills I had developed since I completed my MLIS, and also to reflect on the different aspects of my current position. This year, there are three ECCAs on offer and I highly recommend that anyone within the first five years of their career apply.

To save yourself some frustration, ensure that you are eligible for the award and that you give yourself plenty of time to work on the application. While the process is straightforward, given that there is a recommended word count of 1500 words, it means you really have to ensure that you get everything you want to say down on the page in the most concise way you can. You’ll need time to work on the various parts of the statement and your CV, along with organising a letter of recommendation. It would be brilliant to see more librarians and information professions in Ireland getting involved in SLA and this award is the ideal stepping stone.

Before the conference I was assigned two mentors, Tracy Z. Maleeff (SLA Legal Division) and Laura Woods (SLA Europe Chapter). Both Tracy and Laura provided me with so much information about the conference which was so helpful when I arrived in Boston. If you do get the opportunity to travel to the SLA Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO 2016 in Philadelphia as an ECCA winner, you will be well-informed before you arrive!

My employers Mason Hayes & Curran are very supportive and encourage my involvement with SLA, especially my library colleagues Anne Whelan and Áine Finegan. As of January 2016, I am one of the directors of the SLA Legal Division executive board. My role includes updating the SLA Legal Division website. Becoming involved with SLA will really benefit your career and it is a great way to network with librarians and information professionals from all around the world.

The closing date to apply for the award is Friday 19th February 2016, 23:59 GMT.  See the SLA Europe Chapter website for more information and application instructions.
Posted on Monday, January 18, 2016 | Categories:

15 Jan 2016

Moving to online-only information literacy teaching

I’m the subject librarian supporting the DCU Business School and recently completed the move to online-only IL instruction to teach the library basics to first year undergraduates in their first semester. The Business School takes in nearly 1,000 UG students per year and it’s always been a headache planning instruction for all their different programmes. I was embedded in one of the larger modules and delivered this in a blend of lecture, workshop and online assessment (which my predecessor wrote about here). This rushed-but-effective approach taught 300-400 students and I used to catch the rest of them with a dozen or so workshops for smaller groups but there were always gaps as programmes and modules changed year by year.

So last semester, in collaboration with the School’s Teaching and Learning Committee, we identified the one core module that all first years take, Introduction to Microeconomics (EF113), and the lecturer agreed integrate the training with his module.

Here’s now it works:
  • In the early weeks of semester 1, all students do an asynchronous tutorial hosted on the EF113 Moodle page (here’s a public version of it). It’s a combination of video, text, activities and quizzes I created mainly using Articulate Storyline. This takes them about two hours to complete and it covers IL basics like understanding reading lists, academic publications, citing and referencing etc.
  • Next the students complete a microeconomics exercise on finding and manipulating data from sources like the Central Statistics Office and Revenue Commissioners.
  • And finally they do a summative MCQ on both of the above which accounts for 5% of their marks for the module. The students had two weeks to complete all of this.

Overall I was really pleased with the outcome, when compared with the large blended class I had previously taught:

Online - 2015
Blended – 2013
Total students
Total completed assessment
% completed assessment
Avg. mark

The training was popular with students. Here are a few of the comments from the 183 feedback forms completed:
  • “Very helpful overall, easy to understand, and very thorough. Will undoubtedly be an asset to me as I begin my assignments.”
  • “I had been struggling with an assignment for Psychology in Organisations, but now I have a better understanding of what sources to use, when to use them and how to reference them.”
  • “Really good, even though it takes a while the high levels of interactive content throughout made it go by quicker than I would have expected.”

There were a few issues with the technology on Moodle but nothing serious. Whenever there were any issues from students with the content or the tech I was able to respond by email or face-to-face in the Library and resolve it quickly. Other benefits for the students were that they could control of pace of learning, it was (and remains) open to them whenever they need it and they got immediate feedback on their learning from the quizzes and activities.

While I'm satisfied that running automated, online-only training works for first year UGs, I won't be using this approach much for other cohorts like final year students and postgraduates. Teaching here is more specialised and done in smaller groups so it's manageable to deliver it face-to-face and these groups, especially the School's executive education students, value the hands-on workshops in a way I've never really experienced with the first years (it's very hard to get Irish teenagers straight from secondary school to open up!).

I'll be running this again next year and I have a few improvements in mind:

  • More interactivity in the tutorial.
  • Working with the lecturer to find ways to integrate the IL elements more seamlessly with the module.  
  • Improving the assessment. While I’m largely happy using MCQs as an assessment tool, I find it’s not as effective with the more subjective elements of the curriculum like evaluating sources, which the students fell down on. I have enrolled in an online module on assessment & feedback taught by DCU’s Teaching Enhancement Unit and I hope to make this my project. I’m thinking of something like including a peer-evaluated exercise on a short piece of reflective writing. We’ll see.