Last week I observed three students wandering amongst our stacks on our second floor. Walking through the classifications - one hundreds, two hundreds, three hundreds. Up, down and up they went. I asked did they need any help. They did. They were looking for Accountancy books. Not only were they lost in the wrong row. They were lost on the wrong floor. They, without knowing it, should have been on our first floor. And they then informed me they had walked the length of every shelf on our third floor. If I had not encountered them I imagine they would probably have found their books. In another few hours after they had walked all the stacks. On all our floors.
They really had no idea how the library works.
I asked if they had attended our undergraduate workshops. They informed me that they had attended all four sessions. Yet still they could not find their way around the Boole and find what they were looking for. They did not even know that you start by looking at the Catalogue. This got me thinking and I asked myself:
Are abstracted generic, classroom / lecture based, induction programmes on their own the best way to introduce incoming undergraduates to the library space? In trying to craft information literate students from day one are we trying to teach them to run before they can actually walk? Or should we also be providing a walk round, show and tell, induction tour for first year undergraduates?
I think back to when I was a student and to the library tour I and my peers received day one. We received a fifty minute walk around the building tour. This was given by a number of library staff. We got basic catalogue instruction. We saw the layout of the building. We were brought to a subject floor and physically shown how to access material. We were shown how to use the copiers. We learned all the basics in a concrete way.
When I myself started working in that very same library I was one of the staff members involved in this library induction. We still did the tours the same way as when I was a student. It was a system that worked. What was hidden to me, as a student, was the amount of man hours that went into introducing thousands of students to the library in a one week period. Every staff member, from Head Librarian to Shelving Assistant, was involved in the library induction for that week. Our other work, the day to day stuff, was put on hold - introducing students to the library and more importantly its resources took precedence.
Over the years we have moved away from this personal, concrete, hands on approach to a specifically digital / screen abstract induction. We provide workshops. Students attend. And learn, we hope, about the library through watching and listening to our presentations. They get an in depth overview of the library holdings and resources. But is this what they need? Do they need so much detailed information at the start of their academic career? Or do we, in a manner of speaking, need to take them by the hand and gently walk them through the building, explaining our classification system, showing them how Dewey, or whatever classification, works in principle. Do we show them where the books are, how to locate them. Do we show them how to use the microfilm in Special Collections. How to print. How to photocopy. Short would we, in short, give them a grounding in the library before we introduce them to databases, Discovery Tools and e-resources?
Or should we, making much more work for the library staff, do a sort of blended induction? Provide all students with a show and tell physical walk round tour as well as providing detailed workshops explaining how to use our vital e-resources?
My personal belief is that first year undergraduate students should be introduced gently to the library, taken around and shown how things work. We often forget, as LIS workers, how intimidating, scary and confusing a big library can be. Especially for those who have never ever used a library - increasingly the case with the students now coming through our doors. We forget that classification systems are not instinctive or intuitive for those not using them every day.
And at some stage after this physical walk round, and only then, do we move onto the next step of introducing the vast treasure trove that are our E-Resources.
And if I find myself veering towards favouring the abstract, classroom based induction I will remind myself of a comment from a first year. A comment I read on a feedback form for our E-Resources workshop - "...such a great workshop, the library has so many great resources, there's so much to learn - I'm absolutely terrified."
(I have been working on this post for the last few days and coincidentally I had an exchange on Twitter yesterday with Claire Sewell, Clare Aitken and Elaine Harrington on the topic of library induction. Thanks for the discussion and the much needed incentive, push if you will, to get this post finished)