Seeing Dollar Signs

One of the most challenging things that many librarians face is shrinking budgets, or perhaps budgets that have not increased with the pace of inflation. Couple that with student and faculty demand for more and better resources, and your budget will have you seeing red. This can be very difficult to deal with, as often our patrons have no idea how much things cost. Many patrons see an online book, database, or subscription site, and just because it happens to be on the web, they have a tendency to think it is free (or of a very low price).

I have found a way which I think effectively demonstrates the cost of web-based resources. Each quarter I have the opportunity to meet with several sections of a business communication class. The students are almost all freshman business majors. This is usually the first time that I meet with them, but I often see them in library instruction sessions during future business courses. For their research project, the business communication students have to research how to do business in another country. Each group of students is assigned a different country, and sometimes the country can be an easy one like China, others might get Sao Tome and Principe. In their papers and presentations, they have to cover their country’s economy, industry, culture, etiquette, interpersonal relations, etc. The really cool thing about this project is that most of the instructors require 7-15 resources for the bibliographies, and they have to be of various formats. This ensures that the students use everything from The Statesman’s Yearbook to the CIA World Factbook.

While most of my 50 minute instruction session covers the best print and electronic resources for the project, I do take the liberty of jumping up on a soapbox for a minute or two. I show the students a particular online resource that we used to purchase annually in print. I show them the content on the online resource and tell them what they can find there. It really is a perfect resource for this particular project. Then, I show them the print version of the same resource. I tell them that the print version, which was four volumes, costs about $130 dollars. Not a bad price at around $32.50 per volume. I open a volume of the print resource and show them that it contains the same exact information (and even looks exactly the same) as the online version. At this point they usually don’t seem very amused, because they have no idea where I’m going with my little lecture. I then wake them up by telling them that the online version of the resource, which looks the same and contains the same info as the print, costs the library over two grand a year. And the library does not even own the information. The book, we own, but the online version, we’re renting. And yes, we’ll have to pay a little more next year, because this resource is not in a rent controlled neighborhood.

Their faces usually tell me what they’re thinking. Say what? What you talking about, Chad? Why would you pay that much? Well I tell them that it might sound expensive, but because the resource is now web-based, it can be used by more people simultaneously. And boy does it ever get used, so our cost per use is pretty low. I can point around the instruction lab and show them that all 22 workstations are currently using the same resource, something that would be impossible with a book. I also tell them that the vendor of the resource understands this, and that’s why they think they can get away with packaging the content in a web-format and marking it up 2000 percent. In this case, we bit the bullet and bought it, and the vendor hooked another subscriber.

So what’s the lesson here? I tell the students that just because something is on the web, it does not necessarily mean it’s free. And just because a print resource is now available via the web, it ain’t necessarily going to be cheaper. Hopefully through this lesson some students will understand how much money the library spends to support their academic studies. And hopefully they’ll also understand that databases and electronic encyclopedias don’t grow on trees.

Instructional Blogs Survey

Are you using blogs to supplement or compliment library instruction? Then take a moment to fill out this survey.

The purpose of this survey is to find out how librarians are using weblogs (blogs) to interact with and teach library users. The results will be presented at the Off-Campus Library Services Conference in Savannah, GA in April 2006. Your participation is greatly appreciated.

[Link via Library Stuff]

Partners in Information Literacy

TangognaT has a great post about information literacy and faculty collaboration.

She makes several excellent points about the collaborative process:

if collaboration is bringing a class in for a library session when the students have a research assignment, I think faculty are open to that. I think that in general it might take something extra for someone to get to the stage where they think of sharing more information with the librarian as part of a discussion or consulting with the librarian about assignment design.

In my experience, a faculty member creates the assignment or project, and then asks me to give a library instruction session to the students. I am generally asked to help the students learn about finding the necessary information to complete the project. Usually I have to teach about using appropriate databases, reference books, and some search skills. The problem with this approach is that it is very resource driven. Because what I teach is often just pertinent to that one project, the skills that students learn do not necessarily transfer to future assignments. It is often very tough to squeeze in concepts of information literacy during the typical 50 minute class session. Generally, I try to talk a little about evaluation and quality during the 50 minutes, and try to make the best out of the time that I am given.

Most of my instruction is very subject-specific, as I am the business subject specialist for our library. What I am finding is that a lot more of the learning occurs outside of the library classroom. A few days after I deliver an instructional session, the students start contacting me for additional help. This works great for the students and for me. They get the intimate attention that they need, and I get the opportunity to really dig into the resources with them, while also sneaking in some good ‘ole information literacy. I also get a chance to observe what problems they are having with the assignment, as well as see what resources they find the most useful (and the easiest to use). This interaction often keeps me quite busy, as I don’t require any office hours or appointments. Appointments are nice if it is going to be a really in-depth reference session, but generally students just come to the library and ask if I am available.

One thing that I have struggled with is the fact that while I get to help students with their learning, I never get a chance to see the finished product. The application, or how one uses information, is one of the key components of information literacy. By seeing the outcome of their work, one can see how students applied the information to the project. I told a faculty member about this last quarter, and he told me that he and his colleagues would try to do better to include me in the final presentations. I actually got invited to a few last quarter, but was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts. I hope to try to get my foot in the door again, as seeing the final project may help to understand how students are using (or misusing) the information.

The level of instructional collaboration can vary with each school, department, curriculum, or professor. Some departments and faculty members are not very open to collaboration in the classroom, while others are quite proactive in initiating library instruction opportunities. I think it is important to start with a small group of folks who are enthusiastic about library instruction and information literacy. Word of the success of these initial partnerships will spread to others, and library instruction business will increase. It’s important not to get frustrated, as these relationships often take quite a long time to develop. As a librarian, it is essential to try to understand the academic culture, not attempt to change it. With each small success and new relationship, you will have the more opportunities in establishing new (or improving) instructional opportunities for information literacy.

Library Instruction & Information Literacy Resources has a wealth of resources about information literacy and library instruction.

This site contains library instruction lesson plans, articles about library instruction, a large library instruction bibliography, and links to library instruction resources. This site also includes material relating to information literacy.

The Lesson Plans section of the site appears to be really interesting, and could provide some good ideas for those whose teaching methods are stuck in a rut. One of the more creative lesson plans uses a Gin & Tonic analogy to teach boolean searching. The site’s author, Michael Lorenzen ecourages others to send him ideas to post as he explains, “This site will work best if others contribute.” If I come across any good ideas, I’ll be sure to send them Michael’s way.