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A biannual publication offering insights into the use of digital historical collections

"Meet the Students": Bringing Your Library's Online Resources Into Your Students' "Circle of Trust"

Lynn D. Lampert

Chair, Reference & Instructional Services, California State University, Northridge

You don't have to be a retired CIA operative, like the one Robert DeNiro portrayed in the blockbuster hit "Meet the Parents," to realize that students need a lot of help when it comes to selecting resources for their research papers and projects. Despite the success of my library's instructional offerings and our university's commitment to information literacy, I often run into students—both undergraduate and graduate—who have no idea that their institution provides perfect electronic resources for their papers.

With many academic libraries now offering more than 100 electronic databases—replete with full text of both secondary and primary sources—it would seem that more students would be exploring the wide range of available resources. But sadly many of our valuable online resources remain largely untapped until instructional sessions or last-minute reference interventions salvage students' ill-conceived research methods. What can librarians and faculty do to increase student awareness of the many subject-specific electronic collections we have amassed? How can we better market the value of our own services and online collections to make sure that students go beyond search engines like Google?

While many librarians actively pursue and create effective subject-based, departmental-liaison relationships with faculty, the fact remains that to be truly successful the collaborative relationship must also generate trust between students and the library. As librarians know, solid research is seldom a one-stop shopping expedition. Therefore, we need to demonstrate to the student body that librarians and faculty are working together to select and provide the best resources for their research needs.

As recent research has shown, both librarians and discipline faculty have their work cut out for them in gaining the attention and trust of students searching for research resources. The findings of the 2005 Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources published by OCLC, "indicate that information consumers view libraries as places to borrow print books, but they are unaware of the rich electronic content they can access through libraries."[1] In fact, the findings of this report show that 69% of the respondents feel that information from a search engine is at the same level of trustworthiness as library information sources. Moreover, only 22% believe that information received from a library is more trustworthy than information retrieved from a search engine. The report goes on to state that 9% of those surveyed believe information from a library information source is less trustworthy than search engines.[2]

Search engines may not be the only competition on the block for long. Couple OCLC's 2005 findings with the growing popularity and student dependence on peer-to-peer published resources like Wikipedia and it is clear that our online collections will soon be facing competition for familiarity alongside other Web-based community resources that may not be scholarly nor factually correct.

So what can librarians and faculty do to help guide students toward the online resources that have been carefully selected to fit their curricular needs? Here are a dozen suggestions for building greater trust among students in the online resources your library offers:

1. Work with faculty to plan instructional sessions that actively ask students to use specific online resources in their research.

2. Encourage faculty to create assignments that ask students to present their search strategies and comparative results while providing a list of consulted resources. At least two or three of their libraries' discipline-specific resources should be required.

3. Invite vendors' own expert trainers to campus—either virtually through interactive instructional sessions transmitted over the Web, or via in-person presentations—to show students that online resources have specific aims and benefits for their research success.

4. Market your online resources beyond the library web pages on which they are listed. Consider advertising in your student newspapers, on student-televised programming or on campus radio broadcasts.

5. Offer Graduate Student Orientations on certain discipline-specific tools that will help students create literature reviews, find primary and secondary sources or search for needed research data or statistical information.

6. Use student peer-to-peer networks, such as associated student government channels or student clubs and organizations, to spread the word about the discipline-specific resources your library provides.

7. Disseminate news of recent database purchases, updates or improvements to the faculty and the departments they serve.

8. Work to enroll faculty and students in database alert systems and RSS Feeds that will inform them of pertinent resource information.

9. Create assignments or workshops that show students and faculty (both full and part-time) discipline-specific database features like thesauri, study guides, or citations-style email exportation methods (i.e. email the selected citation in MLA, APA, Chicago etc.)

10. Promote online resources by using vendor-provided posters and marketing giveaways such as bookmarks or handouts.

11. Partner with your institution's writing and tutoring centers to promote these resources and offer information about reference and instructional outreach services.

12. Market online resources through your institution's integrated Learning Management Systems (LMS) like WebCT.

Your library may have tried some of these ideas, while some may be new. The key is to try a variety of ways and methods to continually and consistently market the specific library information sources that will aid both faculty and the students they are teaching.

As Shelly Jeffries stated in, "The Librarian as Networker: Setting the Standard for Higher Education," "When you [as a librarian] communicate with faculty by attending departmental meetings, increasing personal contact, and building a rapport, you will be networking within your institution—all efforts that will lead to opportunities for sustained collaboration."[3] The same kind of outreach efforts can be effective in reaching out to students outside of the classroom. Students will be pleasantly surprised to realize that librarians, faculty and vendors are working to offer quality resources that save them time and provide quality information.

[1] Cathy DeRosa, OCLC (2005). Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources: a report to the OCLC membership. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Online Computer Library Center. Available online at:
[2] Ibidem, Part 3, pp. 6-7.
[3] Shellie Jeffries. (2000). The Librarian as Networker: Setting the Standard for Higher Education in Eds Dick Rasp and Dane Ward The Collaborative Imperative: Librarians and Faculty Working Together in the Information Universe. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries a Division of the American Library Association. pp 114-129.

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