2008 LITA Forum: Library 2.0 PDQ

“Library 2.0 PDQ: Meeting the Challenges of the Rapid Growth of Distance Learning and Off-site Courses at a University Regional Campus” was presented by John J. Burke and Beth E. Tumbleson from Miami University Middletown in Miami, OH.

Miami U’s regional campuses are at the forefront of its distance learning push. During 2007 and 2008, the state of Ohio and the Miami U main campus issued new challenges for its regional campuses for delivering education. As a result, the Middletown library has faced many changes.

Middletown is a commuter campus which has been offering courses for 40 years. They offer courses primarily to nontraditional students; the average age of students is 24, and most of them work at least part time.

In 2007, Ohio announced a New University System which aimed to increase the number of degrees among Ohioans, and to expand the role of regional campuses to help meet this goal. Regional campuses would now partner with community colleges to focus on completion of degrees. In response, Miami University has changed the focus of their regional campuses. Before, each campus had its own individual focus. Now there is one course schedule and one marketing plan. The Middletown campus has decided to be more innovative when it comes to distance learning, offering online and hybrid courses and offering bachelor’s completion degrees. They also now offer a Bachelor of Integrative Studies, and an online nursing bachelor’s degree.

This new focus on distance learning was a challenge to the Middletown campus library—they now had to adapt their services to students who might not ever see the campus. Already there was a good relationship with the other two campuses through which students could get electronic reserves, walk-in reference services, customized instructional sessions, and remote access to the library. Now they had to increase their support for remote access and web-based courses, provide library services at a new Learning Center, and rework existing library services for more upper division courses, all with a small staff.

In order to figure out what they should do to promote their services and what services to provide online, librarians corresponded with the online nursing faculty and administrators, surveyed students about what services would be most helpful to them, and held focus groups. Eventually they identified 4 major goals: to improve and promote their instant-messaging reference service, redesign the library site to feature distance learning services, create tutorials, and get services embedded in Blackboard courses.

One major hurdle was the dearth of library staff—there were only 2! Staff responsibilities had to be realigned. Cataloging had to be outsourced to the main campus. Librarians had to learn to use various Library 2.0 tools. Finally, they hired a new public services librarian. Burke and Tumbleson joined several groups on campus so that the library would have a voice in designing and implementing distance courses.

The tools that the library used to gather and share information include PBWiki, a free wiki program; the Animated Tutorial Sharing Project; and tutorial software like Wink, CamStudio, Captivate, Audacity, and iTunes U. They also attended the Off-Campus Library Services Conference, and joined several library associations that focused on academic libraries, technology, and distance learning.

Campus surveys revealed that most students had readily available Internet access, were comfortable using the library website, knew that they could email reference librarians for help, and supported the idea of an embedded librarian in their online courses. Fewer knew that reference help was available via IM, and many would rather use Google than library databases. So the problem was mainly that the library needed to promote the lesser-used and lesser-known services. They promoted the library’s blog, began a library newsletter, held an open house, made many class presentations, and began featuring resources on the library’s website.

The library’s website has been transformed. The blog and IM reference are prominently featured. Library resources are almost all listed on the main page. The site links to a 24/7 statewide chat reference services. Google resources are used to help students find the library and to create custom search pages. The library makes use of many outside tools and resources, rather than trying to create them themselves. Several Captivate screencasts are offered—searching databases and dealing with copyright are a few of the topics.

Technical difficulties plague any new technological initiative. In this case, learning new software was time-consuming, database interfaces changed and so they had to redo the Captivate screencasts, they lost several staff members and had a hiring freeze on top of that, money was tight, and as always, there was resistance to the changes that had to be made. In the end, though, the experience has been rewarding, and the library has learned a lot. Burke recommends that similar libraries in similar situations learn to say “no” to non-priority tasks, make time to experiment with new tools, rely on third-party tools and resources, and act as a visionary to faculty and students of what library service might become.

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