||Centre's reference librarians are "instantly available"
RELEASED: December 24, 2009
By Leigh Ivey
DANVILLE, KY—When they have questions about research topics, MLA style or writing an annotated bibliography, Centre College students know they can turn to the College's reference librarians for help.
And these days, they don't even have to leave their dorm rooms to do so.
Almost one year ago, the library implemented an instant messaging chat service, which can be accessed through the chat widget on the library's homepage.
"Students can simply type a question directly into the widget, and we can chat through that service, which is called Meebo," says Lesley Jackson, reference/electronic resources librarian. "We use this service to answer basic reference questions such as 'Do you have the movie The Graduate?' or 'How do I list an encyclopedia article with no listed author on my works cited page for my paper?'"
For questions requiring only a brief answer, the librarians are able to respond quickly and include links to useful Web sites.
If an answer is more detailed, the librarians typically spend time perusing several resources that might be helpful and then e-mail the student with their findings.
"Students really seem to value this service," Jackson says. "We find many times that students are shy about coming to the reference desk to ask for help face-to-face, so this at least gives them a start and an introduction to other services we can offer them."
Every weekday from 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., one of the three reference librarians (Jackson, Carrie Frey and Mary Beth Garriott) monitors the service. They are also available to "chat" for several hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
Also on the library's homepage is the link to their blog, which is filled with recommendations for recreational reading, beating stress, using Google Apps and "surviving finals."
"The library decided to create a blog in order to advertise services and resources," Frey says. "Since there are so many unreliable Web sources, I've concentrated lately on good online sources. We've also advertised workshops, new products and social software that might be interesting to faculty and students."
In addition to the blog and chat service, the librarians run a Twitter account. A widget on their homepage plays a running feed of their "tweets," which share information about new online journal content, alternate hours for holidays, breaks and finals and much more.
Another digital tool that keeps the Centre community in the know about campus happenings is a screensaver program that was implemented in 2007.
"When a computer isn't being used and is 'asleep,' a looping screensaver slideshow runs on the screen," Jackson says. "We post announcements, updated hours, new services and more. When students sit down at the computer, they have the option of watching the slideshow, which lasts between 25-35 seconds, or ignoring it and simply logging in to use the computer."
In the first few months after introducing this program, Jackson says the librians weren't sure if the students would have the time for or interest in watching the slideshow.
"But when students started asking if they could run 'ads' for their campus group's events, we knew they were actually benefitting from the service," she says.
Those interested in including a slide in the show simply send the information to Jackson, who then designs the slides.
"I try to change the slide content fairly frequently to keep it fresh and interesting," she says.
Of course, the librarians are eager to assist students in non-Web-based services as well.
"The one thing the three of us in the reference department would like to stress to students is that we want them to ask us questions if they have them!" Jackson says.
"Lots of times, students seem to think they're 'bothering' us if they come to us with questions, but of course that's not the case—we like helping students find the information they need, and we have lots of tips and tricks to share that can make the research process less overwhelming for them."
Frey agrees, noting that "the Centre students who ask for help are nearly always eager to learn the best way to find and use information. Centre students are so appreciative of any help that is offered to them and are just wonderful to work with."
Garriott too says she relishes working in Centre's library.
"I tell people that I have the most wonderful job in the world because I get to help Centre students!" she says. "It's wonderful to see students begin to understand how much material is available to them and to see them become comfortable with the research process. To see that light bulb go on as they realize what research is all about is so exciting for us."
And the reference librarians' dedication to the students does not go unnoticed.
"I’ve had students write me thank you notes for the help I’ve given them, which is unbelievably kind," Garriott says. "I’ve also had students come by the reference desk to show me the good grade they got on a paper that I helped them find material for."
Jackon, Garriott and Frey agree that interacting with the members of the Centre community is one of the most rewarding aspects of their jobs.
"One of Centre’s greatest strengths," Frey says, "is the sense of community that's felt among faculty, staff and students. There are many students who stop by the reference desk to chat or to work on the community puzzle, and I think this is just as important to our mission of friendly and helpful service as the reference help we provide."
To learn more about the many ways Centre's reference librarians can help in academic pursuits, click here.
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
For news archives go to http://www.centre.edu/web/news/newsarchive.html.
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