Librarians connect campus resources

Natalie Pillsbury

The tallest building in the county, the Kent State library strikes an imposing figure, but the resources within it are the center of learning on campus and are readily available to students.

The reference staff within has connections to all departments and educational levels; there is a liaison reference librarian connected to each department on campus.

“They are the point person for reference help that is subject specific,” said Kara Robinson, Information Services librarian. “They coordinate all instruction, build the reference collection and talk to faculty from the department.”

Robinson has been a reference librarian at Kent State for 15 years and is liaison librarian to six departments. This is only one aspect of her responsibilities.

Each of the librarians is a liaison to at least one department, and the departments each have a library representative.

The liaison librarian works with the library representative to build the collection and to help publicize library activities and initiatives, said Mary Lee Jensen, instructional services coordinator.

“All librarians can handle most reference questions even if it is not in our subject area because the search strategies and databases are similar across subject areas,” Jensen said.

In the past 10 years, the reference faculty has been cut by 50 percent because of state budget cuts, said Mark Weber, dean of Library and Media Services.

Therefore, the responsibilities of reference librarians include much more than answering students’ requests at the desk.

“I have an active group of colleagues,” said Ken Burhanna, First-Year Experience librarian. “It’s pretty impressive how much we do.”

They do everything from teaching classes to collection development.

“Our instructional goals are to promote lifelong learning and success in evaluating and interpreting information,” Jensen said.

Through connecting to all departments, reference librarians have a goal of developing student information literacy.

“We want to integrate information literacy into curriculums,” Burhanna said. “This will expose students to more creative ways of collecting resources. More collaborating with departments and specific classes will help.”

A few classes are offered that provide in-depth instruction on information literacy, such as Media Information Gathering, offered through Journalism and Mass Communication.

One section of this course was taught by two reference librarians, Jensen and Carolyn Radcliff, last semester.

However, classes dedicated to information literacy are rare.

Reference librarians reach students within their liaison departments mostly through presentations, which are generally given at the beginning of a semester to let students know what resources are available through using the library.

“Everything we do is instruction,” Robinson said. “We try not to hand students the answer and let them go. We teach them how to get there.”

Welcoming students

Since the first floor was renovated and became the Information Commons, students have been able to study, drink, eat and use the Internet freely.

“There are reasons to come to the library besides research,” Burhanna said. “Students can come to study, work on group projects and drink coffee.”

The reference staff involves itself in this open first floor environment by being available at a reference desk in the floor’s center.

“Take advantage of the librarians at the reference desk,” Burhanna said. “It’s not such a bottleneck anymore because so much is available from the computers.”

Librarians are available at the reference desk more than 70 hours a week.

Answering questions at the reference desk is only part of a reference librarian’s responsibilities, but it is a pleasant change of pace, Burhanna said.

“For example, I have about 10 to 12 projects going now,” Burhanna said. “It’s a dynamic job with interesting tasks. Not only do we help students, we become friends and make real connections.”

There are four ways to get help from a librarian: Ask in person, by phone, by e-mail or in an “Ask a Librarian” chat session.

“We try to promote paths for support,” Burhanna said.

Burhanna is the First-Year Experience librarian, which means his job focuses on orientating freshmen to the library’s resources.

He also coordinates a high school outreach program in which students are brought in from area high schools and taught to find research materials in the library.

“It makes it easier for them when they reach college,” Burhanna said. “It’s one less level of intimidation.”

Burhanna describes his work with freshmen as a challenge of scale.

“There’s one of me and 3,750 freshmen,” he said.

The library tour required for University Orientation helps by familiarizing students with the library building and layout.

Also, the 60-minute seminars required for many English composition classes introduce technology.

“We’re here to answer student questions,” Burhanna said. “So don’t be afraid to ask.”

60-minute seminars

Offered throughout the semester, 60-minute seminars are aimed at instructing students to use new technologies as well as basic resources offered in the library.

The seminars vary in topic from using PowerPoint to creating a Web page and are all taught by reference librarians.

Most seminars are geared toward general interest rather than specific majors of subjects, Robinson said.

There are separate seminars devoted to undergraduates and graduate students and faculty.

Contact Libraries and Information Services reporter Natalie Pillsbury at [email protected].