Last week at the NELA conference I was part of a panel presentation at NELA with Heidi Steiner from Norwich University and Michelle McCaffery from St. Michael’s College. My section was the first one about using social media for outreach in reference. The panel was a lot of fun and Heidi stole the show at the end with her really fun and quirky presentation style. Overall, NELA was a great conference and I am looking forward to next year.
I have been attending and presenting at some local conferences like NELIG and the VLA College and Special Libraries Section conference. One idea that kept popping up was the idea of getting students to commit whether in the classroom or in their research.
Let me explain by way of several examples. A couple librarians from St. Michael’s College talked about a scheduling software called Acuity. They use this software to schedule research consultations with a librarian. On their library website a student clicks on a link that says “schedule a research appointment.” They are then taken to a form where they can choose a time and librarian that fits into their schedule. By filling out this form the student commits to a block of time with a reference librarian.
The opposite of this is a student who comes to the desk in between class or last minute and say they need some sources to finish their project. By not committing to taking time to research the result is haphazard and is perhaps not as successful. On the other hand, the St. Mike’s librarians said that they found the scheduled appointments to be some of the best sessions for both themselves and students. Students who commit to a block of time are able to explore their topic in depth as well as areas that they can pursue further.
The same is true for commitment in the classroom. In our information literacy sessions with first-semester first-years at Champlain College, we have them respond to poll questions using Poll Everywhere. Instead of asking them a question and wanting one or two of them to respond vocally to us, we have every one of them respond using their mobile phones. This makes them think about the choice and pick an option. After that, we ask them why they chose what they did. Because every one of them has picked something it is easier for them to explain a choice rather than make a choice in front of other people. This commitment makes them more willing to be engaged in the discussion.
It’s not always possible, but I’ve found that if you can find a way to make students commit, either at the desk or in the classroom, the results are often much better. Have you seen other examples of this?
A lot of libraries use widgets on their pages to answer virtual reference questions. They use things like Meebo, Digsby, AIM, and the very cool Library H3LP. Yet recently Meebo co-founder Seth Sternberg, one of the pioneers of widgets on the web, pretty much said that widgets suck. His argument was that widgets can’t be easily updated (you have to copy and paste in an entirely new widget) and that they take up a significant amount of screen real estate.
For possible downsides, because it is all hosted on Meebo’s server it could be changed at anytime. They might decide one day to include ads on all their bars. Though I think their current model of opting into ads for a small cut of the revenue is working for them. But other than that it seems like it could be the next generation of service for libraries providing virtual reference to their members. I made a quick screencast demoing an example of what a library Meebo Bar could look like. If you want to play with one yourself, you can visit their website or see it in action over at Slate.
Is anyone currently using this? Would this be something that could be useful at your library?