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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Fall 1997

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Library Instruction Ideas for Science and Technology: A Baker's Dozen

Contributors:
Angie Locknar
Engineering and Science Library
Carnegie-Mellon University

Grace Baysinger
Swain Chemistry Library
Stanford University

Rosemary L. Meszaros
Sciences-Engineering Library
University of California, Santa Barbara


  1. When creating handouts, don't limit yourself to what the vendor gives you or what you can create using word processing programs on your PC. Use a combination of both!  I recently created handouts for Cambridge Scientific Abstracts' new web-based databases.  Carnegie Mellon subscribed only to Materials Science and the Environment package.  The vendor gave me a few copies of brochures containing descriptions of these databases, as well as a few general searching brochures.  I photocopied sections of CSA's brochures that I thought would be most informative for my patrons, then cut and pasted the sections onto a printed Microsoft Word document that listed the available databases and our customized URL to access these databases.  When photocopied onto colored paper, I had a great new handout specifically created with my users in mind, but without duplicating the efforts of the CSA staff.

  2. The Library Instruction Task Force at Carnegie Mellon created packets of general information about the libraries and the library catalog to hand out to students going through orientation sessions.  These packets consisted of a folder filled with service guides and pamphlets.  I used these packets as a stepping stone to reaching new faculty members in my subject areas.  Each folder had a place for a business card in which my card was inserted.  I also added more subject specific handouts, such as the CSA handout previously mentioned, for the subject areas that would interest the faculty member.  I created a quick "blurb" for several of our CD ROM products and included this as well.  Finally, I attached a letter explaining to the new faculty who I was and what I could do for them as their liaison (book ordering, teach class sessions on using the library, etc.) and inviting them to visit the library.  These packets were sent to each new faculty member.  Of the 5 I sent out, 2 faculty members made a point to meet me and learn more about the resources mentioned in their packets.

  3. Remember, handouts aren't just for users.  They are also for library staff and other reference librarians.  Make sure everyone knows where your handouts are and what they pertain to.  That way even if you aren't available, someone in the library will be able to refer users to the products or services you are advertising in your handouts.

  4. When creating a promotional handout, to inform users about a new CD-ROM product or reference book for example, don't forget to advertise in many different formats.  There are still faculty members out there who don't read email, or students who don't check electronic bulletin boards. Send email messages about products, then turn that email into a printed document and distribute it via campus mail.  You could also add it to your library's web page under the What's New section or add it to your own specialized subject web pages. The more formats the better.

  5. Take advantages of resources and ideas already developed by your colleagues. In the area of chemical information, check the {CINF Virtual Poster Session} from Spring 1997 Meeting.  Posters include instructional activities and information about the Clearinghouse for Chemical Information Instruction activities.

  6. Create web pages in place of printed handouts. Stanford University has created a page of library resources for identifying unknowns as supporting material for an undergraduate organic chemistry class. (The page is currently under construction.) http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/swain/chem130/chem130.html

  7. Consider putting your lecture notes on the web. The web pages can be used as slides for classes and also serve as a permanent source of information after the class is over. Note-taking is easy for students if they know they can get back to the web pages later. At the same time, make sure you're prepared for problems by putting copies on overhead transparencies for those times when Murphy's Law strikes.

  8. Be flexible in scheduling classes. Consider scheduling orientation sessions in the late afternoon or evening. These times may be more open for those students who spend long hours in labs.

  9. Keep it short and simple. Don't try to cover too much in a class, especially when providing hands-on instruction. Watching an expert demonstrate a database is easy; searching solo requires more time to recall commands and correct errors while typing. Additional librarians serving as "rovers" can help those students who get too far behind.

  10. Provide materials in multiple formats. In addition to print and web pages, consider putting library instruction materials on audiocassette for students who are visually impaired or auditory learners.

  11. Create assignments that eager students can complete and return to a librarian. Even if no grades are awarded, it gives interested students the opportunity to see that they've mastered the material.

  12. Instruction doesn't always have to be in a lecture format. Some students learn better in groups. Give a group a problem to work on, then have each group report their findings to the class.

  13. Help prevent student frustration. Be proactive in working with instructors to develop library assignments. This way you can avoid assignments that have dozens or even hundreds of students trying to find a limited number of resources. Often the only thing students learn from these assignments is that the library is hard to use and resources are impossible to track down.

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