Mia Morgan, Ed.D., M.L.S.
Returning to college in September is like starting a new job. It is exciting and it is scary and there is much to learn. Fall 2015 was my first full semester working at the North Shore Community Library, so as our students began their Fall semester, I began mine. As I consider the parallels between starting a new job and starting a new semester, I wonder whether students realize as they acclimate to the college environment that they are also developing useful 21st century skills applicable to beginning a future job.
In September students arrive in a flurry full of potential and promise. The more savvy students asking questions such as, “How do I get a library card?” or “How do I print out my detailed schedule?” For others, those questions will come later. Students are at the same time eager for the fresh start college promises, anxious about what to expect, hopeful to succeed, and flustered as they learn to manage the tools of college: bookstore, schedules, ID, classrooms, syllabi, and expectations. They gather in the library. The library is full. The buzz is about classes, professors, and new assignments. The new employee is feeling similar emotions as she’s planning her library classes, learning about her new environment, conversing with her new colleagues, and hopeful about her success in the North Shore Community College Library.
Students learn to use the library from their professors. They learn that the librarian and the reference desk are valuable resources. Professors who bring classes to the library, who encourage students to activate library cards and use appropriate library resources are teaching students how to succeed in college.
September is the busiest month for scheduled library instruction. Professors work with librarians to time instruction around assignments, and librarians scramble to find open computer labs for hands-on instruction. In these classes students are introduced to the library resources available for their research projects. Library classes are students’ first exposure to the databases, to articles published in academic journals, to books in the library catalog (OPAC), to tools for evaluating websites (A.S.A.P.), and to (EasyBib) for creating citations
Both students and new employees greet October with confidence. Instruction classes fuel questions, which students bring to the reference desk. Now, prompted by pending assignments, student questions become more specific: “How do I find the best resources for my topic?” “How do I access library resources from home?” “How do I use EasyBib?” The library continues to be heavily used in October, every workstation taken, calculators and course reserves flying off the shelves, students trying to find a quiet place to study, stake out a preferred place to sit, or meet with a study group.
Students who use the library do better on their assignments and more easily navigate the academic learning environment, an environment that flows naturally from the college to the workplace.
The atmosphere shifts in November as workloads intensify. Projects assigned weeks ago are now a reality that students must address. The chatter centers on due dates, assignment requirements, and clarification of assignment guidelines. Students begin to study for midterm exams, tackle research papers and long term assignments. Study groups formed earlier in the semester are now solid, and group members come together in the library like old friends focused on getting a job done.
November’s scheduled library instruction tapers off slightly while instruction at the reference desk escalates. Students need help identifying appropriate search words and using Boolean operators to combine those search words into database friendly search strings. Librarians welcome all students, all questions, and all states of anxiety. In a job, November represents the first major project deadlines. A November employee is no longer considered ‘new’ and must now contribute and produce at a level equal to that of the more experienced staff.
The reference desk is at its busiest in December. The questions are often very specific. “Can you help me to find information on feudalism as it relates to The Song of Roland” or “terrorism as it relates to the teachings of Jesus of Nazarene” or “Rosa Parks and her impact on the world” or “a famous person who has impacted my life and the world”, And there are technical questions such as: “How do I create a parenthetical citation?”, “How do I download an image to insert into PPT”, “How do I print from Google Drive?”, or “How do I access my presentation in the classroom?” In December, students are often familiar with the research databases from instruction session held earlier in the semester and now they need help actually using the databases. At this point in the semester the new employee is ready to tackle any question and moves among the students, questions, and workstations with ease.
It does seem that in addition to developing academic skills students are developing skills in the library that will transfer to their life after NSCC. If they go on to pursue a bachelor degree or begin a new job, they will have learned 21st century information seeking, collaboration, analytical skills valuable to both employers and college professors. The have learned how to study and concentrate on a task for an extended period of time. They have learned where to go for help, how to articulate clear questions, and get answers. They have learned to ask questions, seek answers, and explore the results. They have learned the importance of community as they work together on projects or work with classmates to manage a difficult course or assignment. They have learned how to develop a rhythm in a new environment. They have learned how to adapt to that environment, and become a member of a community. They have learned how to manage time. There is more happening at the library than one might realize.
The new year and the return to school after winter break brings a renewed energy and hope for a fresh start. New teachers, new classes, new classmates make for an exciting change, while other routines feel more familiar, syllabi, bookstore, library, and schedules.