Earlier in the week I attended the first Cambridge Librarian TeachMeet where I gave a short presentation on the approach to library inductions that we adopted at the Cambridge Judge Business School back in 2009. At the time, my allocated presenting time of 7 minutes felt über short and I let this time pressure get to me slightly. I’d therefore like to present our ideas and arguments again here in the hope that they’ll be more eloquently expressed!
The title of my presentation was ‘Flying in the face of conventional wisdom’ because, by and large, our approach ignores the accepted norm for library inductions, i.e. don’t tell your students too much too early. At the Judge we offer interactive, hands-on database training during the students’ first week. These sessions are held in the School’s Computing Lab and last between 1 and 2 hours. Why did we decide to do this? Read on and all will be explained…
In the past, library inductions at the Judge were delivered along the traditional lines: a lecture-theatre presentation (focusing on finding books, library fines, rules & regulations and a brief database demonstration) followed by the obligatory library tour. We felt that this misrepresented our service and the work that we do, as most of our time is spent organising, delivering and promoting the electronic resources that we subscribe to. These resources amount to 80% of our annual budget and really are our ‘bread and butter’ so we believed that a greater emphasis was needed during inductions. Previous students had also indicated, in the annual survey, that an overview of the databases would be beneficial right at the beginning of their courses. This was the confirmation that we needed!
As well as modifying the format, location and content of the induction sessions we decided to change their advertised title from ‘Library Induction’ to ‘Business Databases’. The majority of our students hail from a corporate background and we therefore felt that this title was more fitting. We also thought that it would help to smash the traditional librarian stereotype (i.e. bespectacled women stamping books and shushing people) and hopefully generate more interest and enthusiasm for the sessions.
We did have a couple of concerns about the approach before we rolled it out:
- Would the students be too distracted by other things at the start of their courses (e.g. making friends, looking cool, finding their way around etc) to take anything useful away from the sessions? Would we end up having to repeat things incessantly throughout the year?
- Would the students feel too bombarded with information? Would adding to the ‘information overload’ be madness?
We quickly realised that these concerns were largely unfounded as the situation at the Judge is different to other departments at the University. As most of our students have corporate experience, they expect to hit the ground running when they arrive here and, as the old cliché goes, ‘time is money’. It would therefore be inappropriate for us to hold back on the information that we give out during inductions. In addition, we don’t expect the students to remember every single piece of information but some things, no matter how small, will stick.
We’re also conscious of the fact that if we don’t give students the hard sell on our databases early enough, we lose them to Google and Wikipedia. We’re then faced with the battle of seducing them back to our premium resources. Don’t get me wrong, we’re deeply realistic and realise that they’ll use these resources regardless – but we need to dazzle them with our databases early enough so that they get used to using them alongside free web resources.
The results of these changes to our approach? Data gathered via our annual survey showed that in 2008 only 52% of our students remembered the database demonstrations during their inductions compared to 82% in 2009. This increase suggests that the new format had the desired effect, i.e. the greater emphasis on our electronic resources had more impact.
In addition, our database usage statistics went through the roof. Two of the databases we demonstrated in the hands-on sessions (Factiva and Passport GMID) saw an increase of 57% and 45% respectively. We attribute these increases to the fact that the students got ‘down and dirty’ with the databases straight away. Our student numbers only increased slightly that year so nothing else can explain them!
So a greater recall of the database demonstrations, increased usage stats…what else? We also saw a notable increase (44%) in the number of enquiries received and answered by the Information & Library Services team in that year. Again, we think this is due to the fact that we got the message out there that we are the database people and that we’re here to help our students get the best out of them.
We’ve adopted the same approach this year so, fingers crossed, we’ll see similar results!
My PowerPoint presentation on Slideshare:
[I'd be interested to hear from other librarians as to whether they think this approach would work in their libraries and/or any other methods that have been adopted for similar reasons.]