Erin Dorney

Blogging life & librarianship

Student Panel at PaLA Lehigh Valley Chapter

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lvpala

Last week I got to facilitate a really fun session for the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Pennsylvania Library Association. For my breakout session I decided to copy a format I had seen Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches use back in November 2011 at the Library Journal Summit in Philadelphia.

We recruited students from four local colleges/universities and basically ran a live focus group, talking openly with them about why they use the library, how they do research, and how they use technology. I’m not going to name names to protect these innocent students who so kindly shared their honest opinions about libraries, but we had representatives from Northampton Community College, Widener University, Penn State, and Muhlenberg University. And guys, they were amazing. Everyone was professional and had great, well-articulated thoughts to share. It was really inspiring to work with them (thank you!!!).

In my introduction I shared a little bit about why I wanted to do a session like this instead of just talking to attendees about academic libraries. We talk a lot about initiating change from within (or outside of) our institutions and change-resistors. “User experience” is also a phrase that has gained traction in recent years. In my position, I’ve found that talking directly with users has provided me with the tools I need to initiate change in my library. I realized when we started our Library Student Advisory Board that when I talked with students about different projects or initiatives, they gave me actual evidence as in “yes this is a good idea” or “no, no one would use it like that” that I was able to leverage to bring about changes in the way things were done and the projects I pursued. I think it’s really important for us to talk to our users, to be open to what they have to say, and most importantly, to make changes accordingly. Sometimes it’s difficult to do this because there are so many things vying for our time but I think it’s critical in terms of designing the future for academic libraries.

I remember walking away inspired and excited from Aaron and Amanda’s session in 2011 and I hope attendees had a similar experience after participating last week. If nothing else, perhaps they learned one new thing about the life of a college student, or left feeling empowered to talk to the users at their own institution. Personally, this was one of the most fun presentations I’ve ever done.

A couple of people wanted to see my list of questions, so you can steal those here (no worries, I borrowed most of them from Aaron and Amanda and added some of my own—you have permission to steal this entire idea!). Mine are at the top—the numbers are the initial questions I started with and the indented letters are follow up questions that I asked on the spot based on student responses. If anyone has questions about how this worked, just leave a comment and I can share more details.

Sending huge thanks out to Aaron and Amanda for sharing their questions and advice for the student panel, to LVPALA for inviting me to present at the workshop, to Courtney Eger for being an excellent speaker contact and helping recruit students, to Tina Hertel and Muhlenberg College for helping recruit students, and of course to the students who volunteered their summer time to participate in what could have been a very uncomfortable experience (I hope it wasn’t too bad!). This was truly a session that couldn’t have happened with just me alone. Collaboration for the win!

I’m planning to do another post about things I thought were intriguing about the student responses but I have to transcribe the audio from the session first… stay tuned!

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Written by Erin Dorney

May 28, 2013 at 10:53 AM

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