Thursday, June 08, 2006

What I Want From a Library - I’m a User Too!!

I have spent a great deal of time thinking about libraries and how they can be improved for our users. This morning (while doing homework), it dawned on me that although I work in a library, I am also a student who uses a library. Maybe I need to step out of my work persona and think about how I use the library as a student - think about what works well and what doesn't. Using a library as a remote user has been a new experience for me - as has enrolling in a distance education program. From a distance, my interaction with the SCSU library has been very different from my previous experiences as a library user.

In this vein, I came up with several observations about what I need from the library in order to support my graduate learning experience. In a nutshell, my first big revelation is that as a distance education student, the library as a physical space doesn't interest me at all. I will never set foot in the library on SCSU's campus, so to me it doen't really exist as an entity. The actual collection of print material is unreal to me - my entire experience of the library will be virtual. The library should silently support my learning experience - in the background. [As a side note, the library does offer great support. The library staff has been excellent at supporting the needs of its distance education students. I have been very impressed. However, I think that migrating library resources into WebCT would offer better service to the students.]

As a student at SCSU, I have at least three different systems that I have to log into: MySCSU - where I read my email and access the student services systems (for registration, grades, etc.), the OnlineCSU system - the WebCT portal where online classes are held, and the library proxy server for off-campus access to resources. All three have different usernames and passwords which is cumbersome. Ideally, I would like to have one interface. I don't want a separate library interface - I think it should be included in one SCSU interface. Since the library isn't a real entity, I don't really want to go to it directly. Access to the library would work best if I could search for information directly from my class portal.

Interlibrary loan is something upon which distance education students have to rely heavily. This is something that I think should be accessible from the WebCT class portal - as opposed to being a separate form accessible from the library's web site. ILL is one of the major services that I need from the SCSU library (along with access to online full-text resources). Ideally, I would also like to be able to have a system that would populate my personal information (name, address, etc) automatically. Currently, I have to fill out a form for each ILL request and type in my name and personal information each time.

Podcasts (or some other type of audio/video feeds) would be wonderful. Faculty could make some of the lectures that they give in traditional classes available to distance students and/or different programs offered on campus could be broadcast. This might make me feel as if I had some type of connection to faculty members and to my fellow students. This would also allow me to feel as if I was a part of the campus community - not to mention some of the programs sound very interesting. Obviously students in a distance education program cannot participate in meetings, clubs and groups without some type of technological wizardry. I believe that if a school is committed to a distance education program, the powers that be need to find alternate ways to make students feel as if they are part of the campus community. (Note to administrators: Such inclusive programs might help students feel as if they are an important and vital part of the school. Think about alumni contributions down the line. If I feel as if I was an important part of your university, I might be more tempted to contribute financially.) How does the library fit into this? I'm not sure. I don't really care what their role is - if they even have one. I just want it all to work well.

I'm sure there will be other thoughts that surface on this issue. For now, I feel as if looking at library services from the perspective of a student has been an eye-opening experience. I can't believe that it took me this long to remember that I work in a library, but that I am a library user and that my experience as a user is can help me make my library a better place for patrons. Wow - where I have been??? This allows me to think about the library where I work in a whole new light.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the library itself is not important to me. The services they offer are important, but I think they should be offered in one central portal with audio/video services to make me feel as if I can participate in campus events.

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