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Library Instruction as Conducted by Student Workers: 
A Personal Reflection 

By Carolyn Wilinski

I am a student  who has worked at Central Michigan University's Park Library for several years.  One of the most valuable experiences that I have had during this time is being able to conduct library instruction sessions.  Guiding these sessions has been worthwhile not just for me, but also for the people that I have taught. 

 Library instruction had always been taught by the librarians and when a group of us were told that because of staf reductions teaching those sessions were going to be a part of our duties it was surprising and a little nerve-wracking.  The groups that the students teach are at the English (writing)101 level of course, high school students, or visiting groups not affiliated with the university.  For those reasons the instructional sessions that we teach are basic introductions to the Central Michigan University's library home page and the library itself. 

All of us had already seen many instructional sessions before so the concept was not all that new.  We were given a sheet that read like a script which we used for teaching.  I read through the sheet and it did not look difficult and it put me at ease.  Everything that we were to instruct seemed so second-nature and there was nothing new to be learned.  One of the nicer aspects of the library instructional sessions conducted by students is that the groups that we teach are never at a level higher than we are studying. 

Before each session we are given a sheet which tells us where the group is from, how many people there will be, and their goals or assignment.  I like to give myself fifteen extra minutes before the group is coming to set up.  I make sure the computer is on, the projector and screen are down, and I have my sheets for the group leader ready.  When all of that preparation is done I like to go out to the front and wait for the group to come in. 

When the group arrives, I introduce myself and guide them into the classroom.  Once in the room, I instruct the group to sit around the computers and I ask them to follow along on the computers as I explain what I am doing.  First I go to the library home page and give a quick introduction as to what is on it.  I tell the group that there is a lot to explore on this page and they should play around with it on their free time.  After I have told them that, I go into the instruction. 

As a  first step, I enter the CMU library catalogue and show how to look up a book. I like to  find one that pertains to the subject that the group is studying.  I find that keeps the patrons interested more in what I am instructing.  Once I find the book I explain what that page means.   I next explain that they will be able to find what floor that the book is on by looking at the call number and that every floor has a different set of call numbers.  I also explain  the status field and I tell them that the status will tell them if the book is checked-in.  If the status reads check shelf that means that the book is in.  When it is stated that a book is due back on a certain date then that means that the book is out and if they urgently need that book they can go to the book checkout desk and request that book be returned. 

After searching for a book the next step that I like to take is showing how to find an article.  There are many ways for them to search for an article, by author, subject, title, and key word.  The database I recommend to start with is WilsonSelect because it is a good general database that has a little bit of everything.   Once in Wilson Select I like to ask the group what type of articles that they would like to search for just the way that I did for the book.  Usually someone will give an answer and if they do not I generally go with what type of a group it is.  I do just a keyword search and then I see what we come up with.  When the listings come up I look for certain characteristics of each.  What I first describe is an article that Central has in the library.  I tell them that the best way to know this is by looking for the little symbol that is a library with a book coming out of it.  I do warn them that the symbol is not always accurate and that it could mean that the library did have a subscription to that periodical at one time, but no loner does.  It is not a guarantee that the exact issue is going to be in the library.

After clicking on an article that states should be in the library I explain that everything in WilsonSelect is full text in either a HTML file or a PDF file.  I explain the difference between the two and move on.  I also explain  the "source" line and I tell the group that this is the most important line on the page, because it will give the periodicalís volume number, date, page number, author, and title.  I explain to the group that all of that information is needed to find the article in the library and it is always a good idea to write all of that information down.  Because the periodical is supposed to be in the library, I click on the link that takes you back to the online catalogue and, hypothetically, the correct periodical should be brought up on the screen.  I explain how the information on this screen is just like it was for searching for a book except that the status is always going to be "non-circulating" and that all of the periodicals are located on the third floor. 

After I have shown them a periodical that the library is supposed to have, I like to show an example of an article that cannot be found in the library.  I first tell the group that everything in WilsonSelect is full text, meaning that the entire article is online so they do not, necessarily, need the hard copy of the article.  I do like to give the disclaimer that if the article they want is not in the library and not offered in full text that all hope is not lost.  I show them that the library offers interlibrary loan for all people affiliated with the university.  The ILL office will either send the article via email or regular mail to the patron.  While on the subject of ILL I like to demonstrate how to ILL an article and a book.  Not only do I show them how to ILL I show them InMICH.  I explain the difference between ILL and InMich and explain that InMich is supposed to take a shorter time to be received but like everything it can always take a little longer. 

After completing the ILL demonstration I like to move on to the other features of our home page.  The virtual reference desk is a nice next step because it does have a lot to offer.  I always show the group the dictionaries and thesis link and tell them what a useful tool that it is.  Next I show them the phone directories and it is nice to show them how to use it.  I tend to put in the library and everyone is usually impressed with how easy it is to find numbers of not only people but businesses.  I tell the group that virtual reference desk has numerous sources of information and that it is worthwhile to look at a lot of the information on it.  After showing the virtual reference desk I finished showing the homepage.  Finally, I ask the group if they have any questions about the homepage and if they think of any questions they can either call the reference desk or go ahead and come in and ask them in person. 

At the end of the  library instruction session we are usually asked to give a tour of the library.  The tour of the library is basic and I take the groups to each of the floors and give the highlights.  The main things that I like to explain are where the call numbers are listed and how the call numbers indicate which floor the patron needs to go to.  I also like to visit each of the service desks and explain what each of them is responsible for.  The tours tend to take about a half of an hour and the in class sessions take about the same amount of time.  We as students give the basics.  The librarians are responsible for giving the in depth instructional sessions. 

Giving the instructional sessions is something that I enjoy doing.  It has given me skills that I will retain for life., such as the ability to feel comfortable and competent speaking in front of a group of people.  There are always presentations that need to be given and since I have been giving the instructional sessions I am no longer worried about the presentations.  Every student that I have spoken to agrees that they are now more comfortable when giving their own presentations.  Reference students are usually nervous before giving their first presentation; practicing in front of their fellow students would be one way to allievate some of the initial nervousness. Each student could have a turn and then the others could have given feedback on ways to improve. 

Instructional sessions are an important part of my job.  Over the years I have given amany of them and I feel very competent in doing so.  Each group is a little different and calls for a slightly different presentation, but that is what keeps them interesting.  Students workers are capable of taking on more challenging job responsibilities and teaching has made me  appreciate the job that I have even more. 



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