July 11, 2013

Working with Students, Non-traditionally

I've branched out into non-traditional librarian-student interaction, and it's been a great success.

This spring, I collaborated with JOMC professor Spencer Barnes and his Infographics students. Dr. Barnes asks the students to create (amazing) infographics over the course of the semester. In the past, I have worked with him and his students to find great statistics for their work; my favorite sources for them are the Statistical Abstract of the United States and Statista; see the full list of sources on this library course page I created for JOMC 182: Infographics.

That's the traditional part.

Here's the non-traditional part: I thought it would be fun to graphically display some library statistics for UNC's Library Snapshot Day, and I asked Dr. Barnes if his students would be able to design something for me. He graciously agreed to let "library statistics" be one of the three topics students could tackle for their final project.

I am so pleased with the results! Three students participated, and my favorite is this, by sophomore Marissa T. It's a striking representation of library service, collection, and "library as place" over the past year or so.

This summer, I'm working with professor Lois Boynton and students in her JOMC 232: Public Relations Writing class. The Park Library is their semester-long client, and they are working towards increasing students' awareness of library reference services. I'll blog about their efforts once their project has finished.

Non-traditional student interaction is as rewarding as traditional student interaction, AND it's helped me enhance the Park Library. Win, win, win.

July 09, 2013

Search: Fail

image from findicons
Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox had a nice (if sobering) column in March: "Converting Search into Navigation."

Nielsen's conclusion: "Users are incredibly bad at finding and researching things on the web. A few years ago, I characterized users' research skills as 'incompetent,' and they’ve only gotten worse over time. 'Pathetic' and 'useless' are words that come to mind after this year's user testing."

His study focused on e-commerce websites, but I think the results would be even worse if we studied user search behavior for academic purposes. His first user had trouble finding a pink iPhone case on Amazon, largely because she was unable to translate her meaning into something that Amazon could understand, or as Nielsen put it, she did not "realize that Amazon uses a full-text search that doesn't understand the meaning of a query."

Nielsen suggests that websites should be designed for "mediocre searchers." I know that the UNC Library is trying hard to do this with its book catalog and Articles+ super search. Sadly, library database vendors aren't as good at this.

What's the solution? At a minimum, be aware that your students aren't as search savvy as you think they are — they are likely not as search savvy as you are.

In an email to faculty, I added: in an ideal world, I'd have you invite me to come talk to you students. An interim step is for you to tell your students to come talk to me (or another librarian) about improving their searches in Google and using better resources like America's News (for news articles) or Communication and Mass Media Complete (for scholarly articles in JOMC areas).

But again, remember that students aren't as savvy at using Google as you (or they) think they are!

found through Greg Notess'  | Search Engine Showdown April 2013 blog post "Searcher Behavior."