The Higher Education Labyrinth

In my new role as advisor to about a dozen incoming freshmen at Creighton, I’m witnessing a group of 17 and 18 year old students navigating the labyrinth that is higher education for the first time. I’m walking them through the process of course selection, registration, and the frustration that comes when all the sections of Spanish 101 are filled. I find myself explaining that it’s unrealistic to expect you can have Fridays off your first semester of college. I find myself wondering how the process felt when I was going through it.

I’m trying to re-imagine my time as a freshman, knowing very little about registering for classes, core requirements, and how to build a schedule that wouldn’t drive me insane. At the University of Wisconsin, Summer Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR) was a program offered by the University to help acclimate students to campus life and culture at Madison in the weeks before the start of the semester. As a student coming from Pennsylvania, I decided not to attend SOAR. In exchange, I received a 4 hour power orientation and advising session 2 days before classes began. The actual advising portion lasted about an hour. The first half included an overview of the core curriculum and the second half included a one-on-one meeting with either a “real” advisor or a student advisor. I had the student advisor and the advise I got as an undecided student was to take whatever classes interested me because they were likely to hit a handful of the core requirements. Oh, and don’t take calculus unless it’s required, which puzzled me because even today I cannot imagine anyone wanting to take calculus as an elective.

The whole process reminds me of an important obstacle information literacy and instruction librarians often face – convincing faculty that their students need to be taught how to research. Librarians often argue that one of the reasons for this obstacle is that faculty cannot remember learning how to research. It has become such a habit of mind that the starting point is lost to them and they can no longer see the value that students can gain from a library session.

Navigating higher education

Navigating higher education

I never gave that reasoning too much weight, but I get it now. As I was helping my incoming freshmen, I realized I was becoming frustrated that they didn’t understand the process. But when I took a step back, I thought about how many times I’ve registered for classes – upwards of 12 times throughout my academic career. I know how to navigate the system. I have the map to the labyrinth of higher education, and they don’t even know that such a map exists. Once I realized this, I think I became more helpful and attuned to their needs. Through self-reflection, I became a better advisor and teacher.

Sometimes we all just need a little reminder of where it all began and how far we’ve come.

Why Use Your Brain When There’s Google?

I’ve played a lot of softball in my days. Catching and throwing a ball is now instinctual. My greatest achievement attributable to softball came one night in high school while I was off the field and babysitting on a Saturday night. I was playing outside with four kids ranging from 4 to 12. The neighbors had a little game of backyard baseball going, and unbeknownst to me, a future Prince Fielder was among us. I hear the crack of a bat and suddenly a baseball is flying, at what seems like 60 miles per hour, towards the 4 year old I’m watching. Without thinking, I pulled a Dottie Hinson:


I have no doubt it appeared as cool and collected, too. However it looked, I know that something took over me and I barehanded a baseball that would have led to tears, an emergency room visit, and the inevitable end to my blossoming babysitting career. Instinct took over.

When discussing Millenials, we often refer to them as digital natives. Their working memory exists almost entirely within a world where the World Wide Web was available to them easily and at a relatively low cost. So what happens when their instincts deceive them? When their instincts have been constructed under the belief in the Googlization of everything? When they see this:

they really seem to see this:

Millenials have bestowed the power of Google upon all search boxes. Their instincts tell them, “Oh, here’s a search box. Google is a search box. It must work like Google.” They’re not thinking critically about the tools their using. As librarians, this is by no means an earth shattering revelation. We know this from experience.

This morning my boss was reviewing usage statistics from our LibGuide pages. She found that users were searching the LibGuides with terms more applicable for our discovery service Summon. Terms ranged from authors’ names to journal titles to terms like “romanticism” or “effects of cocaine on fetuses.” To be fair, some searches were more appropriate, such as “psychology” or “EBSCO,” but most were misplaced. As the instructional services librarian, she asked me if I thought we were doing something wrong in either failing to teach our users the difference between Summon and LibGuides or if the wording on our LibGuides is misleading.

I’ve been thinking about this throughout the day. Information literacy is an imperative skill for the 21st century citizen. In most instructional sessions, we focus on teaching students how to critically evaluate information sources, but perhaps we’re overlooking teaching students to critically evaluate the tools they use when researching. And then I think about the one-shot session. I think about adding this piece to the larger instruction puzzle and I feel like I’m no longer teaching students to use their instincts and barehanded catch the baseball, but now I’ve got to take 10 steps back and teach students the difference between a baseball, a basketball, and a tennis ball. And then how to throw. And then how to catch. And so on.

None of these things is exactly like the other.

I’m still reflecting on these findings and their implication for future information literacy sessions. I still am unsure what I will do with this information. Has anyone else noticed this trend in searches done in LibGuides?

Vine & the Library

In January, my library created a Twitter account to respond to student complaints about library renovations. Although the creation of the account was reactionary, it has since yielded some great feedback, both positive and negative, for the library. We’ve stuck with updating the account regularly and it has grown into a successful outreach initiative. By following students that follow us, we can see what their social media interests are. As one of the co-moderators of the account, I’ve noticed a recent uptick in Vine postings from our students.

I’m not one to jump on trendy technology, but I firmly believe that the best way to reach undergraduate students is to meet them where they’re at, not necessarily where we* think they should be. With that, I created a Vine account for the Library and today I posted our first Vine:

It’s a simple message for our new students attending Summer Preview to stop by and visit the Library. I’m very excited about the outreach potential of Vine. I’m already thinking about student contest ideas, answers to popular reference questions, and many other possibilities!

Do you use Vine at your library? I’d love to hear how!

*Royal we of academic libraries