By Katherine Joss
Beth Cloues has been a librarian at North Campus for more than 20 years. In those two decades, she has witnessed quite a few changes. When Cloues started, the library featured a manual card catalog and a CD-ROM database.
“We had just two computers,” Cloues said with a smile.
Cloues now teaches Introduction to Internet Research in a learning community with two other professors. Her recent lecture on evaluating Web-based resources and tools is a perfect example of the type of instruction librarians provide to students.
“Students need to learn to personally select which online resources are valuable and which are not,” she said.
And the students are getting it.
“The class has already broadened what I can do online. I know what information to use,” said student Junior Garza D’Meza.
Another, Carlson Michel, recalled a report the students were asked to write on Malawi and the HIV/AIDS crisis.
“I was able to easily find the information I needed. The Internet is so informative ... if you know what to look for,” Michel said.
Repeat students – who come back to take advanced library research courses after taking the introductory course – are also becoming more common, Cloues said.
“Two years ago, a student signed up for the class because he needed an information literacy credit. He recently came back to take a second class, and then a third, for his own benefit,” Cloues said.
After taking the course, students say they feel more comfortable using the resources that the library provides. There is less trepidation and more time spent in library facilities.
More Than Brick and Mortar
Shelby Foote, the American novelist and historian, said a university is “just a group of buildings gathered around a library.” InterAmerican Campus library director Erick Dominicis agrees wholeheartedly with that statement. He even includes it in his e-mail signature. But just how accurate is the statement today? Is a building dedicated to housing books really relevant in this digital age?
According to Miami Dade College students, professors and librarians, the answer is a resounding yes.
At InterAmerican Campus in Little Havana, Dominicis participates in a learning community for students in the English for Academic Purposes (EAP) program. It includes reading, writing and psychology students in addition to those taking Introduction to Internet Research, taught by Dominicis. One group of students takes all four courses together and the same set of skills is reinforced in each discipline.
For example, if students need to write a research paper for the psychology course, Dominicis teaches them how to find good resources online and then shows them how to properly cite their sources. They may use some of that same source material to practice reading while the writing course provides a perfect opportunity to edit and revise their papers.
“Since Introduction to Library Research was added to the learning community, students’ retention levels have skyrocketed,” Dominicis said.
The Best Information
The Internet has revolutionized information access, but library technology reaches far beyond those base roots. And in an academic setting, technological advances aid both students and professors in their ongoing quest for knowledge.
Traditionally, libraries have served as the go-to place for information gathering, but today’s students can access a wealth of information from the comfort of their own homes. So, why visit a library?
The answer lies in quality.
“MDC’s libraries have always focused on showing students how to access and use information. Now we are focused specifically on how to help them find the best information,” said Glenda Phipps, library director at Hialeah Campus.
In doing research for academic purposes, a student is charged with a singular responsibility: to select the best information for their needs. Here, the term “best” refers to resources deemed worthy of academic reference.
This decision is key – especially with online material. Unfortunately, many students don’t know how to make this decision.
“Wikipedia and Google have made people more comfortable with research in general, but on their own, students are not necessarily finding the best information,” Phipps said.
MDC’s librarians are here to help students sift through the clutter. “Like the 500 channels on cable TV, there is so much information online,” said Nancy Maxwell, director of the North Campus library and the recent chair of the MDC Library Director’s Group. “Because there are so many new choices, it makes the role of the librarian more important.”
Digital media and virtual information are now entwined in academic study. But that does not mean students should ignore print materials.
“In research, the field and the purpose is what is critical. Not all digital media is the best information – in fact, books are still better for some things and online, non-print materials are better for others,” Phipps said. “Just because new technology comes in does not mean we abandon the previous formats.”
Rosa Garcia-Pendleton, the Homestead Campus library director, echoes that sentiment. “The guiding principle of library instruction continues: to systematically match resources to course work,” she said.
Librarian as Educator
All Miami Dade College librarians are members of the faculty and serve the dual role of professor and information specialist.
“We’re in the business of getting students in the door and keeping them here,” Dominicis said. However, beyond “keeping them here,” he noted, libraries now also educate users on how to use the new information available to them.
“The shift toward the Internet is great, but it has created more of a demand on us, instructionally,” Phipps said. “It used to be faculty members asking questions like ‘How do you conduct a better search’ and ‘Which database is best for me?’ Now students are asking.”
MDC’s librarians are taking an active instructional role. They are trained to assist students in finding the best information for their needs, whether in print or in electronic formats.
Many librarians teach short one- or two-session workshops to introduce students to new technology and search strategies.
The workshops often focus on a particular set of concepts for an assignment. Teaching information literacy as part of a course assists students in retention.
“Learning is retained better when it’s contextualized,” Phipps said. “When the urgency is there, it becomes more engaging. And the nuts and bolts remain long after the course is complete.”
Librarians are also teaching students to properly cite information gathered from online sources.
“Instead of stealing from Internet – because you cannot just grab anything and put it on your PowerPoint presentation – we teach fair use law and how it applies to different types of content,” Dominicis said.
Several of the library’s database subscriptions allow for the legal use of images. Students can download these images and use them in their work.
In addition, as MDC embraces the 10 Student Learning Outcomes – which define what fundamental knowledge the College intends all of its students to acquire prior to graduation – the library system is making major progress in the area of information literacy.
While the notion of information literacy has only been recently added to the College’s new assessment strategy, it is not new to librarians or academia.
“It’s a movement that started 20 years ago,” Dominicis said. “It comes out of the idea that we are bombarded with so much information; libraries can assist in developing awareness of what is worthwhile.”
The Real and the Virtual
The Medical Center Campus library has taken advantage of the many opportunities that the online environment provides.
“Medical Center Campus librarians pioneered the library module initiative,” said library director Elisa Abella.
Library modules were born out of the need to offer online students the full range of information and instruction that face-to-face students receive.
Librarian Carla Clark said she is frequently invited into classrooms to teach workshops on online basics, such as database usage and how to cite using the Publications Manual of the American Psychological Association. The solution was to create online library modules – or Web pages with links to e-books and other Web sites, journal articles and videos.
“The modules are based on individual course curricula so they encourage critical thinking within a particular discipline,” Clark said. “Most importantly, they offer a student a wealth of online resources, accessible anytime, and from any computer.”
Fueled by the online Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, several educational resources in video format are now available online at iTunesU.
Other online initiatives include tutorials developed to teach students in MDC’s Virtual College about the many databases available to them.
Librarians at Homestead Campus are also using the Internet to make information more accessible. Digitized artwork from several high profile campus exhibitions – including the League for Innovation’s student art exhibition and ArtSouth’s Diversity program – along with related links, were made available for students to browse online.
“Our librarians documented the shows by creating multimedia PowerPoint presentations and then posted them online,” Garcia-Pendleton said.
This gives students, faculty and staff the opportunity to view and study the artwork long after the exhibitions close.
There are plans to extend this program to include video presentations on the history of the Holocaust – a virtual expansion of the collected works presently housed in the library’s Holocaust Collection.
At North Campus, librarian Theo Karantsalis is using a variety of online resources to teach his Introduction to Internet Research students in creative ways, including replaying lectures from professors at colleges and universities across the country.
He also records and uploads presentations made here. One example, a powerful talk by ACLU director Howard Simon on the Constitution, is now available on iTunes U.
Karantsalis said when students know they can access the digital version of the presentation and aren’t burdened with taking notes, they can listen closely to the content without worry. If they miss something, they can reference it easily, after the fact.
He offers blogging and YouTube workshops and talks to his students about current events relating to technology, including intellectual property laws, file sharing and encryption.
“It is our job to ensure that students are aware of what is out there,” he said. “Even if they do not use it now, they need to know that emerging technologies are changing the way we interact and communicate with one another, the way we receive and understand information.” Academically, blogging is particularly relevant because it allows for an ongoing dialogue through comments. Blogs are a virtual two-way street – anyone can add his or her own ideas to the mix. And in terms of the professor/student relationship, the possibilities are endless.
“If the professor publishes a lecture on a blog, the students can comment and keep the exchange going and alter it,” Karantsalis said. “It forces you to think through things in new ways.”
A Digital Community
MDC students can tap into dozens of proprietary, top-quality databases not available for free on the Internet. This is possible in part because MDC belongs to the College Center for Library Automation (CCLA). Established by the Florida Legislature, CCLA provides automated library and information products and services to support the libraries at 28 community colleges.
CCLA and its advisory board collaborate in the selection of a comprehensive suite of books, journals, images and audio products to benefit all students. And CCLA acts as a negotiator to license additional materials to augment the core resources.
In addition to providing more access to e-resources, the group sponsors a Web site, LinccWeb, where the students, faculty and staff of all member organizations can access each library’s general collection. The site features an innovative online service called “Ask a Librarian,” a virtual guide that is available to help users navigate the databases when they need it.
“Ask a Librarian” mimics the one-on-one assistance students receive in a physical library. The combined power of CCLA has allowed MDC to access a lot more information that the institution would have alone.
“Many private universities don’t have access to as many databases as we do,” said Zenaida Fernández, library director at Wolfson Campus.
In fact, Miami Dade College has 24/7 access to more than 115 electronic databases. Most cover general content, with topics ranging from terrorism to engineering, but several are more specialized.
The most common databases feature print materials that have been digitized – articles from journals, pamphlets and books. Specialized databases can store other information formats like audio recordings.
The Smithsonian Institution database, for example, includes obscure songs from American Indian tribes.
Many of the visual arts databases include high-resolution images of artwork from public collections around the world. And the College offers 10 databases with content of a medical nature, perfect for students at Medical Center Campus.
MDC also has access to more than 30,000 e-books – to be read from your computer or, sometimes, downloaded and printed.
“Our libraries are not getting physically bigger but they expanding electronically, at an exponential rate,” Dominicis said.
“Most people do not know that we have every Miami Herald article, from 1982 to the present, available online. And The New York Times as well – all absolutely free,” Dominicis said.
Beyond the Computer
MDC libraries are encouraging the use of portable technology by hosting seminars for professors on podcasting and other types of e-audio and video.
“We want faculty members to know that these resources are available. We will explain how to use them,” Dominicis said.
In the best cases, technology offers better ways to teach. Podcasting, for example, can assist students in learning language phonics. By listening to lessons – on iPods, or online – students hear difficult pronunciations spoken out loud. Then they can repeat the lesson as many times as necessary.
“For teaching English as a Second Language, e-audio books are a great choice because listening to spoken English builds students’ vocabulary,” Phipps said.
Also, podcasting can be an essential piece of a music professor’s pedagogy. Professors collaborate with librarians to select songs, or rhythms, to be downloaded to iPods and then distributed to students.
The key feature is portability: Students don’t need to sit at a desk to study; they can listen to lectures while commuting.
These alternative methods also assist in Miami Dade College’s mission of reaching more students. Using audible and virtual content, in addition to visual and written, aids the College in connecting to a wider audience.
According to a recent report from the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, the following six practices will enter mainstream use in the next five years: grassroots video, collaboration webs, collective intelligence, mobile broadband, social operating systems and data mashups.
Each of these technologies opens new doors that will transform the way we understand and represent information.
At Miami Dade College, as students and professors embrace new technology, one thing is certain: Librarians will continue to be the stewards that we look to for guidance, assistance and support in this ever-changing informational landscape.
“Change, it’s a trend for the future,” Phipps said.