[Fresh] Learning the Library

John Immerwahr (john.immerwahr@villanova.edu)
Tue, 03 Oct 2000 14:09:33 -0400

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Interview with Dr. James L. Mullins, University Librarian and Director
of Falvey Memorial Library.

Fresh@News: How do first year students feel about the library?

Dr. Mullins: Our perception, based on interviews with students, is that
many of our students begin their careers here with a fear of the
library. Their previous experience has mostly been with school and
public libraries, and they are often overwhelmed and, frankly, a little
intimidated by the complexity and depth of a university library with
nearly 1,000,000 volumes and a wide array of electronic information

Fresh@News: What can we do to help relieve some of these anxieties?

Dr. Mullins: The first thing we wanted to do is to dispel the image that
the library is for only the most serious scholars. We wanted to create
an environment that was inviting to all students so that they would see
the library as a pleasant place to come to study for their courses, do
research, and also as a place to meet and study with their friends. One
of our most popular innovations has been our coffee shop --Holy Grounds
at Falvey-- where students can relax and socialize during their study
breaks. We also created the Falvey Mug, a closed, spill-proof mug that
allows students to take beverages anywhere in the building.

Fresh@News: Now that we have them in the door, how do we help them
understand how to use the library?

Dr. Mullins: What we found is that many students weren't becoming
serious users until they were juniors or even seniors. When they
finally did become comfortable with the library, they often realized
they should have taken advantage of the library when they first came to
Villanova. Working with the Core Humanities Seminar Program, we now put
every first-year student through an intensive information-literacy

Fresh@News: How does it work?

Dr. Mullins: We call the program Quest. It is a web-based tutorial that
leads students through some of the basic skills, and exposes them to a
number of print and electronic research sources. Indeed, most members
of the class of 2004 have already started "Quest" and will be finishing
their work before they go home for fall break.

Next semester each Core Humanities Seminar will meet for one class hour
in the library in our electronic classroom. That session is called Quest
Strategies. The students are instructed by a librarian on how to
develop excellent information retrieval skills by doing research on a
topic selected by their professor. The students are exposed to our print
collection, but also to the web and to many subscription web accessible
databases, which are not available to the general public. The professor
may require a paper or class presentation on the research conducted from
the information literacy session.

Fresh@News: Aren't many of our students already familiar with the web?

Dr. Mullins: Most of our students have used the web already, but what
they don't understand is how to evaluate what they find on the web. Not
that many years ago, when students came to the library, the information
they found had been authenticated and validated by publishers and
selected by librarians. Today, anyone can put up a website, and much of
the information is misleading and inaccurate. What we emphasize with
students is how to evaluate web sites, to know which can be used in a
scholarly paper and what may be questionable or spurious. Of course, we
are also introducing them to the traditional sources as well, the
indices and abstracts that are the first steps in researching a
question. This past year we performed pre- and post-tests to a sample of
our students, to evaluate the effectiveness of the Quest program.
Statistical testing of the results indicated that "significant" learning
took place through Quest.

Fresh@News: How is the program working?

Dr. Mullins: We've been very pleased. As more and more information is
available on the web, we wondered whether people would be less likely to
come to the library. Even with the significant use of digital
resources, in-house use of the library remains very strong. In 1997,
the Falvey Library Homepage had, on the average, three thousand hits per
week. Since then, the Falvey website has, in an average week, had more
than 120,000 hits. At the same time physical attendance, for some
months, has increased by as much as 10% to 15%.

Fresh@News: What advice would you give to parents?

Dr. Mullins: First year students do sometimes complain about being
assigned to learn information retrieval skills, because they see this
work as an add-on, rather than part of their regular course work. Tell
them to be patient; once they start doing more papers they will be glad
they have these skills. The research skills they are learning now will
prepare them for the courses they will be taking while at Villanova and
also for graduate school or for their chosen careers. Companies are
looking for employees who are problem solvers, who can identify a
problem, explore solutions, locate information and develop a creative
approach to the problem. Excellent information-seeking and evaluation
skills are imperative. I invite all parents and friends to visit the
Falvey Library web site at www.library.villanova.edu. On the Falvey
Homepage you can look at the Quest tutorial and the many other
information resources available. Unfortunately, the subscription
databases are only available to our students, staff, and faculty, not to
the wider community, but we have links to many other powerful
information sources selected by our librarians.

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