Among the great pleasures of providing research and information services (what used to be called “doing reference”) is the continuing opportunity, and indeed necessity, to learn: about disciplines, research approaches, technologies new to oneself. I feel privileged to have been able to serve the research and information needs of members of the academic community in a variety of ways over the years, but from a personal growth standpoint, I feel more than grateful that this line of work has provided me with a continuous influx of
knowledge and insights, and that this has been delivered to me by the students, faculty members, and researchers I’ve met with in the process of my assisting them with their research. A very satisfying symbiosis, from my perspective; I can only hope that the patrons I’ve encountered have benefited from the information and guidance I’ve been able to provide as much as I’ve gained in the process of supporting their research needs.
Needless to say, all of these transactions are quantifiable, more or less (though the substance of them is possibly not so quantifiable), and so without further ado, here are some statistics for public services for the past semester.
During Spring 2012, the Library Services team delivered a significant number of in-person, telephone, and email reference exchanges, one-on-one research consultations, and course-specific library information sessions. The following is a summary of reference and information services provided to the academic community during the Spring semester.
- As of mid-May, the team had fielded a total of 748 in-person and phone reference queries.
- Library services received and responded to 544 queries of various kinds submitted via the library’s Support Request (email ticketing) system, some of which were passed along to other units, for an average of about 4.9 tickets per day.
- Research and information services librarians provided 48 research consultations to individuals or small groups during the Spring.
- Librarians presented 12 course-specific library information sessions, either in the classroom or in library spaces, from January through March, for a total of 160 students.
- At the beginning of the semester, four library tours were offered, with an attendance of nine students.
The library’s Ask-A-Librarian service, administered by librarians employed by Tutor.com, is our 24/7 online chat option. During Spring 2012, there were 184 sessions completed; the average session duration was 17.13 minutes.
To give you a sense of the variety of disciplines about which I’ve learned over the course of the semester, I can mention some of the programs, groups, and courses with whose students and instructors I’ve met:
- African and Diasporic Languages and Education
- Technologies and Literacies
- The Klingenstein Heads of Independent Schools Program
- Technology and Society
- Qualitative Research Methods in Science Education
- Field Observations in Art Education
- Research Seminar in Mathematics Education
- Technology Policy in Schools in the Digital Age
- Advanced Language Study: Writing
- Linguistic Foundations of Bilingual/Bicultural Education
Although the thread of technology, explicit or implicit, seems to run through many of these titles, I think it's notable that the disciplines
represented really draw from various of the sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities. Though my relationship with these subject fields may be best characterized by the term "generalist" (versus "subject specialist"), I find it very rewarding to have to switch gears from one mode of investigation and discourse to another on fairly short notice, and this applies for all of us in our need to handle reference queries (email, telephone, and in-person) on a daily basis. The following are some examples of users who have recently sought our help and the challenges (research topics) they've brought us:
- A researcher seeking evidence, via course catalogs, that a particular potter and ceramicist taught at Teachers College during the Summer Session in 1911 or surrounding years;
- A teacher seeking the sheet music for a particular song she believed to be included in a music education textbook among the library's older holdings;
- A researcher looking for a report on a meeting held on May 22, 1933 at Teachers College on the Diego Rivera mural at Rockefeller Center and controversy surrounding it;
- A master's student in the Arts Administration program looking for literature on consulting in the arts, also known as arts management consulting;
- A history professor seeking research materials on relationships among German and American kindergarten advocates between 1840 and 1920;
- A doctoral candidate researching the history of grade levels in American education and seeking examples of literacy textbooks (i.e., "readers") in our historical collections;
- A researcher seeking a photograph of the first principal of New York's P. S. 47 School for the Deaf (founded in 1908);
- A student in the Teaching of Social Studies program looking for writings on the use of mock trials in high school classrooms;
- A faculty member researching the question of altruism and helping behaviors among older people;
- A doctoral candidate requesting assistance in reviewing the literature on school transformation--causes/motivators of it, its purposes and goals, and types and forms of school transformation;
- A student seeking guidance on the subject of academic pushdown in kindergarten and its effects on children;
- A Barnard College student researching the history and politics of teacher unions, and the impact they've had on public education;
- A student in Columbia's Graduate School of the Arts, Creative Nonfiction Writing Division, seeking research assistance on the history and fate of "precocity" in children, specifically the evolution of gifted education programs in schools, particularly in New York City.
Although many of these topics reflect a degree of historical emphasis, we in research and information services are routinely presented with questions pertaining to applied psychology, health sciences, and all of the other disciplines represent in Teachers College programs.
In addition, a good deal of what we handle falls under the various categories of troubleshooting, walking users through the steps, putting out small fires, etc., and some of these are described in my post on our Fall 2011 activities, at http://gottesman.pressible.org/refman/research-information-services-statistics-and-highlights-fall-2011
. For my own part, I find the diversity among types of service sought, and the relative unpredictability of when and how they'll come to us, among the most attractive parts of the services mission. Our work is rarely dull, there's almost always detective work to be done, and the gratification of connecting our users with what they need is more than reward in itself.