Distance Library Services Conference

This is a guest post from Mia Breitkopf, a member of Cohort 2 of the Design for Learning program, reporting back from the conference she attended as one of our scholarship recipients.

With the amazing funding support from D4L, I was able to attend the 17th Annual Distance Library Services Conference in Pittsburgh, PA, April 20–22. First of all, it was the best conference I’d ever attended. (Well-run, great location, interesting people, good sessions.) More importantly, though, my experience there helped me set goals for my new job, and helped me understand some of the current issues critical to providing distance library services.

Some background

I’m new to my job. At the end of October 2015, I joined the faculty at The State University of New York’s College at Brockport, near Rochester, NY, as the library’s first-ever Online and Hybrid Learning Librarian. Though I’ve spent the last four years thinking about online learning in higher education and for adults, I am new to librarianship—this is my first library job, and I finished my MLIS degree in 2013. My college is just starting to delve into the world of distance learning.

The conference

The conference attracted a few hundred people, mostly librarians, who are involved with library services for students who study at a distance. I attended several sessions, and a workshop.

My pre-conference workshop with Amanda Albert, Finding the Missing Piece: Communicating Library Value to Complete the Assessment Puzzle was a great way to kick off my learning for the conference. It focused me on how important it is to understand the stakeholders in my library’s support of online learners. It also helped me start thinking about how I should be figuring out and communicating the value of our library’s support for online learners. Amanda took some exercises from Megan Oakleaf’s Academic Library Value: The Impact Starter Kit, which is now sitting on my desk, ready for summer reading.

My big takeaways

Being new to distance librarianship, one of my biggest takeaways included the essential idea that services for distance students will sometimes differ from services for online students—in important ways. These days, many students are taking online courses even when they are enrolled in a fully or partially face-to-face, campus-based program. Students who are taking online courses and never come to campus ever, or during the duration of a particular semester, are distance students.

These students have unique needs for availing themselves of interlibrary loan, borrowing physical media, and understanding how to access the library services available to them. Because they are essentially invisible, and the library is essentially invisible to them, the library has to be strategic about supporting these students. Another takeaway from this conference is that communicating with and targeting marketing directly towards these populations should be an essential part of my job.

My next steps

I got back from the conference ready to set some goals based on what I learned.

My long-term plans for the next year or so include :

  • doing a needs assessment of online learners at my college. Understanding their needs will allow me to communicate them internally at the library, and ensure we are providing the services they need, as well as services for the instructors who teach them. It will also allow me to…
  • develop a communications and marketing plan to make sure students and instructors know about these services.

In the shorter term,

  • I want to use the ACRL standards for distance learning library services as a guide, and educate my colleagues at the library the essentials—what our library needs to be doing for distance students.
  • I want to send direct communications (probably emails) to online students in the fall, pointing them to library services designed especially for them.
  • I also plan to send direct communications (again, probably emails) to instructors of online students this fall, letting them know about the library services for distance and online students. In order to do this, I’ll need to have some productive conversations with my fellow librarians. I’ll need to make sure I understand the full array of services available to our online students, and get my librarian colleagues’ support and help in crafting the messages.

I’m hoping to be able to look back at the end of the summer and see how attending this conference kickstarted a bunch of valuable projects, and made a real difference in the lives of the students and faculty I support.

About Arden Kirkland

Arden Kirkland is an independent digital librarian, providing consulting services for digital collections and online learning. Her years of work in higher education have included a focus on students’ active participation in the construction of multimedia digital collections. Other recent projects include ArtOneida.org, HistoricDress.org, and work on the Capability Maturity Model for Research Data Management. Find out more about her work at ardenkirkland.com.
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