Oh, Wonderopolis! (or how I use a site intended for children to make college students better searchers)

by Carrie Dunham-LaGree

I’ve written here about how much search fascinates me and my personal devotion to A Google a Day. As an academic instruction librarian, I’ve had some success incorporating these quizzes into instruction, but often the savvy students stumble upon an online forum with the exact answer without going through the steps. Lately, I’ve turned to Wonderopolis to inspire search topics for instruction sessions. Wonderopolis bills itself as “a place where wonder and learning are nurtured through the power of discovery, creativity and imagination.” The target audience for Wonderopolis isn’t college students, but I’ve had good luck incorporating the site into library instruction session. How?

Continue reading

I wanna hold your hand

by Amy Barlow

Big news for two-year colleges: The New Community College at CUNY (NCC) is ready to open its doors on August 20, commencing its mandatory bridge program, which will prepare its first class of freshmen for their fall semester. Last week, the New York Times Education Life section ran an exciting story that highlighted CUNY’s experimental approach to community college education. The plans include:

  • A mandatory, non-credit summer bridge program.
  • An inflexible First-Year Experience curriculum, with flexible scheduling options (choice of either a 6 or 12 week “semester”).
  • Full-time enrollment status for all freshmen.
  • No remedial (e.g. developmental) coursework as prerequisite to college-level classes for students that test below Basic Skills Assessment cut scores. Continue reading

Why Use Reference Books?

by Emily Hamstra

When I was in high school, one of my favorite books was M. C. Strong’s The Great Rock Discography. From The Great Rock Discography I learned how different bands were connected, which albums to listen to, and which albums and bands to skip. It was the age of dial-up internet, and I built a record collection using a reference book and my parents’ expert knowledge.

In instruction sessions I often teach undergraduate students about reference books. When I ask undergraduates what they think of when they hear the word “encyclopedia” they often say, “Wikipedia and World Book.” This gives me an opportunity to tell them about the fabulous world of subject encyclopedias. I explain not all encyclopedias provide us with general information like World Book does. So often in first-year classes students are just getting a grasp of a particular concept or topic for the first time. They don’t always need to use an article database to find the latest article on metaphysics. Sometimes what they really need is an encyclopedia article from the Encyclopedia of Philosophy on metaphysics explaining the main concepts, arguments, major scholars, books, and articles in the field. Just like I needed those foundational albums to start my record collection, students often need a subject encyclopedia to find the foundational elements of the topic they’re researching.

Continue reading

Undergraduate Library: A Day in the Life

I’m Emily Hamstra, Learning Librarian at the University of Michigan’s Shapiro Undergraduate Library. I support student learning and engagement through developing meaningful instruction sessions and collections. No day at the library is ever the same for me, so here is a snapshot of one day at the Undergraduate Library.


The Librarians’ Forum meets monthly to discuss issues the latest issues facing University of Michigan librarians. Sometimes these meetings are focused on campus issues, sometimes they are focused on issues that affect the library profession as a whole. This month the meeting was about different publishing initiatives in the library and on campus. Representatives from Deep Blue (University of Michigan’s institutional repository), MPublishing (University of Michigan’s publishing department, a department of the library), Open.Michigan (open access educational resources created at the University of Michigan), and HathiTrust spoke about how they support the University of Michigan campus and scholarly publishing. There was a lively discussion and donuts.


Once I’ve cleared out some email, I get started on an order for the Undergraduate Library’s leisure reading collection. I maintain a large leisure reading collection. All books from this collection are purchased through a local independent bookseller.

Continue reading

Private Academic Library: A Day in the Life

picture of CarrieHi! I’m Carrie Dunham-LaGree, the Librarian for Digital Literacy and General Education at Cowles Library at Drake University. The primary focus of my job is information literacy instruction. I teach one course a semester, and I love the opportunity to work closely with students for an entire semester. In the fall, I teach a First Year Seminar. In the spring I teach a two-credit Information Literacy course. I’m developing a new information literacy course on documentary films for Drake’s first J-term in January 2013. I also coordinate all of the library instruction for the First Year Seminar program and serve as the liaison to the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. How does that all fit into a typical day?

Continue reading

Community College Library: A Day in the Life

by Amy Barlow

As evidenced by our banner, the authors of Chasing Reference will follow reference and information trends, each of us writing from a unique professional point of view. I’m Amy Barlow, a Reference and Instruction Librarian, and I’ll focus on community college librarianship.

Don’t fret: You will not get stuck reading long, boring commentaries that defend publicly funded two-year institutions. The worst that can happen is a short, boring commentary.

My day in the life post will not make sense if I chronicle a real eight-hour day. As a member of a tiny library staff, professional roles often blur, leading to wildly unpredictable days and nights. A big-picture To Do list is a much better reflection of my role on campus. Like Temple Grandin, I think in pictures.

thinking in pictures

  1. The web-scale discovery project: Connecticut community colleges and state universities are getting together to request funds to purchase a shared discovery tool. I’m on the task force. Disclaimer: We do not endorse Summon, nor does Summon endorse us. I (not my real name) just needed an image.
  2. Choice magazine: I indulge in collection development on Fridays, as a treat.
  3. Dressing for success: I spend a lot of time searching for unobjectionable blazers. Doesn’t this one make me look fierce?  (Thank you, Emma Stone, for looking a lot like me, only way prettier and much younger.)
  4. Situational irony: When I try to teach students how to find good books in the stacks, they often tune me out, selecting the books that they want, and reading them.
  5. Sketches and poems: During the spring semester, I preside over a popular poetry contest at the college. I use the contest as an excuse to make drawings and use desk-top publishing software.
  6. One Book, One Campus: This semester we’re all reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I host a Reader’s Circle Series.
  7. Info Lit: I spend a lot of class time showing students how to identify common features on websites. They need to recognize the features in order to cite websites as sources of information. It’s dull work when you do it every day, but I finally found a way to use the time wisely. I take screenshots of favorite blogs and mark-them-up in class, so that I can catch-up on my reading while students learn to cite sources. It’s a win win.

(Image sources: 1. University of Michigan Libraries; 2. Choice; 3. “Under Cover” at Vogue; 4. QVCC Website; 5. Personal copy; 6. Oprah.com; 7. Screenshot of The Man Repeller.)