California State University, Long Beach
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Got Library Questions? CSULB Website Has The Answers

Published: March 15, 2012

In this age when many people instinctively go online to find information, traditional libraries can seem old-fashioned. But Tracey Mayfield, CSULB’s new associate dean of the University Library, rejects that notion.

“Books aren’t going anywhere and that’s what amazes me. You hear people say, ‘Why do we still need a library because we’ve got Google Scholar and other sources?’ I will tell you, and the research literature backs this up, that the more electronic things become, the more people need help sorting through all the stuff they find.”

Mayfield has been with the library since 1999 and continues to serve as the human development subject librarian in addition to taking over administrative duties after the retirement of Henry DuBois. One of the challenges facing Mayfield and library Dean Roman Kochan is ensuring that the library continues its essential role in student success, even in this fiscally difficult time.

One way they’re doing that is through a new software package that began running on the library website in fall to help patrons navigate the facility’s services. When members of the CSULB community go to www.csulb.edu/library, they now see a little sticky note illustration in the left column that says “Got a Question?” Clicking on it takes them to the “Got Questions? Get Answers?” page powered by LibAnswers, a product of Springshare LLC, which also provides the library’s LibGuides subject guides.

“The ‘Got Questions?’ service operates on a couple of different fronts,” Mayfield said. “The first thing is a massive database that CSULB librarians spent the entire summer populating with the basic questions we get at the reference desk or at some of our service desks, such as ‘What are the hours you’re open? Do you have textbooks? Where are the bathrooms located?’ These aren’t necessarily the in-depth scholarly things, but things we get a lot.

“So, if someone types in ‘I need to know what the hours are,’ an answer automatically pops up if it’s in the database. Part of it was, how are the students going to ask it vs. how do the librarians think of it, so we tried to hit it on multiple fronts. So, ‘What are your hours?’ and ‘What are the library’s hours?’ are subtle differences, but it gets asked both ways. It takes you to the actual answer in real time and it’s right there from any computer.”

The beauty of the “Got Questions?” system is in the many ways users can access it. “They can type in their question, they can text it, they can tweet it and, of course, they can call us,” Mayfield said. However, “The biggest thing we’ve had to deal with is when students think they’re going to text or tweet, they’re going to expect an instantaneous answer. This is not necessarily instantaneous because this is completely run by the librarians. It’s not what we consider a 24/7 service,” but the librarians can check it any time, even in the middle of the night.

Librarian Joseph Aubele is coordinating the system and can answer questions or forward them to a librarian on the next shift who can do so, Mayfield said. Librarians working on the reference desk can answer in real time and can add new questions and answers to expand the database.

Aubele also coordinates a related service, the QuestionPoint information chat program on the main “Got Questions?” page, which is contracted for all California State University campus libraries through the CSU Chancellor’s Office and has been available for several years.

CSULB librarians monitor QuestionPoint four to six hours a week. “The other times, it’s done by a consortium of not only other CSU libraries but other academic libraries across the country,” Mayfield explained. “It’s literally a 24/7 service. Users can log in and type their question and somebody pops up and says ‘Let me get you that answer.’

“If it’s our student logging in and the librarian is in Arkansas, they look at our website and say, ‘You need to go here, here and here.’ If it’s a question that the librarian in Arkansas can’t answer, they shoot it to our coordinator and he will either answer it or send it to the correct librarian to answer it. But that may take awhile and if it’s 2 a.m., then it may take some time.” One way or another, users get a response either directing them where to go on the CSULB website or that a CSULB librarian will get back to them.

QuestionPoint’s availability makes it easier for students and faculty who are working late into the night or even from overseas to find library resources, whereas the “Got Questions?” service is meant to handle the internal CSULB family, Mayfield said.

Tracy Mayfield
PHOTO BY VICTORIA SANCHEZ
Tracey Mayfield

“Got Questions?” generally received four to six questions a week in its first semester, which pleases Mayfield, who hopes it takes off as more people become aware of it.

Users can get answers by clicking on a word or phrase on the page’s tag cloud—a box full of topic words. “Then there are lists of featured answers, most popular answers, most recent answers and the other places you can get help,” Mayfield said. “Everything is in one place, which we really like. Once we make the e-mail migration in spring, we’ll ask for a generic library help address that will go directly into the “Got Questions?” service as well.”

Meanwhile, Mayfield and the other 15 CSULB librarians are busy offering a variety of additional assistance. “We know we hit about a third of the students, but that means we’re not hitting about two-thirds of the students with our services,” she said. “We do about 600 one-shot instruction sessions with students and faculty a year. We have about 8,000 reference desk interactions with people a year, but that’s still not everybody.”

They also host drop-in workshops and longer interactive sessions in the library’s classrooms, and also hold paper-writing clinics at the Writer’s Resource Lab.

And, because faculty can’t always devote an entire class period to a librarian presentation, the library offers individualized course guides and instructional videos that the library makes using Jing video capture software. The video script also is accessible for visually or hearing disabled individuals.

“So much of what we do is hands-on,” she said. “You can show somebody in real time how to get through a database like ABI/Inform or LexisNexis, or you can try to write a guide on it,” which is less effective. “We’re trying really hard to bring those research guides up to speed and show them how to search the catalog in a specific discipline or for a specific class—how to search the databases, how to do citations. One of the best examples is our style manuals guide. There’s general information on citing—‘How do I cite correctly? What types of things should I include?’ There are videos embedded into it.”

She said there also is a section on using citation generation software that automatically inserts citations into papers. Students may love it, but it’s a bane for librarians and faculty because the software often adds erroneous or unsubstantiated sources. That’s why the librarians hammer into students the importance of checking sources and avoiding plagiarism.

Mayfield noted that student questions have both increased and become more complex. “Instead of ‘How to I get to a web page?’ it’s ‘How do I tell the difference between something that’s scholarly or not? How do I tell when I’m going through Google Scholar, what are the things that I can get to without having to pay for it?’

“That’s what we show people. There’s a difference between using one of our databases where you can limit just to scholarly, peer-reviewed materials vs. going into Google Scholar, which has ‘scholar’ in the name and yet users have to pay for half the things. We’ll tell them, ‘You don’t have to pay for anything. You have us get it for you from another library using one of our interlibrary services. You don’t have to pay for information—that’s why we’re here,” she said.

“That was one of the things that I was most proud of in ‘Got Questions?’ We were bringing up a new service when, like everybody else, we’re facing budget cuts, and have been for the last few years. I was incredibly proud that with Dean Kochan’s vision the library is becoming ever more user-friendly and geared to meet student and faculty needs.”