Archive for the ‘Research Services’ Category

More NC flowers

More NC flowers

Digging beyond the usual sources for liaison and business librarianship research as I continue to catch up on professional reading. Might post one more of these recaps before summer is over but I promise to do something different in the next post.

Today’s readings:

  1. Teaching Business: Looking at the Support Needs of Instructors
  2. What We Talk about When We Talk about Quality: A Librarian and Instructor Compare How They Assess Students’ Sources
  3. Teaming up to Teach Teamwork in an LIS Master’s Degree Program
  4. Complexities of Demonstrating Library Value: An Exploratory Study of Research Consultations
  5. Making Cents: Librarian Ca$hing in on Financial Literacy
  6. Coping with Impostor Feelings: Evidence Based Recommendations from a Mixed Methods Study


Teaching Business: Looking at the Support Needs of Instructors
Kurtis Tanaka and Danielle Cooper
Ithaka S+R, December 2019

A useful summary of trends. Much focus on case studies and data literacy; little on community-engaged experiential learning/consulting projects.

“The project was undertaken collaboratively with research teams at 14 academic libraries in the United States and we thank those institutions and their researchers for partnering with us.” One of those teams include BLINC member Danielle Colbert-Lewis from North Carolina Central University, whose study is posted here. Business librarians Natasha Arguello (UT San Antonio) and Anthony Raymond (Santa Clara University) also contributed (among perhaps additional business librarians I don’t know of, my apologies if so).

The report identifies four key challenges:

  1. Identifying appropriate course content
  2. Finding, accessing, and working with data
  3. The promise and peril of learning technologies
  4. Concerns over [about] costs

So not very different from other subject areas except maybe for the data part?

Some of the writing is a bit trite: “Hundreds and thousands of business schools mean a lot of business instructors and business students teaching, learning, and in need of support.” But it gets more useful, for example: “Business education often incorporates dynamic pedagogical approaches such as technological experimentation, partnerships with industry, and collaborations with diverse communities.”

Also significant:

“Because business schools often position themselves as the producers of the business leaders of tomorrow, business pedagogy also places a strong emphasis on developing both leadership and teamwork skills, though developing a curriculum that teaches both “hard” and “soft” skills, and in the right balance, is often a challenge.”

The long section on data (starting on page 26 of the PDF version) covers both data provision and data literacy. “Unfortunately, just because data is publicly available does not necessarily mean it is easy to find or that government websites are easy to navigate.” Very true. The frequent challenge of academic access to industry data is covered too. The section ends with a discussion of instructor needs in mastering Python, R, and Tableau.

This report would be particularly useful for aspiring business librarians preparing for their first interviews.


What We Talk about When We Talk about Quality: A Librarian and Instructor Compare How They Assess Students’ Sources
Elizabeth Pickard and Sarah Sterling
Collaborative Librarianship, 12(1), 2020

“This case study explores and compares how a librarian and an instructor evaluated the quality of bibliographies students produced for the instructor’s class.”

The authors are an anthropology librarian and anthropology instructor from Portland State University. They have worked together for a while. The study “involves an ethno-graphic analysis of librarian and instructor’s notes and dialog surrounding a review of the quality of sources in students’ bibliographies.”

The literature review covers how instructors and librarians can define information literacy differently [assuming instructors use that phrase– see the Ithaka S+R report above]. “Quality” in cited sources has also been defined in different ways. Some instructors and librarians prefer “authority” and now the ACRL Frameworks come up, since it argues that “authority is constructed.” Therefore librarians and faculty might assess student work in different ways. “If the librarian guides students to certain modes of evaluating and selecting sources and the instructor values and practices other modes, the students’ work could suffer…”

The authors examined and ranked student citations from Anthropology 350: Archaeological Method and Theory. The authors also wrote up their own evaluations and analysis of their thought processes. Finally, they recorded their conversation about the process and coded all of that data and text.

Examples of differences in assessment: “two of the most frequently applied indicators were only applied by the instructor, namely, ‘topic specificity’ and ‘style/formatting’, and another was only applied by the librarian: ‘variety among databases used’.”

So a recommendation from the authors: discuss your assessment factors before the semester begins. In their conversation, “thoroughness” emerged as a “key element” but that too can be defined differently. Many paragraphs follow on this topic as well as what each author considers when examining the text of an article a student cited.

The authors also debated the meaning of “academic” sources. The professor “thought of ‘academic’ and ‘from the library’ inter-changeably” while the librarian used ‘academic’ and ‘peer-reviewed’ inter-changeably”.


Teaming up to Teach Teamwork in an LIS Master’s Degree Program
Lauren H. Mandel, Mary H. Moen, & Valerie Karno,
Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 15(2), 2020

The authors are professors at the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island. “Collaboration and working in teams are key aspects of all types of librarianship, but library and information studies (LIS) students often perceive teamwork and group work negatively.” Heck yes, I remember that! And I have observed that attitude sometimes from UNCG LIS students.

Not only is teamwork essential within most libraries, librarians also partner with teaching faculty. Public and academic business librarians partner with stakeholders in community economic development. Most of our business students in research-heavy classes are working in teams. So we need to understand the team experience and environment to serve those students well.

The authors examined 39 classes with student evaluation of teaching (SET) data and also interviewed alumni concerning how their MLS education prepared them for teamwork in the workplace.

“The majority of interviewees recalled enjoying the social aspects of working in teams the most: meeting new people, forming lasting personal and professional relationships, collaborating, sharing ideas and perspectives, and appreciating others’ strengths.”

From the conclusion:

“LIS schools can follow the lead of the business management field that has specifically researched how to teach teamwork…Taking an active role in teaching skills in scheduling, time management, personal accountability, and peer evaluation may help overcome the limited way this LIS school is currently teaching teamwork.”

The authors recommend requiring peer evaluations more often. They trialed the use of team contracts.

Networking only comes up briefly. That’s a missed opportunity – I’ve talked to LIS students and early-career professionals who don’t know how to network or (worse) think networking is a dirty word, something that only icky business people do. Collaboration can be central to both networking and teamwork though.


Complexities of Demonstrating Library Value: An Exploratory Study of Research Consultations
Angie Cox, Anne Marie Gruber, and Chris Neuhaus
portal: Libraries and the Academy, 19(4), 2019, 577–590

“As academic libraries explore their connection to student success and how library staff spend their time, it is important to understand how research consultations influence academic achievement.”

The authors work at the University of Northern Iowa. In the first two paragraphs, consultations are described as “time-intensive” and “lengthy” and so I wonder if the liaisons were challenged to justify the time spent on consults.

From the 3rd paragraph:

“This investigation also aligned with perceived pressures, internal and external, to demonstrate the value of academic libraries beyond traditional inputs, such as gate count, reference transaction numbers, and collection statistics”

Lengthy consultations have rarely been studied in or with learning analytics, in contrast to more general (and shorter) reference transactions. This study focused on two questions:

“Will students who participate in library consultations have higher overall semester GPAs than students who do not? For specific courses, will students who meet with a librarian have a higher course grade than other students from the same class who do not?”

Research consultations were defined to last 20 minutes or longer. “Librarians conducted a typical reference transaction prior to recruitment.” That’s interesting to me since scheduled consults with a liaison and unscheduled student visits to a liaison (bypassing general reference services) are the norm in my library, certainly in my case.

Identification data was collected for each student in the consults following IRB protocols. A class in social work and another in family services resulted in many consults. The data analysis focused on these classes. Students who did not seek out consultations were also considered.

There were 126 total eligible participants. Lots of demographic details are provided but all the students were undergraduates. “Participants were more likely female and slightly more racially diverse than the overall student body.” And more likely to be full-time students and students who live on campus.

GPA was indeed higher for the students who had (sought out) a consultation. Within the social work and family services classes, “63.6 percent of participants [in the consultations] received a letter grade of A for the course, while only 28.6 percent of nonparticipating students earned an A.” Other analysis of grades and GPA produced similar results.


“Students who are already likely to succeed may more likely avail themselves of library consultations. Even if the explanation is simply that motivated students more likely seek help, it still underscores that meeting with a librarian is a positive academic behavior.”

The authors note with caution the small sample size and discuss other limitations of the research. But their work provides a good model for further investigations.


Making Cents: Librarian Ca$hing in on Financial Literacy
Alyson Vaaler & Jennifer Wilhelm
LOEX 2020 breakout sessions

Alyson and Jennifer are business librarians at Texas A&M. This looked like a fun and engaging talk as well as a different take on the subject compared to other financial literacy talks I’ve seen. The two embedded videos still work. Don’t overlook the slide notes. Audience feedback is still available https://padlet.com/asvaaler/finlit. Based on a recent article in Reference Services Review.

Instructors invited the librarians to do a workshop with an undergraduate money education class. The instructors were interested in “how market research relates to advertising and consumer spending.” From a list of six financial lit competencies, the librarians decided to focus on the last one, “financial decision making.”

In the workshop, the librarians demonstrate the ubiquity and wide impact of advertising on our brains. They used two Super Bowl ads to ask what can make an advertisement successful. (LOEX participants did this work too.) Next the librarians illustrate the high value (i.e. expense) of market research via the commercial price of a full Mintel report.

One big goal of market research is market segmentation. We see examples using the ESRI’s Tapestry Segmentation product as well as screen captures from one of the Super Bowl commercials. The second ad was banned in the UK, which leads to a censorship and social justice discussion with the students. The students then analyze and discuss the segmentation strategies used by a couple of print ads.

In additional to being an important topic, this looks like a fun workshop to facilitate.

(The LOEX 2020 offerings include “Building a solid structure: Blueprints and tools for a sustainable and strategic IL program” by Graham Lavender and Emily Funston. Emily is a business librarian at Seneca College. Their materials are posted at https://bit.ly/seneca-loex.)

(And there’s a program on teaching anxiety that I might reflect on later in a post. Is anxiety doubled when the teaching topic is advanced subject-specific content? Liaison implications?)


Coping with Impostor Feelings: Evidence Based Recommendations from a Mixed Methods Study
Jill Barr-Walker, Debra A. Werner, Liz Kellermeyer, and Michelle B. Bass
Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 15(2), 2020

The authors are health science librarians from different campuses. They conducted a survey (with qualitative responses) of fellow health science librarians but all types of liaisons can learn something from this paper. The focus was on coping mechanisms.

Newer health science librarians had higher rates of impostor syndrome that more veteran librarians.

External coping strategies that involved other professionals – “such as education, support from colleagues, and mentorship” — proved more effective than internal strategies like reflection and mindfulness.

Since external strategies are most effective in resisting impostor syndrome, professional organizations can be very helpful in these efforts. The authors recommend that organizations expand their mentoring programs.

The authors compared the rates of impostor syndrome among the health science librarians they surveyed to that of previously surveyed academic librarians. Since many health science librarians don’t have academic degrees in the sciences, there is a hypothesis that the health science librarians would suffer more from impostor syndrome. That provided not to be the case, “suggesting that the current study’s findings around coping strategies are broadly applicable across the academic librarian community.”

The article also includes a discussion of whiteness culture in libraries as a potential cause of impostor syndrome, but then they write that their study “did not show differences in impostor scores by race or gender.” So a second surprise.

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Another NC flower hopes you are having a good summer

Another NC flower hopes you are having a good summer

Today’s selections:

  1. Are my LibGuides useful? Usability testing on business LibGuides
  2. Embedded librarians as providers of knowledge services
  3. The state of academic liaison librarian burnout in ARL libraries in the United States
  4. Laying a foundation for library liaisonship: A business librarian case study
  5. Reinventing an online business research course
  6. Company research strategies for entrepreneurship: What to do when NAICS/SIC fall short

Here they are.


Are my LibGuides Useful? Usability Testing on Business LibGuides
Nataly Blas
Academic BRASS, Vol 14 (1), Spring 2019

Blas (Loyola Marymount)  conducted a usability study to “determine how useful Loyola Marymount University’s (LMU) Business LibGuide is for answering basic research questions in business, specifically basic company and industry research.”

Blas recruited five students to talk through two tasks: “locate two databases for company information” and “locate two databases for industry information.” She describes her methodology as “low-cost” and “low-time” while still providing useful results.

As you can see at http://libguides.lmu.edu/business, Blas’ LibGuide includes a “Most Useful Places to Search: Business” box. Most of the students used that box to complete the two tasks. The LexisNexis (NexisUni now) Company Dossier was the most popular selection. Blas provides additional analysis and ratings from the five students.

Blas ends this short article with confirmations that, yes indeed, students scan pages, not read them. She confirms that database descriptions are used by students and so should be displayed. 


Embedded Librarians as Providers of Knowledge Services
Anna Pospelova, Rimma Tsurtsumia, and Margarita Tsibulnikova
portal: Libraries and the Academy, 18(4), 2018: 651–669

Here is a Russian take on the “e” word. The authors are two librarians and a professor of engineering/environmental management at Tomsk Polytechnic University in Siberia. Focusing on so-called expert librarians providing research support for faculty, this article “proposes that embedded librarians have the potential to become providers of knowledge process outsourcing for their institutions.” Outsourcing here means doing some of the research work that the professors usually do themselves. 

Favorite line from the lit review: “[Liaisons] must be knowledgeable, confident, proactive, and politically savvy.”

The Obruchev Scientific and Technical Library at Tomsk Polytechnic began its “Expert Librarian” project in 2015. It’s goal: “provide complex information support based on worldwide print and electronic resources for research groups, departments, university staff, and PhD students.” 

The project coordinator worked with the library director to compare subject librarians to “embedded expert librarians” (see the table on page 656 if you have access to this journal). The distinctions are interesting. For example, while the subject librarian supports requests from anyone on campus working within a certain field, the embedded expert librarian only works with the “supervised institute”. The subject librarian “fulfills basic library functions” while the other kind is “embedded in the scientific process of the assigned institute”. The former is passive while the other is proactive and “searches for collaborative partners”.

[So I think you can sense an effort to create a cultural shift in this library. Embedding in research teams also has been an emphasis at some UK universities, while many US-based embedded librarians seem to focus on student learning and success as well as faculty research.]

The project coordinator and library director identified 14 tasks to get engaged with the assigned research institutes. One service I hadn’t seen before: “Organize literature exhibitions based on the scientific and educational activities of the institute”.

Each embedded Interaction with researchers was tracked and then compiled quarterly by the project coordinator. The main activities of the expert librarians were “consultations (individual and group), subject searches, and journal and conference searches.” Researchers filled out a form to request the librarian run a literature search for them. 

The experts created an online competition on scholarly e-resources. One question was “What e-database got its name in honour of the hamerkop, which has excellent navigational abilities?” (answer below). 

In 2017, the university reorganized from seven institutes to ten schools. Additional expert embedded librarians joined the project to reach all the campus units.

Late in the article, the authors write that “the Expert Librarian project is now mainly noncommercial and focused on supporting research activities within the university. The next stage may be to offer outsourcing services to third parties on a commercial basis.” And in the discussion section, there is a paragraph explaining the “willingness-to-pay concept.” 

So did the library get payments for the work of the expert librarians? If so, did the librarians get some of the money? There are no details about this. Curious.

Answer: hamerkop is Scopus umbretta, a wading bird.


The State of Academic Liaison Librarian Burnout in ARL Libraries in the United States
Jennifer Nardine
College & Research Library News, 80(4) 2019

Nardine is the Teaching and Learning Librarian and Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech.

Key finding: “lack of personal agency is the primary contributor to a sense of burnout.”

Studies of burnout among liaisons have been rare. Questions she wanted to explore with this study:

  1. “How well do the values of liaison librarians correlate with the values of their profession?
  2. How pervasive is moderate to severe burnout in this population?
  3. How do self-identified primary role and level of seniority affect burnout?
  4. How does service time spent as a liaison affect burnout levels?
  5. How does service time spent at an organization affect burnout levels?
  6. Is there a gender effect on liaison librarian burnout?”

Nardine collected 176 completed surveys from liaisons at ARL libraries. She reported that much of the data defied her expectations. Among her findings: The roles of liaisons (collections, instruction, other, etc.) didn’t seem to matter much. Liaisons in middle management positions — not front-line liaisons — reported the highest level of burnout, while liaisons in senior roles reported the least. 

Burnout over time as a liaison fluctuates — not a clear pattern. Burnout seems to drop as liaisons get closer to the end of their careers.

There was no significant difference between male and female liaison burnout.

Nadine concludes:

“Based on the initial findings it appears that, while under significant workload and with a low sense of fair treatment, liaisons are well-matched with their chosen profession in terms of worklife scoring regardless of gender, service time as a liaison, service time at a specific organization, self-identified rank, or self-identified primary responsibility or role.”

However, “liaisons experience significant levels of Emotional Exhaustion and Depersonalization across all examined variables”. Increased emphasis on quantitative outcomes and assessment might be part of the problem. Work demands need to be better connected to “core liaison and librarian values.” 

Nadine’s findings seem to indicate that we need to resist the urge to predict patterns in liaison burnout. 


Laying a Foundation for Library Liaisonship: A Business Librarian Case Study
Stephen Fadel
Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, 24(3-4), 2019, 75-95

Fadel is a “newly hired business liaison Librarian” at CSU Monterey Bay. The article describes his work to learn about the campus, business school, business research tools available, and the existing library instruction program. He created a “Liaison Information Document” as a blueprint for planning and engagement, making this article useful for both new liaisons as well as any liaison beginning work at a new campus. 

It’s also useful to prepare for the common interview question, “how would you go about learning about the academic departments and programs you would be serving if you were hired here?”

In the discussion section, Fadel evaluates the resources and information-gathering strategies he used.

Fadel discovered that there was a big opportunity to expand liaison services to the  MBA program. Regarding library databases, he concluded that “Coverage of company and industry information was strong, while other subject areas were weak.” [That subject concentration seems to be common when business research needs have not been reassessed in a long time.] Meanwhile, the library offered little for the many marketing majors. 

The article ends with the template for the Liaison Information Document for possible reuse by others.


Reinventing an Online Business Research Course
Willow Fuchs
SLA Business and Finance Division: 2019 Posters

The posters from this SLA division are worth a look each summer. Fuchs (University of Iowa) participated in an “intensive 8-week faculty development program” called Design4Online to improve her existing one-credit course. Goal: create a class experience based on the “Community of Inquiry model” (a cite for that model is provided).

Fuchs wrote learning objectives based on Bloom’s Taxonomy and added associated assessment tools and learning activities. The course pages [I think in the CMS] were changed to include “clearly defined sections” and icons for user-friendly modules. 

Engagement changes included adding an “orientation module –with student icebreaker,” having shorter video lectures, adding discussions, adding “short quizzes after each video,” and scheduling reminders each week.

The changes were effective. Fuchs wrote “The added assessments have given me additional ways to evaluate how students are progressing and what changes need to be made to make the course go more smoothly in the future.”


Company Research Strategies for Entrepreneurship: What to do when NAICS/SIC Fall Short
Tim Tully
Academic BRASS, Vol 14 (1), Spring 2019

Let’s close out this post with some more Academic BRASS. Tully (San Diego State) turned this article into a roundtable discussion at SOUCABL but I was hosting a competing discussion and so missed his. 

As most of you know, NAICS and the old SIC code systems have their limits when you need to research innovative business ideas or very specific ideas. Tully provides examples from the infamous 339999. Meanwhile, many large companies offer diverse services and products that often are not fully covered in databases that only list a handful of industry codes when many more are needed.

Tully describes four alternative strategies and resources to try when the NAICS code falls short. He also provides a useful example of using each one. His suggestions:

  • Exhibitor Lists and Membership Directories
  • Advanced Article Searches – Trade Publications, Local Business News, and Buyer’s Guides
  • Specialized Directories (Both Print and Online)
  • Consumer Review Sites

I might work some of Tully’s strategies into my entrepreneurship research class next year. Good stuff.

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Earning our place at the table (cover slide)

Earning our place at the table (cover slide)

Thank you to SEFLIN and Florida Libraries Online for the opportunity to talk about a favorite topic, and to the attendees for your interest, questions, and interesting ideas. I hope this session was worth your time.

Here are my slides: Earning our place at the table: What librarians need to know to support entrepreneurship and economic development

Ginny Sterpka, Community Based and Creative Placemaking Programs Manager at Creative Startups, and I coordinated a bit on our content. Ginny spoke after my talk. Julie Brophy (Baltimore County Public Library) and Wesley Wilson (Enoch Pratt Free Library, Maryland State Library Resource Center) concluded the conference’s economic development track. Some of the planning group members of the ELC 2020 have worked with Julie and Wesley, and I look forward to learning from them as well as Ginny this afternoon.

Below are links included in my slides.

Toane, C. & R. Figueiredo. (2018). Toward core competencies for entrepreneurship librarians. Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, 23:1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/08963568.2018.1448675  [Longer summary of this article (scroll down to #4)]

Learning more & support list:

Research tools illustrated or mentioned:

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NC summer flowers

NC summer flowers say hi

Summaries (and some opinionated reactions) to articles and blog posts. Mostly recent stuff, but maybe some older things too since I’m trying to catch up from not having much time for professional reading last summer.

This week’s selections:

  1. “Moving from collecting to connecting: articulating, assessing, and communicating the work of liaison librarians”
  2. “Networking, not a four letter word”
  3. “Help! I’m new to licensing and don’t know where to start”
  4. “Knowing when to cry uncle: balancing instructional initiatives”
  5. A reference librarian working from home”

Here we go.


Moving from collecting to connecting: Articulating, assessing, and communicating the work of liaison librarians
Nancy Kranich, Megan Lotts, Jordan Nielsen, and Judit H. Ward
portal: Libraries and the Academy, 20(2) 2020, 285–304.

The authors are liaison librarians at Rutgers. (Nielsen, the business librarian, is now at San Francisco State University.)

Longtime readers (the two or three of you) of this 9-year old blog might remember that I used to post extensively about our liaison reorganization. While redefining liaison roles was in the mix, we focused on how liaisons should be organized and led to accomplish those revised goals. Those organizational and leadership aspects remain frequently missing from discussions of liaison trends. Refreshingly, the Rutgers librarians do write about both liaison roles and organization. 

Although not emphasized in the article, staff reductions were also drivers of their change. It seems that Rutgers resisted the “functional liaisons only” model that libraries at Guelph and U. of Arizona tried out in response to downsizing. (See this slide deck, part 4, for details on Arizona’s experiment including its return to subject liaisons.) Instead, Rutgers adopted a more nuanced approach. 

Case study #1 is an example. The library lost its liaison to the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences with its 6,000+ students (so it’s not just business librarians who serve as lean liaisons!) A team of subject and functional liaisons started working with this school. The liaison team partnered with the experiential “Social and Cultural Aspects of Design” class, in which the students provided strategic planning consulting for the science library. 

Another case study described the impressive outreach work of Nielsen to the local entrepreneurship ecosystem. He provided market research workshops with the Small Business Development Center, which led to his engagement with the new cross-campus Entrepreneurship Coalition.

This article includes a detailed and useful lit review. 


Networking, not a four letter word
Nancy Lovas
Biz Libratory

As I told Nancy, I love her title. Professional networking is certainly something I did not learn in library school (and that’s my fault). Lovas emphasizes: “the best networking is instead humanized by genuine interest in the other person’s professional work. The best networking is building relationships” [emphasis mine]. Give this post a read, it’s not long. 

The three creators of this blog recently pushed the story of its origin at Academic BRASS: “The BizLibratory: Collaborative Blogging for Professional Development and Networking.” Each wrote a paragraph about the impact of their blogging on their careers and their building of professional relationships.


Help! I’m new to licensing and don’t know where to start
Breezy Silver
Ticker: The Academic Business Librarianship Review, 4(1), 2019.

As Diane Zabel writes in “A Ticker Refresh”, this open access journal has relaunched with additional categories. The editorial board has expanded, recruited from the ABLD. 

This article is the first for the “Tips” column. Whether you are officially responsible for licensing, or if you sometimes need to work with the vendor and your licensing expert to influence the process, Silver provides helpful recommendations and insights. 

Regarding licensed business content, Silver writes:

“Business resources and database licenses can add their own challenge, since many come from companies in the corporate arena, and they do not translate well to academia and our needs. Some companies are so new to academia that they do not know that academia uses resources differently than the corporate world. That means the licenses may need some extra work to make them fit our needs.”

Silver addresses “academic use only” issues that can be tricky to interpret with student and faculty commercialization projects, as well as specific aspects of trying to license datasets. In the “Access Methods” section, she emphasizes that licenses can protect the library’s interests as well as the vendor’s. 

The article ends with negotiation tips:

“Do not be afraid to negotiate and do not automatically accept any terms or prices. You will be amazed what you can get just by asking. Vendors are not our enemies. They are trying to sell a product, and as an employee of an institution, you must be a good steward of resources that benefit your users. You can work together to find some mutually beneficial ground.”


Knowing when to cry uncle: Balancing instructional initiatives
Angie Cox, Jim Kelly, and Chris Neuhaus
C&RL News, Feb. 2020

A 3-page editorial. The authors, the instruction librarians at the University of Northern Iowa, created a one-credit info lit course called “Beyond Google” intended for lower-level undergrads. Creating and teaching it was time consuming of course but the class became “very popular with students and advisors.” 


“with only three library instructors, the course never reached more than a small percentage of the student population. The instructors teaching Beyond Google were getting burned out as their one-shot teaching load remained unchanged even with their added Beyond Google assignments” [emphasis mine, also below].

What could the librarians do about this problem? 

“So we did what the organization hadn’t done in years — we stopped doing something: we stopped offering Beyond Google.”

Nice introduction! I really like practical and honest case studies like this.

The class featured complex and variable learning options and evaluation techniques, which apparently prevented other librarians from volunteering to teach additional sections, and prevented use of Blackboard modules to facilitate efficiency. Eventually the instruction librarians hired a temp librarian for one semester solely to set up Blackboard. Sounds like they focused more on trendy learning strategies rather than sustainability but maybe that’s too harsh.

As with other one-credit IL classes, many seniors who needed one more credit to graduate also took the class. The mix of students made it harder to teach. 

The library pursued some strategic planning in 2017. Everyone reported that their work was vital and needed to keep doing it, but were overworked and needed more support. Retirements and a new associate university librarian provided an opportunity to rethink reference and instruction. The instruction librarians considered how to reach more students with info lit instruction across campus. They decided they couldn’t do that while still teaching “Beyond Google”:

Ah yes: “We realized, at last, that sustainability was just as important as innovation.” The instruction librarians instead began to work on easily customizable modules that could be used in many subject areas. They utilized Credo IL modules and LibGuides.

From the conclusion:

“A system that keeps adding new initiatives without routine program assessment and services realignment can have a negative impact on employee well-being, morale, and productivity. A successful organization finds a balance between risk-taking and program management that allows for sustainable innovation.”


A reference librarian working from home
Iris Jastram

Despite mainly working with patrons who rely on physical collections, Jastram from Carleton College writes:

“One thing that’s struck me, though, is how completely similar my work as a Reference Librarian During Pandemic Times is to my work as a Reference Librarian”

Her users (especially faculty and upper-level students) often ask about texts only available in one specific special collections library elsewhere in the world:

“So then we’re back to the conversations that are actually familiar even while feeling strange — those reference interview questions that are intended to help you and the researcher figure out what the goals of the information need are, and whether those goals could be accomplished with materials that are accessible. And if not, what are some accessible materials that are sufficiently interesting and similar that if we adjust the goals slightly the researcher could have meaningful work to accomplish.”

Continuing to be able to provide effective reference interviews is “comforting in a world that feels pretty chaotic and uncertain.” Her post is comforting and reassuring too.

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spring flowers in NC

May flowers in NC

This summer I hope to post summaries and responses to interesting professional reads. I didn’t make time for that last summer. While cleaning up notes and un-posted fragments for this blog, I re-read three works that remain interesting.


For vs. With: Approaches to Librarianship
Hedgehog Librarian (Abigail Goben)

Goben is co-creator of the ACRL Research Data Management RoadShow Curriculum and her blog is very interesting. In this post from late 2017, she describes “a division of approaches to librarianship, liaison work, and tackling new projects” that can be summarized as the “doing things for” approach and the “doing things with” approach. She favors the “with” approach: 

with implies a collaboration, requires more interaction, and integrates the librarian as a team member and as an educator. It is what I see as a more appropriate fit for academic librarians.

As librarians expand their competencies and services (for example, into data management or other functional liaison roles), the “with” approach supports scalability. This is where this blog post gets really interesting especially for already over-extended liaisons. 

It’s not a long post so I will ask you to go read it if your interest is piqued at this point. Be sure not to miss Goben’s funny but also revealing conversation recap. Shiny new things and a servant mentality, a potent combo. 

Meanwhile, there are lots of business librarians charged with providing a full suite of liaison skills and services to 4000, 6000, and even 9000+ students on their campuses. No exaggeration. Last Friday, Ilana Stonebraker, chair of BRASS, organized and facilitated a discussion of six business librarians who work alone within their library system to cover a large number of students and faculty. Opportunities for student and faculty success go unmet due to an impossible workload, while other types of library positions are growing in number in many libraries. 

One librarian in our discussion group is responsible for 40% of the students and faculty on her campus — but there were 4.5 other instruction librarians to cover the remaining 60%. WTF? Do the leaders in that library and others like it really care about student success? It’s hard to tell. Well, maybe their staffing trends show their priorities. 

Lest somebody think that business students don’t need or deserve equal treatment, I’ll add that the business school student body here at UNCG is more diverse than that campus as a whole, according to official campus stats (one reason we became a minority-serving institution a few years ago). And I think our business student body includes a higher percentage of first gen’s, although I don’t have data to prove that. There are other business schools with similar characteristics, particularly at the regional universities. 

Oh oh, venting now. Time for the next old favorite…


The Weaponization of Academic Citation
Jennie Young, Inside Higher Ed

“Freshman composition programs have done that, and we need to stop it right now.”

I think this post was promoted through the LOEX newsletter at the end of summer 2019. This is an old question, right? And Young links to earlier discussions. However, Young writes “I’d like to take it one step further: I suggest that we stop teaching it entirely.”

She provides four reasons (the bullet points in the middle of the post). The first two resonate the most with me. Lifelong learning, anyone? Nope, not MLA and APA and Chicago. That’s only lifelong learning for future academics. 

And yes, critical thinking and reasoning skills (example, how to make decisions using the data you found) are more important. That and expressing yourself clearly through writing. 

The fourth bullet point is particularly amusing now that APA 7 is out. Hey, but associations need to fund themselves and they don’t just publish journals. 

Strict citation grading does create opportunities for librarians to visit classes, answer references questions, and build learning objects. “How do I cite this dataset or financial report using [this citation style designed for psychology articles]?” the business students ask. And sometimes “citation engagement” leads to deeper engagement with a class. 

That post has 89 comments, whew. Must have touched a nerve. Some are pretty witty. Workload comes up a lot. 


I Went to Hire Ph.D.s at a Scholarly Meeting and Left Frustrated
Ben Dumbauld, “Advice” column, Chronicle of Higher Education

Open access, from last summer. I don’t have a morale or a liaisoning connection to make here but thought it was interesting enough to read a second time this morning. As I’ve written a number of times, I have really enjoyed attending entrepreneurship education conferences and have always felt welcome there (as have other librarians, including ones much younger than me and of different gender identity). But those conferences weren’t focused on research although there was usually a research track.

This ends up a sad piece of writing yet there is some valid pushback in the short comments.

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Summer Krstevska is the business, economics & entrepreneurship librarian at Wake Forest University; she is co-creator of Bizlabratory. Steve Cramer is the business librarian at UNC Greensboro; he writes This Liaison Life. They co-wrote this post, which was published at both blogs.

SC: Summer, how has the transition to working from home going for you? 

Summer Krstevska visiting Steve's workstation

Summer Krstevska visiting Steve’s home workstation

SK: I suppose I had the opposite experience of most people that I work with. Before starting at Wake, for 2 years I worked for National University. National has mostly online classes, and prior to that I worked for an English language learning institute, Education First, where I taught English as a second language from home for almost 4 years (at times full-time, other times part-time). When considering that, the move to online and WFH, really feels like returning to something familiar. I really can’t complain, especially because in this case there is so much additional support due to our current circumstances. Everyone is trying to help each other out and is empathetic, even many publishers are opening-up their resources for free use during this time! The feeling of community is surreal and much appreciated, both within Wake, the profession in general, and between myself and my friends and family. Have you noticed this, Steve?

SC: Yes I think so. Even [that one very annoying business content vendor] has been respectful, ha. My department has been meeting every day for hourly “water cooler” sessions. We use Zoom with its grid view (or the “Brady Bunch mode”, a reference that, yes, dates my childhood). But there is also plenty of stress among many of my colleagues and also lots of students. We have UNCG students who suffer from food insecurity, for example, and sending those students home doesn’t necessarily solve that problem, particularly if they had on-campus jobs that they can’t work anymore. Yesterday I had a consultation in my WebEx office with a UNCG student from Berlin. She is on our golf team and was in Arizona for a big tournament when the team suddenly had to fly back to NC; a few days later she was back home in Berlin with her family, where she struggles to work with her student teams given the time difference. Summer, at National, you primarily worked with remote students. How did that work experience help prepare you for how we are serving our students and faculty in this crisis? Is it any different now?

SK: My previous experience prepared me to be ‘camera ready’. I’m not shy about turning on my camera and pulling together resources (video, etc.) that supports use of our resources. I think the only difference between providing distance services at my previous job compared to now, is that it was the norm and now providing these services comes with so many uncertainties behind it. Policies are changing daily and weekly on what services we’re offering, for example if we’re buying materials or what hours we’re monitoring the chat. But, on the brighter side, the current circumstances also seem to bring an air of empathy. The expectations for our services are reasonable and students and faculty are understanding as we work to figure out what the new normal is. There’s so much messaging around just trying something and that it won’t be perfect the first time, which is completely true.

SC: Yes! Very true. For example, the first day of classes after our unexpected, second spring break, I spent the evening meeting online with each team in our evening executive MBA capstone class, in which I’m embedded as a research consultant. To me it seemed a normal set of online consultations (UNCG has had online programs for years) but the following weekend one of the students emailed me this:

Hi Steve, Thanks for the information and research but more importantly thank you for having the call and bringing some normality to a chaotic week. The casualness that you had for the video portion of the call helped me tremendously for my next online class (Tuesday) where I had to present a case study. It was a very simple thing and something that you are likely very accustomed to but it was pivotable…Thanks again. Your touchpoint was beneficial in getting used to the new normal. Also the information presented was helpful in confirming & expanding our research.

I guess that’s a reminder that we liaison librarians can have an impact on our students beyond just dropping research knowledge, maybe now more than ever. I was happy to get that student email out of the blue. What has surprised you about our new normal so far?

SK: What has surprised me is that I really feel a difference in regards to my physical and mental state. I feel less tired, both physically and mentally. Most days I feel really motivated when I start working. I think I’m better at taking care of myself in these WFH circumstances, not that I’m perfect at it by any means, but I feel a difference, so that must speak to something.

SC: Wow, that’s great. I wish I could say the same! Carol [my wife who is also a WFU librarian] brought home her office chair and now I wish I had done that. But I’m trying a back cushion this week. I certainly don’t miss my 30-minute commute and do enjoy taking a long walk every workday at 5pm. And I do now sympathize more with my colleagues who don’t have windows in their work offices, since I’m working out of our windowless den. So during the work day I frequently step outside for a few minutes of sun. And I’m wearing shorts but also a button-up shirt for classes and consultations.

SK: I too have found that I am much more purposeful in these WFH circumstances about getting outside regularly. I am also more aware of how much (or unfortunately at times, how little) I’m moving my body. I’ve been doing my best to regularly workout at home and go for walks! I am quite jealous that you live in a much more walkable neighborhood than me! There are no sidewalks near where I live, well there are a few but they end abruptly! I feel so lucky to have great windows in my apartment and a small balcony, though our home office has been thoroughly taken over by my husband, who worked from home prior to COVID-19 (completely fine by me, I find I like to change up where I’m doing my work). I do not miss having to spend a good chunk of time in the morning getting myself in business-casual dress for the business school! I’m enjoying wearing my yoga pants with my blouses! It has been a relief of sorts to go to meetings and see everyone, whether it’s my colleagues from the library or the business school or students in a one-shot, in a slightly more casual setting! Despite the crisis and the distance, the feeling of community is strong. We seem to be building a stronger bond as we go through this together and allow each other to be more open and vulnerable.

Steve Cramer visiting Summer's home workstation

Steve Cramer visiting Summer’s home workstation

SC: You mentioned the feeling of community earlier. Probably like many others, I’ve been checking in with some library friends, ex-interns and mentees and colleagues around the country. We are lucky that business librarians are a well-networked bunch and so member-oriented organizations like BLINC, the Entrepreneurship & Libraries planning group, and BRASS are providing opportunities for us to connect and share. Hopefully for our CABAL friends too. Now is the time for liaisons of all stripes to ask their groups and sections to do something to foster online support and community if their groups aren’t already. If not, dump those groups! Find better ones. Or create one with a friend or two. And at the risk of sounding like I’m sucking up, we appreciate your leadership with BLINC in this time of crisis, Summer, thank you.

SK: Thank you, Steve. It really has been so comforting to know that we have these various outlets to reach out to for help and that folks are out there listening and willing to help, I just want to do my part in this sense. I completely agree with you that this is the time for liaisons to take advantage of the connections they have and bring folks together or to use this time as an opportunity to make new relevant connections and offer their expertise. Prior to working at Wake, I did more work that was faculty-facing. There was a much heavier demand on me to work together with faculty to curate course materials, create and collaborate on library instruction videos, and to work directly with instructional designers and IT. Those instincts still exist because when we first were told to start WFH, I reached out to the few instructional designers that our business school has to offer my support in finding course materials. I also had scheduled one-shots prior to the outbreak, so once I started WFH, I reached out to the faculty and offered to go do a live-Zoom session or create some videos to place in their course guides. The timing is perfect because everyone is looking for assistance and is open to trying new ways of doing things! I’ve now been asked to join a team that is developing an orientation course for the online MSM program.

SC: Oh, very cool, good luck with that project! I’m glad your b-school is recognizing (and utilizing) your mad skills. This crisis is hopefully an opportunity for liaisons to get involved with their academic programs in new and expanded ways. “Never let a crisis go to waste” or something. I have heard from a few friends that they and their liaisons haven’t had to work with distance education before and so are kind of scrambling to learn the tools, strategies, and etiquette. From what I’ve heard so far, these are typically flagship public campuses or highly prestigious private schools? But public librarian friends working from home are also now starting to do online programming and consults. What special projects are you working on in response to the stay-at-home order?

SK: I’m currently working to host a book club in coordination with a local non-profit organization in Winston-Salem, called Venture Cafe. This book club was being planned for months prior to COVID-19, and we have decided to go virtual! So, I’ve been spending some time reading the book, Thinking Outside the Building by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and thinking about how I will lead and prompt the discussion in an engaging way! I’m looking forward to discussing Kanter’s theories on social entrepreneurship! I’ve also been working on planning BLINC’s upcoming workshop, I believe it will be BLINC’s first virtual workshop! Unfortunately, I think we will have to shorten our gathering time, just in considering best practice for online conferencing. Typical BLINC workshops take up most of the workday, from around 9am-3pm, and they have a heavy focus on socializing and networking! Somehow, I don’t think 6 hours of Zooming will be as enjoyable, but I’m hoping 2 – 3 hours will be (that’s my initial thoughts as I start planning at least). I’m looking forward to trying out the new format and seeing what others in the group think of the experience. You know that my Research Methods for Entrepreneurs for-credit class ended as usual half way through the semester, before the campus was shut down, but your for-credit class runs through the spring semester. What happened in March and how’s it going? 

SC: So as I wrote recently, I was at SOUCABL (you too!) when everything started going crazy. My class was already cancelled for Thursday, March 12 since I was away at that conference, but we learned by Saturday that all classes were cancelled for the next week to allow students to go home and for faculty to have time to convert their on-campus classes to an online format. We met via WebEx on March 24, our first class since March 10 (and the week before that was the regular spring break). The students all reported they and their families were doing ok, and that they did want to meet synchronously at our normal class time. I was very happy to hear that since real-time interaction with students is maybe my favorite part of teaching. And most of our class periods in April focus on using their new research skills to try solving problems, which best happens through discussion and collaboration. One of the students is in the Army and I was afraid he would be called up, but not so far. He has a baby at home, who he sometimes needs to tend to during class — I wish he would show us the kid on camera! Sounds pretty cute. In our most recent session, one student had a maintenance worker come into his apartment to fix something and as per a new requirement in his complex, the student had to leave the apartment to obey social distancing. So during our practice time, he had to call back into WebEx on his phone while hanging out on his tiny balcony for 30 minutes!

SK: That’s great that they wanted to meet synchronously! I think the students are searching for routine and socialization! We’ve mentioned community a few times already, but it really is so heartwarming that not only librarians are coming together to support one another, but that students, faculty and staff are as well! With these virtual circumstances, I think we all have a funny story of interruptions (pets, spouses, etc) or technical issues that have come up during our meetings or classes! I think these are moments that open us up to each other. We see each other in these situations and we relate easier to one another! I’m glad we’ve gotten the chance to collaborate during this time! Good luck in April, Steve!

SC: Thank you, Summer, you too! Good luck to everyone. 

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This is a follow-up from Monday’s post.

On Thursday morning, Tripp Wyckoff (Florida State) kicked off the main conference day with a thoughtful introduction. Here is a paraphrase based on our collective SOUCABL notes (set up by Nancy Lovas, UNC Chapel Hill, thank you, Nancy):

We need to acknowledge our fear. We are in the middle of something few people ever have experienced. This conference is here for a reason – to help academic business librarians in this region communicate better. After this conference, we need to keep in touch, even if at home, and continue to support each other. Finally, be kind. This is a time when we have to hold together and keep positive feelings.

My favorite programming of the conference were the 20-minute presentations on Thursday afternoon. The 20 minutes included a 5-minute Q/A and each speaker was asked good questions from the appreciative and engaged audience. Abstracts are available but the talks were actually more conversational than many of those abstracts suggest.

Allison Cruse

Allison Cruse

“Hope Is Not a Strategy: Making the Most of One-Shot Library Instruction for Strategic Management Courses,” Allison Cruse, Western Carolina University

Allison is the new business librarian at WCU (and a new BLINC member). Allison discussed having to re-create library liaison contacts and relationships with the business school. Through those efforts, she identified “things I do not recommend”:

  • Trying to do it all
  • Talking theory
  • Placing the focus on tools
  • Making assumptions

Allison views each class session as a marketing opportunity — a chance to demonstrate her value as a liaison, build relationships, and promote library services.

She is doing one-shots in the required capstone class MGT 404 “Strategic Management” class: 440 students in 15 sections. The students create a strategic plan to support a local small business (community-engaged, experiential learning). She is having success encouraging student consultations as follow-ups to her one-shot instruction.

Allison briefly described two classroom active-learning activities she has been using:

  • Brainstorming PESTE factors (environmental is often challenging for students to understand)
  • Dissecting IBIS reports – students find specific data/trends/characteristics for their industry and identify each using a shared Google Document. (Students don’t realize they sometimes should use more than one IBIS industry report.)

One assessment tool she uses is a “Nicolas Cage Scale of Academic Preparedness” visualization. It was hilarious but I can’t find it online. Allison, did you make it yourself?

Allison Gallaspy

Allison Gallaspy

“Business Librarian and MBA Student: Peer and Practitioner,” Allison F. Gallaspy, Tulane University

Allison recently earned her MBA. Her abstract isn’t too long, so I’ll quote it all:

Confession: I failed at getting my group members in an MBA class to cite resources from library databases in a research project. If my role as a peer researcher isn’t enough to get students to see the value in developing good information practice, what does that mean for the work I do as a practitioner? This presentation will describe the assumptions I made about part-time MBA students’ information behavior, attempt to ascribe some motivation to their choice of resources via interviews, and begin to define what good information practice would look like for a part-time MBA student.

In her research study, she asks how effective is the librarian in promoting good information practices among students. What Allison learned:

  • Research practices can vary widely among members of the same group.
  • It’s hard to communicate the value of good research practice when resources are scarce.
  • The students tend to display linear thinking in their information retrieval.

She created a survey and had seven responses. Some of the findings:

  • Students do only enough research to meet the assignment’s requirements.
  • They are constrained by the scarcity of resources for many topics.
  • They have major time constraints.
  • They don’t know where to start their research/which databases to use.
  • They satisfice.

Allison plans to expand this study and would be happy to work with a research partner.

[In the Q/A, I suggested that the problem of MBA students not using much quality research is usually not the fault of the librarian. MBA education can be as much about team training and building a cohort as about learning management theory and skills. In the capstone client class at UNCG, the MBA teams generally don’t include citations in their final recommendations because the clients aren’t very interested in the research – the clients focus on the team’s recommendations. If the client is curious about the research and data, they will ask.]

Amanda Kraft

Amanda Kraft

“Vis-à-vis: Using Springshare Data to Expand and Improve Business Librarian Visibility,” Amanda Kraft, College of Charleston

Amanda is both the business and user experience librarian – a neat combination! Well, maybe too much work… Slides posted at bit.ly/soucablvisavis.

Amanda’s library is at the opposite end of campus from the b-school, but that gives her an excuse to stroll through beautiful downtown Charleston while officially working. (Sometimes it’s really humid though.) The b-school has excellent facilities and so there aren’t many spaces in the library that the business students need. The Starbucks and the quiet zones are exceptions.

Amanda explained their liaison data collection practices, leveraging their 6 Springshare products. She showed us some data. One example was the daily hourly distribution of the students (starting at slide 12). She also presented data on when consultations were scheduled.

Amanda has staffed a table in the b-school and the campus Student Success Center. She discussed data for those outreach efforts too.

Jennifer Wilhelm

Jennifer Wilhelm

“Career Collaborators: Using Library Resources to Help Students Reach their Career Goals,” Jennifer Wilhelm, Texas A&M University Libraries

Jennifer provides a collaboration and outreach success story. From her abstract:

…how an initial collaboration between Texas A&M’s Business Library and Collaboration Commons and the Mays Business School’s Center for Retailing Studies has grown into a robust collection of partnerships. What started as a table at a career fair has grown into workshops, research guides, and presentations, and has expanded to include other career centers and student affairs departments.

Jennifer received her MBA last week. Her library has a goal to support the students’ career searching needs through their entire college journey:

  1. New to this
  2. Continuing their path
  3. Job seeker
  4. Graduate

Her LibGuide: http://tamu.libguides.com/CareerResources

I think Jennifer will be publishing on this work. The business students earn points through workshops and visiting booths at campus fairs. One set of co-curricular workshops with the Career Center failed to attract any students, alas.

I spoke on “What I Learned from Creating a Library-Funded, Cross-Campus Social Entrepreneurship Business Model Competition”. In May, after the competition is (hopefully) finished, I’ll post the full story at this blog.

Catherine Staley (Loyola Notre Dame Library) was going to speak on “Goals, Gifs, and Gaffs: Learning from a Failed Flipped Classroom” but couldn’t make it. Hopefully Catherine will present or write this up elsewhere/when.

Finishing up the day of programming (before the day’s happy hour) was Matthew Pierson, a research director for WRDS. He had 40 minutes to present from a long slide deck on WRDS data trends. We learned right away that most WRDS usage involves CRSP first and Compustat second, together accounting for 65% of usage. The rest of the data usage is a very long tail of datasets.

Matthew also presented data by type of user and access method (example, PC-SAS usage is much higher than using the website). Usage by any access method is highest in the summer.

WRDS is doing more with unstructured data, text mining, too. A WRDS R studio and Jypiture Lab studio are in the works. Eventus has a free equivalent in WRDS called Event Study.

Ernie Evangelista

Ernie Evangelista

In the previous post, I mentioned what happened to the Friday morning plenary speaker. Instead on Friday morning, we first got to hear Ernie Evangelista (Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta) who proved to be an engaging speaker with a focus on audience interaction.

Ernie talked about and quizzed us on the history and roles of the Fed. He reviewed how the 12 Federal Reserve Banks are private and quasi-governmental in nature. Each one focuses on regional data. Industries of focus for each vary by bank too, and we had fun trying to guess certain core industries by location (ex. Native American lands? Construction and home improvement stores? Gambling? Tech?)

We volunteered major data repositories from St. Louis:

Fed sites new to me:

Friday programming ended in late morning with round tables. I led discussions of “Opening the classroom door: stories and strategies for getting involved with business courses and curricula.” Stories from the SOUCABL librarians were not quite what I expected to hear! More on that next time, my final post about this conference.

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Catching up

Sorry about the slow rate of posting this fall. Besides the usual liaison workload, I had three co-writing projects (a book chapter, conference proceeding, and an article still in progress), ELC co-planning (see below), and co-submitting an experiential education program to USASBE.

Some recommended reads since summer:

  • Becoming a librarian for Computer Science by the Pegasus Librarian (Iris Jastram from Carleton College). Jastram has been a primarily a literature and language librarian but writes about picking up this new department. I love how she adopted a subject-centered and student-centered approach to beginning this new liaison work, using the field’s concepts and terminology instead of starting with a more traditional librarian info lit approach. She has also written recently about differential privacy in the Census 2020.
  • Where’d you go, Ruby Chen? by Ilana Stonebraker. Powerful post about caring for the students in your class (or students missing from your class). Congrats and good luck to Ilana on her new position.
  • Lots of good stuff this fall from the three biz libratory authors, including discussions of instruction (one-shot, embedded, and for-credit) plus a guest post on intensive work with data consultations.

Update on the ELC 2020

ELC 2020 homepage snapshot

ELC 2020 homepage: https://entrelib.org/

In late June, I wrote about BLINC being offered the Entrepreneurial Librarians Conference brand and turning it into a new Entrepreneurship & Libraries Conference.

Planning the ELC 2020 seems to be going well. Starting with 8 or 9 BLINC members, the planning group now includes about 20 public, academic, and special librarians from the U.S. coast to coast plus one librarian from Toronto.

We are about finished with the big picture planning. The conference will have two full days (Nov. 12-13) plus a half day (Nov. 11) afternoon preconference (or maybe two) followed by a rooftop kick-off party.

There will be four tracks of concurrent sessions:

  • Community Engagement, Economic Development, & Outreach
  • Instruction & Programming
  • Resources & Spaces
  • Entrepreneurship Outside the Box [the miscellaneous track]

And there will be four types of concurrent programs:

  • Panels & presentations
  • Lightning rounds
  • Experiential instruction/programming exercises
  • Discussion circles

We plan on two hours total of plenary talks/panels, one hour of posters, and several social/networking events plus the Ebsco-funding pitch competition.

The web site will be updated very soon with those details plus the “conference at a glance”. The dates of the call for submissions will follow later this winter.

Planning discussions

The planning group has collaborating through online meetings, emails, and collaborative writing via Google Drive. Two early questions we discussed were:

What makes for a good conference? What specific thing has happened at a conference that you really liked?

After that discussion, we began brainstorming how to design the ELC. As with any good discussion and brainstorming, there were differences of opinion (although mild), ideas mentioned and affirmed multiple times, and ideas only mentioned once.

In the process, we have learned a lot about what entrepreneurship librarians want in a conference plus what training and professional development they need and desire.

What does this tell us about the state of entrepreneurship librarianship? What follows is my take on that topic. These are summaries, of course – not every librarian in our planning group wants the same thing nor thinks the same way despite my use of “they” below. And the sample size for entrepreneurship librarians is small. So grain of salt.

What entrepreneurship librarians want

“Cross-pollination” – interacting, networking, and learning from a mix of special, public, and academic librarians. They don’t want to see entrepreneurship librarians getting too cliquey by type of library.

Emphasis on practical content over research and theory. They prefer practical tips and ideas most librarians could try and implement, not presentations of services that only the most well-funded and well-staffed libraries could provide. Similarly, they want feedback from other entrepreneurship librarians on their instructional techniques.

Content and training useful for all experience levels, including for librarians with no experience supporting entrepreneurship and limited to no knowledge of the core concepts. They asked each other to think of the needs of librarians and paraprofessionals who are asked to work with and support entrepreneurs but are not officially business or nonprofit librarians. But experienced entrepreneurship librarians need useful content too.

A variety of sessions through the day. “Go from a panel to a lightning talk, networking event, to poster session, to an active learning session,” one librarian wrote as a their preference.

Frequent networking opportunities, including mentor-match opportunities. They hope that conferences help build connections and relationships that last well past a conference’s last day.

They want to learn from ecosystem partners and other experts from outside libraries.

They also want to learn more about the information needs of entrepreneurs. What are the pain-points of entrepreneurs? Can the library help with those pain-points? (This was a very popular topic in our discussion.)

They believe in social equity and want to support a mix of entrepreneurs that includes minority, women, and immigrant entrepreneurs. They are interested in helping under-resourced and under-served communities and individuals tap into resources and services available in our local ecosystems.


The process of creating a presentation, book chapter, article, BLINC workshop, or conference can be as significant an experience as witnessing the final product, especially if you meet new people and build connections along the way. That has certainly happened with ELC 2020 planning. At the end of one of the brainstorming discussions, one team member typed:

I am so excited to work with everyone on this.  This conversation has been a highlight of my week–I love how engaged and enthusiastic everyone has been.  One of the best online meetings I’ve attended ever!

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The usual business librarian gang promoting the Charleston Conference wasn’t as vocal in its promotion as in past years, but there were nonetheless even more business librarians at Charleston last week. Advocates of this conference might get annoying on occasion with their gushing praise, but much of their enthusiasm is justified – Charleston is indeed very interesting and useful and packed with learning and networking opportunities.

Charleston Harbor

Charleston Harbor

While some conferences seem to struggle with breaking from strongly held traditions, this conference seems to emphasize continual improvements. For example, the time devoted to plenaries continues to get rolled back. When I first attended Charleston, the plenaries (speakers, panels, satirical skits, etc.) started at 8:30 and rolled on until 12:30 or so. That was so draining! This was back when all conference activities fit inside the Francis Marion Hotel. This year on Wednesday morning (now using the performance hall at the Gaillard Center, a short walk from the hotel), there was a plenary talk by the Internet Archive founder, Brewster Kahle, followed by a plenary panel on scholar communication trends. Then concurrent sessions for the rest of the day. On Thursday, the only plenary was a talk by new Elsevier head Kumsal Bayazit (first female CEO of that company).

New this year was a consultation service for job hunters on Tuesday during the Vendor Showcase. Out this year was the “fast pitch” competition, in which libraries competed for money to try something new at their library. That event was interesting but maybe the donor dropped out. Charleston (and USASBE) are innovative conferences I’m looking at closely as we plan our own Entrepreneurship & Libraries 2020 conference.

My big regret this year is that I never made time (well, played hooky) to put on my walking shoes and stroll down the peninsula past the old houses, gardens, churches, synagogue, and cemeteries to the harbor front.

So here is another long conference review. My next blog post will be different, I promise. I might write about “What entrepreneurship librarians want in a conference” based on our interesting planning discussions so far for the ELC.


Vendor showcase

Mintel's Alison Agnew and Sarah Blaney

Mintel’s Alison Agnew and Sarah Blaney

Carol and I drove down on Tuesday and then visited the Vendor Showcase (the one-day exhibit hall). Every year more business information vendors come to Charleston. One of the first-time vendors this year was Mintel. And each year more business vendors attend the programs (and socials) on Wednesday through Friday. While visiting vendors, I promoted Entrepreneurship & Libraries 2020, since we are interested in partnering with vendors in a few different ways.

ProQuest focus group

I had to leave the showcase a little early to attend a late-afternoon “Juried Product Development Forum” with ProQuest’s Jo-Anne Hogan, who I met at a BLINC workshop two summers ago. About ten of us attended. I sat with Cynthia Cronin-Kardon (U Penn/Wharton) and Corey Seeman (U Michigan/Ross). We didn’t have to sign a nondisclosure agreement since we were not looking at a product under development. Instead, ProQuest asked us to provide context and details for different types of business research that happen each semester on our campuses. After discussing those journal maps, we next designed our own preferred homepage layout for a database that would cover all ProQuest business content. Then we compared our designs. Some of them were quite different, depending on our specific target audience (we were asked to pick one): perhaps first year students writing a short paper, or an MBA team working on its capstone consulting project. I came away from this product development forum with increased awareness of how hard it is for a business vendor to please all of its markets and users. (Jo-Anne told me a day later that she was glad the ProQuest interface expert who was also present at the forum got to hear firsthand from business librarians about our special and challenging needs.

After dinner, Ian Hertz (Winston-Salem State University) and I had a nightcap with our friend Juan Vasquez from SimplyAnalytics.


“Pain Points and Solutions: Bringing Data for Startups to Campus”

Kelly LaVoice (Business Information Librarian for Collections, Vanderbilt University), Daniel Hickey (Librarian for Business & Economics, New York University), and Mark Williams (Head of Collections Services, Massey Law Library, Vanderbilt University)

Kelly, Dan, and Mark provided a fast-paced, slide deck-free panel discussion. They summarized the growth of entrepreneurship and incubators on campuses. As a law librarian, Mark provided a different perspective. He teaches a for-credit class on legal aspects and resources for entrepreneurship. All three discussed the need for datasets and data feeds. Collaboration with other campus units (such as the b-school) for purchasing high end products is often necessary. Consortial efforts, too. Sometimes a resource is licensed only for the business students. Negotiations for academic access can be tricky. “Back-channel discussions” (talking to other librarians) can be a big help.

Best practices:

  • Understand the needs of your users.
  • Work closely with e-resource librarians about entrepreneurship needs.
  • De-silo-ing across campus – get other units involved, sometimes they have funding available.

Key take-aways:

  • Advocate as a team, not as an individual.
  • Build relationships outside of the library.
  • Advocate for academic-friendly licensing.
  • Partner with vendors – a more effective approach than an adversarial “us versus them” mentality.

Q/A topics:

  • Our practices [supporting cross-campus programs; dealing with unusual databases and datasets] will become more common among other subject areas — business librarianship is ahead of the curve.
  • Vendor access to a campus but not to the tech transfer office or incubator? Yes, sometimes.
  • Mintel sometimes collaborates with academic researches, sharing data and access in exchange.

“ ‘I Don’t Want to Go Among Mad People’: Adventures in Establishing Good Communication between Subject Librarians and Technical Service Departments in a Large Academic Library”

 Jennifer Mezick (Collections Strategist, University of Tennessee) and Elyssa Gould (Head, Acquisitions & Continuing Resources, University of Tennessee)

This program was a “lively discussion”, which means 70 minutes with a focus on talking to each other and minimal use of slides. (Most other Charleston slots are 40-minutes long.)

UT Knoxville recently went through a big reorganization. Through focus groups with technical services and liaisons, they learned that communication was a big issue – often inconsistent and uneven. Use of tools (like Google Drive, email, and libguides) varied widely. There was also a lack of understanding of shared goals. Some liaisons thought tech services was too beholden to standards and policies; some tech services folks thought liaisons could get too focused on boutique services, which are sometimes driven by a single patron with an unusual need or request.

Outward-facing liaisons often work with patrons with upcoming deadlines, while tech services may not be feeling that time pressure. And often those liaisons are not in the library when tech services need to talk to them – the liaisons are out teaching in classrooms, meeting with faculty or working in a research center, etc. Meanwhile liaisons are often not aware of the workflows built into tech service operations by necessity. So culturally based miscommunication.

What is working well in the UT new organization? They are working hard to build relationships between departments. Subject group meetings. Holding Acquisitions Department office hours in the main library (that department is no longer located on main campus). Share licensing agreement issues with liaisons. A liaison is serving on a search committee for an e-resources librarian and has learned much about how tech services works. Perhaps a tech services person should serve on the next liaison search committee.

“Bringing Some Stranger Things of Streaming Video up From the Upside-Down World: Research Insights from Faculty and Students”

Christine Fischer (Head of Technical Services and Associate Professor, UNC Greensboro), Michael Carmichael (Head of Visual Media, SAGE Publishing), Elizabeth Ellis (MLIS Student, LIS Instructor, UNC Greensboro), and Dina Samora (Program Chair, Organizational Leadership, Colorado State University Global)

Use of streaming video databases continues to increase in higher education according to many metrics. Key issues: rights, training, and accessibility. UNCG’s assessment team surveyed faculty and students on their use and perceptions of video as a teaching tool. Elizabeth summarized some faculty findings:

  • Video can be a partial solution to lack of literacy skills in students.
  • Gives more control of learning to students.
  • Given the large selection, it can be overwhelming to find the most useful videos in the stream video databases (sometimes the library liaison helps).
  • Lack of stability in the offerings can be frustrating and challenging.

Student findings:

  • They prefer the library databases over consumer streaming services.
  • They appreciate guidance from faculty in finding good video content.
  • They use videos on multiple devices.

Wednesday networking

Sunset view of the Francis Marion Hotel

Late afternoon view of the Francis Marion Hotel

After the streaming video session, I met up with Victoria Poole of Mergent on the roof of a new hotel (a re-developed art deco government building) overlooking the park with lovely views of the rivers and the sunset. We discussed a Carolina Consortium deal we are working on and also the ELC 2020.

Next was the ReferenceUSA happy hour for business librarians. InfoUSA’s Jeremy Groen and Jeff Jones have organized this event at the Victor Social Club for several years now. They kindly welcome other business vendors too. Sorry, I forgot to take a picture (too busy socializing).

Some of the folks left this event for the all-conference reception at the aquarium that ended the day’s activities.


The morning keynote/defense by the new Elsevier CEO was interesting but I’m sure Library Journal and other pubs will cover her talk. She was a good speaker.

“A New Sense of Campus Privacy? Are Libraries Out of Step?”

Reverse direction from the above

Reverse direction from the above picture (from our hotel room)

This provocative program began with Darby Orcutt (Assistant Head, Collections & Research Strategy, NC State University Libraries) challenging us to reconsider some old traditions in libraryland.  He argued that libraries sacrifice improved services and usability with our “knee-jerk, holy grail” attitude toward privacy. (Yes, this was an opinionated introduction, but the two other speakers got into specifics.) Our users face much bigger issues in their lives that strict library privacy: high drop-out rates, increased tenure costs, high student loan debt, discrimination and institutional racism, etc. Can we use library data analytics to better support students? Other academic units on campus try to do that. Darby asserted that our devotion to extreme privacy represents a generational, white, privileged, and Western (individualism) mindset that has dominated libraries for too long. Interesting, I would like to hear more about that.

Doreen Bradley (Director of Learning Programs and Initiatives, University of Michigan Library) discussed how a few years ago her campus began utilizing “learning analytics in all directions” to support the students – but the UM libraries were not. The librarians were not at the table supporting this student-centered institutional goal. So they decided to get involved, using campus and IMLS grants to explore how the libraries could support learning analytics. They updated the library privacy statement, adding  “…may collect some data to improve services.” She argued that library data is indeed an institutional asset. The library analyzed the library data of HAIL Scholars (high-achieving, low-income students). After instruction session, HAIL Scholars engaged with the library at twice the rate of all students. UM students can now get their checkout history, for which they have been asking for years, according to Doreen.

Stopwatch Session 3: Faculty & Researcher Services

Thanks to my short attention span, I like lightning rounds. I presented one once and it was hard to be so concise! These folks did a good job, though. Here is one summary from this session.

“Adventures in Streamlining Research Data Services: Through the Looking Glass of an Academic Library’s Data Services Team”

Brianne Dosch (Social Sciences Data Librarian, University of Tennessee – Knoxville)

Brianne is a new librarian. She is also the Psychology liaison. To better serve data services on campus, three functional and subject librarians — Data Curation Librarian, STEM Librarian, and Brianne — recently formed a data team. The team members represent two departments in the library. The campus also has a business librarian who provides data services, but that librarian isn’t interested in joining this team yet.

Challenges in team formation: different levels of knowledge, skills, and length of tenure at UT; the different definitions of research data services; the need to learn much more about RDS needs across campus. The team is working on environmental scans (chat transcripts, reference transactions, lit review, existing UTK library assessment).

“Leading from below: Influencing vendors and collection budget decisions as a subject liaison”

Min Tong (Business Librarian, University of Central Florida), Cynthia Cronin-Kardon (Business Reference & Resource Development Librarian, Lippincott Library at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania), and me

Cynthia Cronin-Kardon and Min Tong

Cynthia Cronin-Kardon and Min Tong

We facilitated this lively discussion on one aspect of serving as liaison. The discussion had good turnout, about 30 folks including many business librarians and also vendors (not just business vendors) plus a smaller number of e-resources and collection development librarians.

Our discussion questions included:

1. What are your biggest challenges in terms of content, pricing, and licensing when pitching a new subscription ?

2a. If you are a subject/liaison librarian: What other strategies do you use when you are pitching to your decision makers?

2b. If you are a decision maker: How can your subject librarians better communicate and work with you?

2c. If you are a vendor: How can you better assist the subject librarian with making their case to the decision maker?

3. How can we influence vendors about product development, pricing, and licensing as subject librarians but not budget controllers?

4. How else can librarians and vendors work together?

from our lively discussion

from our lively discussion

Ideas and comments from the small groups:

  • Translate library language for vendors. Translate business language for other librarians.
  • Vendors: share your academic customer list. That helps liaisons show that your product and its licensing has worked for other campuses.
  • Vendors, please don’t directly contact faculty, unless it is a very specific interaction. Work through the liaison instead.
  • There can be tension between social science, humanities, and natural science liaisons. It’s useful to have collection development heads who aren’t liaisons and therefore would be more neutral.
  • The lack of standard usage statistics (like COUNTER) for specialized products can be a challenge. [Cynthia, three vendors, and I talked about this last year.]
  • Vendor webinars during a trial period help make the trial more useful.
  • It can be really challenging to be in a sales role! Sometimes librarians don’t realize that. Vendors “lead from below” in their organizations as well.
  • Sometimes looking at the licensing before negotiating access and pricing options helps.
  • It’s hard for vendors to understand the workflows and processes that go on in libraries, and who is involved.
  • Librarians need to value the expertise of vendors and be generous with feedback.
  • Make sure communication goes in both directions.
  • Some vendors have business librarian advisory boards. Those are useful.
  • Some vendors don’t have a dedicated academic sales representative. Liaisons can tell when a vendor understands the academic market.
  • If vendor recognizes a problem and reports to their boss, there may not be much impact. But if librarians complain, the impact is much greater.
  • Pricing: flexibility is vital. Total campus FTE is not the only option. Consider just the b-school population, for example.
  • Tie a resource request into campus wide initiatives and goals.
  • Seek alliance among other subject liaisons for products with broader appeal.

Stopwatch Session 5: Collection Assessment

“Of Database Assessment & Budget Increases: A New Data Management Strategy”

Anna Milholland (Business Librarian, Raymond A. Mason School of Business, William & Mary)

Anna is a former BLINC member and now a CABAL officer. I enjoyed catching up with her in Charleston. Anna is based in and employed by the business school but liaises with the main W&M library. The budget for business databases comes from the b-school and has increased. [Later I told her I was jealous.]  The school wanted a reassessment of the mix of databases available, and wanted to consider more than usage statistics. So Anna benchmarked other business schools with similar rankings. She adopted a 75% threshold for the benchmarking: if 75% of peers subscribed, then her library should also subscribe.

Anna also mapped the curriculum and considered faculty research trends, interviewing the majority of the professors. To help manage this data, she applied some marketing concepts. I’ll quote from her abstract here to ensure I represent her short talk correctly:

By applying the Marketing concepts of Points of Parity (POP) and Points of Difference (POD), benchmarking database subscriptions, mapping them to the curriculum, aligning data sets with faculty research expertise and institutional strategic strengths, and socializing decisions with key faculty and administrative stakeholders, librarians at institutions of varying sizes can confidently add new resources, feel empowered to replace underutilized and undervalued subscriptions, and effectively advocate for budget increases.

Anna, your talk would make a good article.

“Wait, I don’t just become CEO of a Fortune 500 Company? Helping Students’ Gain Foundational Skills for the Academic to Workforce Transition”

Lauren Reiter (Business Librarian, Penn State University Libraries), Corey Seeman (Director, Kresge Library Services, University of Michigan), Jason Sokoloff (Head, Foster Business Library, University of Washington), and Kristi Ward (Director, Library Editorial, SAGE Publishing)

Kristi moderated this panel and asked a series of discussion questions.

What resources and approaches are needed to support essential skills in the workplace?

  • Not just books and journals!
  • It’s not just business students using business content – example, cross-campus entrepreneurship.
  • Many students are now creating their own job, not just wanting to join a large company.
  • Soft skills are very important too.
  • Many students are aware they lose access to database after graduation. Increased demand for databases that alumni can use.

Entrepreneurship and soft skills development?

  • Students often want to create a local, small business, not just venture capital-funded enterprises with a goal of going public.
  • ENT + Engineering: much collaboration across campus.
  • Campus commercialization endeavors also contribute to library business needs.

What are current business library opportunities and challenges?

  • Students [and faculty] want everything but we don’t have unlimited budgets.
  • Library culture can be the biggest barrier to supporting our patrons — example not supporting a database that requires users to create a personal account.
  • Providing access for multi-location campuses.
  • Academic-use only licensing considerations.
  • A true entrepreneurial idea should be an innovative business model and product or service. Therefore there will be no directly relevant secondary data and reports.
  • Dealing with ambiguity and proxy data (the next best data) is an important learning outcome.

How do business librarians handle assessment and ROI, given there is much competition for business resources as well as changing student needs?

  • Evaluate overlap.
  • Trying to find a proxy for the missing data.
  • Cost per use. But usage calculation varies for less traditional databases.
  • Track research questions – often suggests a new trend.
  • Importance of learning how to deal with ambiguity in b-school curriculum.

Trends in placement?

  • Consulting continues to be big.
  • But more students are pursing non-traditional roles: small business, nonprofits — types of organizations that don’t come to campus for interviews (unlike the big consulting firms).

“The Future of Subscription Bundles: Big Deal, No Deal, or What’s the Deal?”

By this point on Thursday, I was getting tired and so my notes are brief for this one. Beth Bernhardt (Oxford University Press) read a short opening statement from Tim Bucknall of UNC Greensboro, who couldn’t make the conference. Tim lamented the increasing number of sweeping and factually incorrect statements from library deans lately. He provided some examples from within the Carolina Consortium, comparing a couple of crazy comments (no names mentioned) with the actual data. These deans seem to be out of step with the big deals their libraries are participating in. As transformational deals increase in number, accurate data and facts are vital as we explore these new deals.

Other comments from this session:

  • “Open access is free like free puppies.”
  • “Our choices not limited to “grow big deal” or “cancel it.””

Whew. Carol and I had a late afternoon break before enjoying a lovely Lebanese dinner with Kathleen Gignac from Gale Group.


Friday is a half day at Charleston. It begins at 8:30am with the “Long Arm of the Law” plenary, one that many folks really look forward to each year. We learned about the newest (or old ongoing) legal cases and trends involving copyright, fair use, and publishing. It always ends with one lawyer and the whole librarian crowd singing a legal parody pop song. Really!

Stopwatch Sessions 7: Scholarly Communications

Final set of lightning rounds. I found these two the most interesting.

Carol Cramer, WFU

Carol Cramer, WFU

Carol Cramer (Head of Collection Management, Wake Forest University) discussed “What We Can Learn from the Big Deal that Never Was.” WFU has all but one of the biggest big deals. The price increases of that missing publisher have been higher than that of the other publishers. Journals from the missing publisher dominate ILL requests and requests for individual subscriptions.

Adam Blackwell (Project Manager, ProQuest) discussed “Your IR is Not Enough: Exploring Publishing Options in Our Increasingly Fragmented Digital World”. He began with a story of faculty members in Germany who initially were interested in talking to him about a digitization project. Then those faculty learned that ProQuest is a for-profit company and they all canceled. With that context in mind, Adam discussed the value of having one’s dissertation in the big ProQuest database as well as in one’s one institutional repository. Benefits include better Google Scholar indexing, quality assurance, backups on secured servers around the world, and indexing (depending on subject) in databases like PsycInfo, MLA, etc.

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Elizabeth Price works as the Business Librarian at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. She is always eager to embrace opportunities that involve travel and is up to 30 states and 17 countries. She’s an active member with the Special Libraries Association and the Capital Area Business Academic Libraries group (CABAL).

The Municipal Library of Prague features Matej Kren’s Idiom, a tower of books that seems infinite because of the mirrors inside - perfect for a librarian selfie.

The Municipal Library of Prague features Matej Kren’s Idiom, a tower of books that seems infinite because of the mirrors inside – perfect for a librarian selfie on our side-trip.

Embedded librarians, by definition, take their information expertise out of the library. 1 In spring 2019, I stretched the bounds of embeddedness across the Atlantic Ocean by accompanying a group of 30 business majors on a semester-long study abroad in Antwerp, Belgium.

I ended up learning so much from this experience that will affect my work as a business librarian and as a supervisor of student employees. It helped me understand much more about what students know, what they don’t, and what they most need — beyond basic help in citing sources (which they really need). While this experience might be atypical or even impossible for some business liaisons, I think there are applicable lessons to share.

First, a little background about the program. My institution, James Madison University, offers the Semester in Antwerp program three times a year. Between 30-35 students take part each term. The cohort takes four business fundamentals courses — finance, management, marketing, and operations — that are taught by faculty from the University of Antwerp or Antwerp Management School. The fifth course is a business elective, European Business Environment (COB 301), that is jointly taught by a European-based lecturer and an instructor from my home institution called the Faculty Member in Residence (FMIR). That was me. 

JMU students toward the Port of Antwerp, which is the second largest container port in Europe.

JMU students at the Port of Antwerp, the second largest container port in Europe.

All full-time faculty and administrative personnel with teaching designation can apply to serve as an FMIR. The FMIR’s role is to lead, advise and support our students living and studying in the city abroad. FMIRs handle administrative coordination between local faculty, the program coordinator in the host country, and the program directors back home. Unlike other study abroad programs, Antwerp FMIRs aren’t required to propose/teach/recruit for a course of their own design. Instead, they are responsible for grading 50% of student work in COB 301, largely projects related to our field trips and a weekly reflective journal.

That’s the role I signed up for, though it didn’t begin to describe all of the work I had to do during my 13 weeks abroad. Among the “other duties as assigned”: 

  • Carry a program phone with me at all times; answer student texts at — seemingly — all hours. (At one point, this led to a discussion of the inappropriateness of texting your FMIR at 5 a.m. with the question: “What time do I need to be up?”)
  • Attend all field trips to ensure students represent our institution appropriately and to help them connect those experiences to course content.
  • Mentor students about how to network and conduct themselves in professional settings. (Highlights of lessons imparted: Don’t write or draw immature things in swag notebooks and leave them at the firm; Don’t converge en mass on complimentary snacks like a pack of ravenous dogs; Don’t show up to morning field trips smelling like what you did last night.)
  • Lead weekly program meetings and organize weekly dinners with rotating group leaders.
  • Discipline students for unprofessional, unsafe, or academically unethical behavior.
  • Navigate student welfare issues such as homesickness, roommate feuds, dealing with a foreign healthcare system, group dynamic difficulties, alcohol misuse, and travel woes such as stolen phones (8 in total) and misplaced debit cards (4).
  • Keep financial records and program receipts; withdraw and disperse weekly stipends to 30 students; oversee two student assistants.
Antwerp Central Station is frequently ranked among the most beautiful in the world

Antwerp Central Station is frequently ranked among the most beautiful in the world

Does it sound like a ton of work? It was. But there were perks. I had the opportunity to audit the COB 301 lectures to learn the history of the European Union and how that government body impacts the business landscape. I also got a peek into a fantastic array of organizations through field trips to NATO headquarters, the European parliament and commission, a London-based asset management firm, the Antwerp diamond district, a fashion house, a major pharmaceutical company, and a family-owned chocolatier and craft brewery. (The latter had a great library-related origin story about how the founders searched through libraries and archives for a recipe thought permanently lost.) I was able to ask questions at these visits about the information skills the organizations need in new hires and how they manage their corporate research centers and/or archives. (The asset management firm had a fabulous presentation from the corporate archivist about the company’s history that really surprised the students.) 

I was able to read the students’ weekly reflective journals and witness what they were learning, even if sometimes they didn’t realize the full implications. And mentoring students — especially in the informal conversations we’d have about leadership roles, career opportunities and measuring success — was incredibly rewarding. 

Being embedded with a group of 20-year-olds for four months revealed tons about their communication patterns, technology gaps, and research skills. I struggled to get them all to utilize the program’s Facebook group — they definitely prefer information via text. They AirDrop one another constantly and memes are their common language. A few students bristled when faced with a LockDown Browser that wouldn’t let them use CTRL+F to search their lecture notes for an open-book exam (Quote: “We’ve never had to find information another way!”) 

JMU student attempts to make the signature Antwerp Chocolate Hand at a local chocolatier.

JMU student attempts to make the signature Antwerp Chocolate Hand at a local chocolatier.

Yet for being constantly connected to their phones, several had no idea they could register for classes using a mobile device instead of their laptops. Only a handful had used our institution’s library resources to do research during their college careers. I took for granted that they’d understand that “current” information meant articles published in the last two to three years. Only one group presentation among the five I observed in their marketing class did APA citations or appeared to have gathered data from scholarly journals. And the laziness of some students’ information gathering could be astonishing at times. I eventually enacted a zero tolerance policy for misspelling the name of an organization we visited in their learning journals.

But the research trend that concerned me the most? Students’ expectation that all of the information they need will be given to them. Early in the semester, they rarely conducted research before a field trip. I think of how often I perform pre-research in my work-life and wonder about how to instill its value. I know they eventually will learn that walking into a client meeting blind is a major no-no. But I think we can do more as librarians to urge students to pre-research and to encourage faculty to value it. 

Students were able to tour Bloomberg’s London headquarters thanks to a JMU alumnus who works there.

Students were able to tour Bloomberg’s London headquarters thanks to a JMU alumnus who works there.

Yet for every perceived #researchfail, I found plenty to celebrate. I began rewarding students who asked thoughtful questions on field trips and was impressed by their astuteness by semester’s end. I think assigning each student team to curate five internet sources about each field trip and share them to a Wakelet helped them become more engaged. One night, a group texted me about getting free dessert in Budapest after writing TripAdvisor reviews of the restaurant (we had done an exercise scrutinizing reviews for their usefulness before writing our own about an Antwerp museum). I urged them to use LinkedIn to research the professional guests at our etiquette lunch and arrive with at least two questions to ask. Lastly, I had the students collaborate on annotated bibliographies to prepare for their fashion district and Port of Antwerp tours and the subsequent case study presentations. Although students often groaned about these assignments, a few ultimately recognized their value. They might have only said that in hopes of a better grade, but I still plan on counting it as evidence that I taught these 30 students that Information has Value

My experience abroad was exhausting, enlightening and edifying. I gained significant insight into the corporate world through field trips and the courses I audited, learned more about the unique challenges of the Gen Z student experience in a culture that is Permanently Online, Permanently Connected (POPC), and gained empathy for people in new surroundings and the culture shock that ensues. It was tough to be away from family, in a place where I didn’t speak the primary language, and where even everyday tasks like grocery shopping or banking had a learning curve. Sometimes it was difficult to know whether the students were learning anything from me or from their academic experience. Even after being back for a few months, those doubts emerge. So I read through a few of the students’ reflection essays from the end of the trip and I always come back to my favorite one:

“My view of America changed a little because of this experience. I learned that two big arguments against American politics are that we have to pay a ton for our education, and ‘if you get cancer in American you will die if you don’t have a lot of money.’” (Belgian guy, De Prof, 2019).

The citation wasn’t perfect, and according to APA guidelines about in-person interviews, not even technically required. But the fact that the student attributed a conversation from a bar to support his point encapsulates our semester together. I truly couldn’t be prouder of how much we learned from one another.

  1.  Shumaker, D. (2012). Embedded librarian: Innovative strategies for taking knowledge where it’s needed. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

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