iLOVE welcomes a guest post from Kristy Raine, Reference Librarian and Archivist at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, IA.
In the early-2000s, my campus’ library began its consultant program, pairing staff with academic programs and departments. Most of us, at the time, were “humanities kids,” literature and history types. As we divided up responsibilities, someone had to take the business department. Knowing the gaping hole in my knowledge about the field, I volunteered to assume the role, a “baptism by fire approach,” as my mother would say. A decade later, I am still working with business students and have seen several changes in the department, including two thriving graduate tracks (MBA and MSL), now accounting for almost 250 students.
Our campus is commonly known as a “nursing school,” but we have twice as many students in business. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including a high volume of adult students working on a Bachelors or Masters’ degree at night. We also have a significant number of adjuncts teaching night courses, many with long-term associations to the campus, implying they know my role with the department and that library services are available for them and their students. My usual, shameless approach to ingratiating myself with an adjunct is to help with some task and then ask if his or her students will also need to know the same process. If so, how about letting me come to class to show them how to find a company report? Search a subject in one of our databases? Find a book in the collection or compare company financials? It’s a slightly wicked way to step into a class, but nonetheless, has started many nice relationships with faculty. Most are quick to acknowledge that they needed help, and in turn, students should ask for help too.
As the web continues to promote content that passes as “business research,” we keep pulling our students back to subscription databases that offer them reliable options. We know the Internet is not a level-playing field. Explaining that reality with a CRAP test or your favorite, similar mechanism can be a healthy wake-up call for students at any point in their journey. At times, I feel like a lawyer, cross-examining a witness, asking him/her to explain one’s reasoning and why a website appears in their source list. However, if this grilling makes them reconsider using commercial content (aka “garbage”) for a class assignment, I am delighted. This phenomenon of poor resource choices exists across the spectrum of students and courses. Giving students hands-on activities that evaluate web content continues to be a part of my work, with the idea that we move from simple to complex situations, all the while applying the same criteria to the evaluation. I’ve seen graduate students laugh at my declaration of a “CRAP test,” but those same students then struggle to explain why a website should or should not be used in a formal writing situation.
Our library also has a second sword to bear -- APA style. The business department mandated (some years ago) that it would be the standard for citing. Some instructors are highly familiar (and talented) with the conventions, given their own research. Some have a general sense of the structure, and others have no clue as to the mechanics. Despite this variety of scenarios, students are told to use it, even though many receive no guidance in class as to why we use it, what it looks like, what the components mean, etc. How do we face that mountain? Some years ago, our library designed our own APA guide, a blue handout that remains the library’s most popular offering for academic support. We take it with us to class visits, share it online, and promote it with faculty. We offer class visits specifically to give practice with citing, explaining how it works, and answer questions whenever they come in person, by phone, email, or chat. We’ve recently expanded our APA offerings to include instructional videos, sample papers, and advanced help with more complex scenarios.
I am no master of APA, no matter how often I hear that comment. I’ve practiced it for years, sometimes believing I can see it in my sleep during spring paper rushes when a hundred or more students ask for a second pair of eyes with a references list. This fall, I decided to make sure that our upperclassmen could prove they “knew” APA. Confident, this group of seniors was excited when I declared that we’d be doing an activity called the “APA Olympics.” I noted that there would be no partial credit, no second guesses, and prizes for the top three teams (medals, you know). Following three blistering rounds of heading hurdles, a citation marathon, and an in-text citation relay, I had scared some of them, which truly, was my intent. They spoke to their faculty, mentioned how the activity had shown them they still needed help, and we saw more of them at the desk than we’d seen in some time. The activity can be modified for any sort of subject or course -- it’s just the paces you put them through that counts.
In spite of this litany of challenges, I thoroughly enjoy my relationship with the business department and know that the faculty want the best opportunities for their students. They advocate for the library’s services, and we continue to break down the wall that seems to keep management and marketing students from regularly gracing our doors. If that means being a roving librarian with handouts and candy, I’ll do it. If it means a five-minute presentation to a class, I’ll try it. Night and weekend class visits are also a reality, as is the new APA information series offered to our graduate students. Making connections to the students is crucial for all of us, and we’ve felt some success with these efforts. We’ll keep looking for new ideas and activities to share the importance of quality research and successful citing. And somewhere in the midst of this journey, I hope business majors are running away from Google, running very far away.