The Upside of Downsizing: Using Bibliographic Instruction to Cope

Ann Coder and Margie Smith

Although originally planned as a local, Southern California bibliographic instruction conference, this two–day event turned into a national event with approximately one hundred and fifty participants from thirty states and Canada. This growth was due to publicity on Internet listservs, according to the conference planners.

The theme also expanded from its initial focus on how bibliographic instruction coped with fiscal cutbacks. What emerged was a new vision of the library and information instruction. Themes included new organizational patterns focused on teams, a user–focused library, use of new information technologies, the necessity for staff to be constantly learning in an environment of continual change, and the importance of forming partnerships with other groups on campus.

These themes were addressed by the keynote speaker, Carla Stoffle and presenters Janice Simmons–Welburn and Barbara Quint. A reactor panel and a wrap–up panel focused on some of these major issues. There were nine breakout sessions with thirty–seven presenters on specific examples of library instructional activities.

Keynote Address:

Carla Stoffle,

Dean of Libraries

at University of Arizona

Carla Stoffle discussed the ways in which the economic crisis could be used to restructure and revitalize education. The economics of higher education is undergoing a paradigm shift. After nearly fifty years of unprecedented support for education in the United States, we are now returning to the norm of flat budgets. The economy is not growing as fast and the shift is to lower–paying service industries.

In addition to the decline in economic strength, the public has lost confidence in higher education: they see the professoriate as under–worked and out of control, and institutions as wasteful and not well managed. Students, rather than the public, are now viewed as the primary beneficiaries of higher education and should thus bear more of the costs of their education. Federal research funding is being cut back, in part because of the scandals related to overhead charges.

Ms. Stoffle said, institutions cannot respond by just hunkering down, freezing positions, cutting off maintenance and travel money and waiting for the situation to improve. In the past libraries have only cut at the edges of the budget and reduced services, provided fewer guides and handouts, etc. As a result of the library’s trying to maintain the old paradigm, the staff are stressed, overworked, and overwhelmed.

What is required now is a reallocation and re–shaping of library budgets as part of a rethinking and rebuilding of the library. Instead of the library’s being a staff centered organization, it must become user–focused. The emphasis must be upon customer service and quality service, with quality being defined by the customer. Teams must become the basic work unit and staff must be empowered to make decisions. The library needs problem–identifiers and problem–solvers on the front line, not an organizational culture where problems must be sent up the hierarchy to people who know less and less about the nature of the problem. The library must eliminate sacred cows and redundancies. What is needed is a shift from collection–centered libraries to customer–centered libraries.

In a user–focused library, the goal is to have users who are self–sufficient. One must review the environment and remove barriers, even if those barriers are the library staff. With user self–sufficiency as a goal and framework, we must redesign libraries to empower users. The goal is to promote information literacy to prepare users for life–long learning. Users who are self–sufficient can: 1) locate information 2) evaluate information 3) effectively use information. They know how knowledge is organized and where it is located.

Carla Stoffle proposed that we engage in a comprehensive process of renaming. For example she suggested changing the name “reference” librarian to “educational” librarian, because reference, as it is practiced today, is giving information to users, keeping the librarian as the intermediary. The current focus is in making the reference librarian more accessible, not making the information more accessible. She said, “Look at how we evaluate ourselves. The more questions we answer the better job we are doing. What’s wrong with this picture?”

The user–focused library makes systems easier to use, creates point–of–use instruction both online and through signs, graphics, and multi–media presentations and provides in–depth one–on–one educational interactions. The result of this is to free staff from routine desk staffing and may involve getting people out of technical services through out–sourcing.

Ms. Stoffle concluded that we have a mandate for radical change to restore confidence in institutions that have not changed organizationally for over one hundred years. We must be engaged in continuous change that is consumer–driven and must not become frozen in the new. The upside is that the fiscal situation provides support for comprehensive changes. It necessitates hard choices, choices that could not be made in normal times because the price in staff discontent would be too high.

Reactor Panel:

Joanne Euster, Library Director,

University of California, Irvine;

Gloria Werner, University Librarian,

University of California, Los Angeles; Joseph Boisse, University Librarian, University of California, Santa Barbara; Irene Rockman, moderator

Several themes emerged from the discussion among the reactor panel members and Carla Stoffle: competencies for the new organization, teams, and partnerships.

Competencies for the new organization: Concern was expressed that libraries lacked a large enough cadre of people skilled in pedagogical competencies. Carla Stoffle responded that although this is true, the new organization is a learning organization in which all the staff keep on growing, learning, and changing. The staff must continuously change and engage in individual retooling. Gloria Werner said that in these really bad times, the one thing they decided not to cut at the UCLA Library was training and travel funds. Joanne Euster pointed out that we should bring training to our libraries as well as sending people out.

Teams: One of the new competencies is working as part of a team. Teams differ in several important ways from committees or task forces. Teams have the power to implement their decisions. They are not representational and it is not necessary for them to be appointed. Instead of working for consensus, often defined as unanimity, they have the capacity to hear and to examine the lone voice of dissent. In teams the results are greater than the sum of the parts and the individual contribution is hard to identify. In a team–based organization the old ways that reinforce individualism and competitiveness do not work.

Partnerships: Libraries have already forged partnerships with academic computing facilities. They must make faculty partners in change and help them learn about the changes in scholarly communication that make greater use of electronic methods. Libraries need to help faculty understand the move from an ownership–based model of collection development (just–in–case) to a “connection” development model of providing information when it is needed (just–in–time). Libraries also need to develop partnerships with teaching assistants, to train them to be trainers for their students’ information needs. Libraries must also develop supportive partnerships with library schools to help produce librarians with the competencies needed for continuous learning and change.

Janice Simmons–Welburn, University of Iowa

Janice Simmons–Welburn described the three primary approaches that the University of Iowa has taken in user instruction: 1) group instruction in an electronic classroom 2) point of need instruction, and 3) remote site instruction.

The “information arcade” is an electronic classroom with both Macs and IBMs which provides access to multimedia and Internet. The library instruction program focuses on collaborative and experiential learning instead of solitary learning.

Point of need instruction uses CAI hypermedia. The Library Navigator program presents a tour of the main library with maps, a description of services, basic library information and locations. It also gives campus locations. It was developed as a result of a two year partnership among librarians, computer center staff and the Rhetoric Department Chair. It is most heavily used during times when the Information Desk is unstaffed. It is also available from multiple locations including high schools, and may be obtained from LOEX.

Their newest development, the Library Explorer teaches basic research skills such as how to search the library catalog and CD–ROMS and utilizes color graphics and quick–time animation. The emphasis is on making the program visually appealing and providing access to both visual and audio learners in an interactive, self–paced mode. It has three chapters plus a glossary and an index and each chapter has a summary and quiz at the end. It is available on two high–end Quadras.

Remote site instruction which uses Iowa’s state–wide fiber–optic network attempts to reach the invisible user population.

BI Reality Check:

Barbara Quint, Information Broker and former Rand Corporation Librarian

Barbara Quint, defined downsizing by saying that it means you have more tasks than time and more tasks than talent. Instead of attempting to hold onto the value of perfection, we must embrace the “good enough” principle and seek to re–define value in the customer’s terms. The whole game is to help people gain the ability to get what they want.

Ms. Quint suggested that anyone who has done value-added work should share it widely. She also urged librarians to pressure the vendors to create better quality products that are easier to understand and to use. She set forth Quint’s Law of the End User: if the package isn’t right and the price isn’t right, don’t try to teach it. Tell the vendor to improve it, and preferably tell them that in a large public meeting. In the future, information instruction programs need pioneering foragers on the Internet (Trolls “R” Us) and activists for database quality standards.

Breakout Sessions:

Presenters in the breakout sessions shared their research and experiences in information instruction. Topics included Ohio State University’s Gateway to Information project, presented by Fred Roecker, a University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Library and Information Studies alumnus. Funded by grants from the U. S. Department of Education and the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, it is designed to enable individuals to become independent users of information by providing help in developing research strategies and selecting materials regardless of format (print, CD–ROM, on Ohio State’s computerized catalog). It is available on seventy–nine Gateway Macintosh microcomputers. It permits Macintosh computer access to CD–ROM databases on MS–DOS computers and provides a common user interface to all databases.

Donald Frank’s presentation, Innovative Instructional Options to Cope with the 1990’s: in the Sciences at Harvard University, described developing instructional modules that focused upon access rather than on individual sources. Access techniques are especially important in the Harvard environment where the ninety–five libraries are so decentralized that they even use fifteen different photocopier debit cards. At Harvard, bibliographic instruction included Internet instruction. This was also the case at many of the institutions represented at the conference.

John Kupersmith, in his presentation Technostress: Is Teaching a Cure?, said that stressors include constant, accelerating change, multiple systems and bad design, and high demand versus limited resources. He described the program at the University of Texas at Austin for teaching Internet. They use live demonstrations of the Internet and take advantage of technical problems to illustrate real life situations Internet users face. He said that instructors in that program avoided burnout and stagnation by being flexible and bringing in new people to teach in the program.

Andrea L. Duda in her presentation Burrowing into BI: the Care and Feeding of a Library Gopher, described the Internet Gopher constructed by the University of California, Santa Barbara. Library information available includes a tutorial, a glossary, information on library service desks, research strategies, how to find books, articles, call numbers, and floor locations .

Karen Downing and Valarie Burton Ashby from the University of Michigan in their presentation, Peer Information Counselors: Experienced Students Assist Librarians in Extending Bibliographic Instruction Programs, described the benefits gained from incorporating Peer Information Counselors (PIC) in the Library’s BI program. The PIC students provide an additional instructor in the traditional classes. They also provide tutorials to students in organizations such as the Athletic Department where they teach in a three–on–one program after the formal classes. And they provide a bridge between students and librarians as they help or actually provide orientations and stage promotional activities in front of the student cafeterias. In addition to regular library instruction goals, the PIC program consciously focuses on the retention of students of color.

Polly Frank and Lee–Alison Levene, in their presentation Everyone into the Pool: Staying Afloat with a Good BI Team, discussed how they had gone about getting more staff involvement in the BI program at Mankato State University. This involved publicizing the positive benefits enjoyed by part–time instructors and by maintaining a high degree of flexibility so that people could volunteer for specific subjects or specific times and number of presentations. After broadening their base by recruiting paraprofessionals and librarians throughout the library, they found that it diffused BI stress early in the semester, increased the visibility of the staff, and improved morale. They also found that the BI team was committed to sharing other staff responsibilities later in the semester (the “payback” feature).

Ann Coder and Margie Smith, in their presentation Overcoming Mazes and Minotaurs: Achieving User Independence in the Academic Library Labyrinth, described the point–of–need, self–instructional displays developed at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The Macintosh computer, graphics programs, and laser printer enabled librarians to produce professional looking displays without having to rely on more expensive commercial products. The intent of the displays is to make information readily accessible and to increase library users’ self–sufficiency. It is important to simplify the message and eliminate library jargon in these displays. The information should be located where it is needed and placed at eye–level in appropriate traffic areas. Icons and other graphics were used to enhance communication with visual learners.

Library Tour

The conference concluded with a tour of the University of California, Santa Barbara Library. The highlight was the electronic classroom featuring twenty–five microcomputers networked to access Melvyl, the local online catalog, the library gopher, Internet, and other databases.

Conference Proceedings

Conference proceedings are being published in 1994 by Neal–Schuman Publishers, Inc. Ordering information can be obtained from conference organizer Cheryl LaGuardia, Reference Services Group, Library, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, e–mail: laguardi@library.ucsb.edu, fax: 805–893–4676.


Ann Coder, Ed.D., is Head of Reference, The Reference Center, Hamilton Library, (Internet: annc@uhunix.uhcc.hawaii.edu) and Margie Smith, is Reference Librarian and Information Desk Coordinator, Hamilton Library, (Internet: margies@uhunix.uhcc.hawaii.edu), Mailing Address: University of Hawaii at Manoa, Hamilton Library 2550 The Mall, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822–2319 USA. Phone: (808) 956–67214


The Upside of Downsizing: Using BI to Cope Conference, Santa Barbara, March 24-25, 1994.