Library instruction with a virtual touch
David J. Duncan*
University Libraries, Wichita State University, Wichita, KS 67260-0068, USA
This piece examines the use of websites prepared for specific library instructional sessions. This
discussion has two main parts. First, the web pages construction process receives a detailed analysis
in terms of various library resources, differing patron learning styles, the preinstructional interview,
and the proper balance between traditional and virtual resources within this activity. Then, the
section entitled Combinations for the Instructional Website discusses several different page types
and their advantages for individual classes. The Conclusion reprises the earlier discussions, asks
questions about the future of library instruction, and places the pages within that future context.
D 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Different students have distinct preferences for learning aides. Some patrons use com-
puters. Others still embrace the traditional book-related materials. Finally, another group
prefers a combination of techniques. Until recently, most students still used paper sources.
However, with societys ongoing transition towards an ever-greater virtual world, many
people believe in what might be called the Ali Baba effect. In other words, instead of three
Research Strategies 18 (2001) 283301rubs on the proverbial magic lamp, they expect that two clicks of the mouse will produce the
desired result (Oberman, 1996). Accordingly, this user behavior presents perplexing issues for
librarians on all educational levels.
How does one come to grips with this situation? While discussed widely in the library
literature, this topic has remained largely a case-by-case scenario depending upon each library
0734-3310/01/$ see front matter D 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
* Tel.: +1-316-978-5077; fax: +1-316-978-3048.
E-mail address: email@example.com (D.J. Duncan).
session, the librarian must understand these elements and how they collaborate to createthe learning environment.
The librarian must know the resources at his or her disposal. These materials can be either
in the library itself or available from another institution. In terms of internal instructional
aides, each library professional should have a general grasp of the print, computerized,
virtual, and specialized collections in their own facility. This specific knowledge might not
extend beyond that persons specific subject fields; however, one should have an idea where
information on a subject resides within the library. Finally, one should also consult with his
or her colleagues if the answer remains a mystery. For outside resources, a general grasp of
the Internet, online union catalogs such as OCLCs FirstSearch and CARL UnCover and
even colleagues at other universities can lend valuable assistance. In the end, whether
through a single or a team effort, the librarian must maintain a knowledge of available
The librarian must also understand different patron groups distinct learning styles (Prorak,and its unique patron population. In such cases, it is safe to say that no two groups learn
exactly the same way. However, since we are in a society in transition, should our
instructional tools reflect every constituency? In my professional experiences, I have
discovered that a specialized class website maintains a balance between the traditional and
the innovative means detailed above. In these sessions, the Internet features links both to in-
house and outside links and serves as a virtual OPAC projector. In this way, the sources still
suit the traditional patron, yet the presentations Internet backdrop holds the computer-
oriented users attention.
How does one put together such a virtual presentation? What goes into it? How is the
preinstructional interview affected? How much do the pages differ from each other? These
questions will be answered in the following sections. As with any instructional presentation,
there is a step-by-step procedure that should be followed to generate successful results.
2. Three basic principles for student interest
The librarians assertive training, experience, and observation remain crucial in
maintaining an advantage on the instructional cutting edge. As noted above, many factors
loom large in this endeavor. New technologies can prove bewildering (Arp, 1995).
Students might not utilize the same research techniques. Keeping up with new acquis-
itions around the library can prove a daunting task as well. In the face of such factors,
replacing traditional research sources and abandoning the old established instructional
techniques seems plausible. However, despite such issues, the professions three traditional
principles still apply: Know Your Resources, Know Your Patrons, and Know Your
Methods. Through the past two millennia and several changes in communicative media
formats, librarians have maintained the flow of information between teacher, student and
the literate public audience (Duncan, 1998). In the case of the virtual library instruction
D.J. Duncan / Research Strategies 18 (2001) 283301284Gottschalk, & Pollastro, 1984). Throughout the history of education, society has never
learned in one fashion. Rather, in the face of each new communicative innovation, society
splintered off into intellectual factions. These groups differed from each other in their
informational needs, individual usages for the new technology, biases against the new
technology, and timetable for change (Bennett, 1952; Clanchy, 1993; Duncan, 1995;
Eisenstein, 1992; Wattenbach, 1958). Once again, societys rush towards the computer has
created a splintering effect among its constituencies. Three distinct groups dominate the
learning landscape. First, the teenagers and younger adults have grown up with computers
and know little else. Then, our societys older citizens wish to continue their use of traditional
sources. Finally, certain users remain at various stages of transition between these two
The universitys drive to expand its resources has created still more fragmentation in
the librarys patron groups. Educational experience levels differ between resident (on-
campus) students, distance students, and the general public. Each groups needs and access
differs from its counterparts. Onsite exposure shapes the resident students experience.
This group has direct access to campus facilities, professors, and library resources. The
general public, while not officially enrolled, has access to library resources, especially at
state universities. The distance student presents an enigma for educators. How does an
educational program meet the needs of this group when it is not on campus? If the
distance student is within an accessible distance, then he or she also has access to campus
facilities. However, what if the student is across the country from the institution? Which
blend of services and resources should be used in these classes? As demonstrated in
various locations, email and the web can bridge the distance between the faculty member
and the distance student when utilized in satellite courses (Katz & Becker, 1999; Vachris,
1999). However, how do educators structure their instruction to meet these competing
interests when a class session pertains to both groups (McHenry & Bozik, 1995; Spooner,
Jordan, Algozzia & Spooner, 1999)? As Freitas, Meyers, and Avtgis (1998) reported,
educators reconcile these two groups learning environments only with great difficulty.
The fluid nature of the college classroom presents many issues for librarians and other
educators to solve (Burton, 1998; Long, Rangecroft, &Gilroy, 1999; PBS adult learning,
1999; Vachris, 1999; Wilson, 1998).
The librarian should also maintain a variety of instructional techniques in his or her
repertoire. Because the various social groups outlined above have different expectations and
intellectual capacities, different approaches remain a necessity in the instructional classroom.
Perhaps for the traditional student, a gradual nudge towards the computer might be needed.
For the computer group, utilizing a traditional work in an interesting subject field might help
in striking a balance. In the last case, the in-between student groups comfort with both
types of sources holds equal importance in this endeavor. How does one accomplish this task?
Various means offer themselves including help guides, online Cybrarian services, librarians
office hours, and more extensive class materials. Accordingly, each patrons individual needs
challenge the librarians creativity at all times.
Once the librarian has grasped these factors, then the process towards the innovative
instructional sessions has begun in earnest. However, before the project can occur, the
D.J. Duncan / Research Strategies 18 (2001) 283301 285instructional interview with the faculty member must occur. This item receives attention in
3. The preinstructional interview
The instructional interview between the librarian and faculty member remains a key part in
the formulation of a successful presentation (Arp, 1994). This process involves three steps.
First, the librarian must understand the research patterns of the classs discipline. Then, the
class level should be taken into account. Finally, the instructional interview should reveal
the faculty members goal for the session. Through this process, the two parties discover the
purposes, biases, and tools involved with a respective session.
In many cases, the library instructional session encompasses the students initial research
experience. These sessions can include print, CD-ROM, Internet, and special collections
resources. However, which materials should be included in the presentation? While the
librarian would like to introduce everything to the student, time limitations, and the audiences
ability to absorb information remain key issues in these sessions success or failure (Cannon,
1994). As Oberman (1991) has surmised, bibliographic instruction should serve as the lens
through which every function of the library needs to look through. In planning the class
session, one should consider the subject area and the class level. In terms of the former, some
subject areas have their own source materials. In the Humanities, for example, one might
emphasize books and primary sources (Tibbo, 1993; Watson-Boone, 1994). The Social
Sciences, on the other hand, require materials from all of the sources cited above. As
Whittington (1996) stated, research in the social sciences takes various forms depending
on the nature of the problem to be explored, the level of sophistication of the researcher, and the
resources within the persons reach (p. 5). The Physical Sciences andMathematics draw upon
conference proceedings and electronic journals as well (Hurt, 1998). In addition, the class level
affects the presentation. One usually does not overwhelm the entry-level student with advanced
material, nor should entry-level material find its way into an advanced classs session (Seffert &
Bruce, 1997). These basic principles provide a criterion for the basis of the presentation itself.
The respective faculty members feelings have to be considered as well. How does he or
she feel about the library instructional session and its components? The instructional
interview presents the opportunity to discern any concerns that the faculty member may
have with the potential presentation. One should remember that, while the librarian teaches an
instructional session, the overall class still belongs to the professor. Accordingly, the librarian
should ask certain questions including the following:
What type of presentation are you looking for? Do you want Internet sources included in the presentation? If so, then would you want
internal sources? External sources? How in-depth would you like me to go? Which other types of sources (print, CD-ROM, microforms, special collections, and/or
reference works) would you like included in the presentation? What format would you like the presentation to use? Would you like an accompanying handout?
D.J. Duncan / Research Strategies 18 (2001) 283301286The answers to these questions will go a long way towards shaping the instructional site.
site (Yahoo), a specific-searching site (Hotbot) and two meta-search engines (Metafind
and Dogpile).4.4. Internet resources II (virtual subject pages)Once the interviewing process is complete, then the librarian can proceed onward and
begin formulating a page to suit the classs needs.
4. What should I put into it?
As Arp (1995) has commented, good system design does not replace instruction.
Therefore, good instructional presentations should endeavor to strike a balance with the
materials. In addition, Chizmar and Walbert (1999) utilized various articles, Excel
worksheets, and other learning tools in their online class materials. Other online learning
aides have also had success (Agarwal & Day, 1998; Daniel, 1999; Dumont, 1996; Pear &
Crone-Todd, 1999; Stone, 1999; Tang & Johnson, 1999); however, with the library
instruction session, how does one strike the proper balance? The answer is that one
should strive to have examples from six or seven broad categories. Yet, in realizing
that the session may or may not cover every point, the instructional sites points
should be open to exploration by the student at a later time. Proper materials can include
4.1. In-house library computerized resources
These materials include the online library catalog, any networked CD-ROM databases
(such as ERIC, Medline, CINAHL), a direct link to the librarys homepage, directed links to
specific areas on the site, and any password-protected Internet sites (such as EBSCOhost,
InfoTrac, Britannica Online). In addition, a link to the institutions Ask a Reference
Librarian site always provides students with a means of contact for the inevitable last
second paper project.
4.2. In-house library paper resources
Depending upon the topic involved and the faculty members preferences, various items
including books, periodical indices, bibliographies, atlases, and microforms.
4.3. Internet resources I (search engines)
This area includes links to various Internet search engines, which include the directory
D.J. Duncan / Research Strategies 18 (2001) 283301 287Each subject area has its own expert guide sites. If included, place a link to the
main page. In addition, directed links can be included to resources including tables,
maps, charts, chronologies, texts (where appropriate) among other sources, and their
4.5. Tracking software
the designer to track the traffic on his or her site. Accordingly, this tool provides valuable
insight into the sites usefulness.
4.6. Virtual handout
If the instr...