Process to Final Product: Playing on the Strengths of a Novice Librarian and a Seasoned Colleague

by Julia M. Derden & Jean B. MacDonald
Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois

Julia M. Derden, Milner Library, Illinois State University; Jean B. MacDonald, Milner Library, Illinois State University

The authors would like to thank the Spring 2009 sections of English 170 that participated in the survey and their Graduate Assistant Instructors, Joseph Campbell and Heidi Oldenburger.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Julia M. Derden, Milner Library, Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61790-8900. Email:

The authors, one a new librarian and another an experienced librarian, combined their strengths to develop a preferential survey of print versus electronic formats of Children's Literature Review (CLR) using human subjects, obtain the requisite institutional approval, administer the survey, detail and write the results, and submit the article for publication. The process of this type of mentoring and collaborative venture is examined and the outcomes discussed, including how documented survey results can inform the decision-making process on resource types.
Keywords: collaboration, mentoring, experienced librarian, new librarian, resource types, survey

Getting a research study underway may sound daunting to a new librarian. Writing about such an endeavor may only add to the stress of beginning it. Finding a more seasoned librarian with similar interests and with whom to work belays much of the anxiety and can strengthen both the new librarian's dossier and the senior librarian's familiarity with new technology, resources and formats. Additionally, the mentoring and collaboration process utilizes the strength of individuals within a library, making the entire organization more effective in its mission.

Oftentimes, new librarians fall into the trap of having grandiose ideas about publishing for the first time. It becomes easy to "bite off more than one can chew" in an initial research project. Sherwood Anderson (1969), twentieth-century ad man turned writer, wrote, "[i]t seems to me that everything in life has to begin small, that the disease in life is in big loose thinking. .... Let's not spread things too far, too thin" (pp.16-17). New librarians would do well to follow Anderson's advice by starting small and finding a subject that is of interest to them and informs their own practice in their new profession. By starting this way, new librarians may have a good experience with the entire research process as opposed to having "approach-avoidance syndrome" and never beginning at all. Partnering with a more senior librarian can lead to improved planning, a scalable project, and ultimately to a successful end result.

Background and Literature Review
Milner Library serves Illinois State University as its sole library and reference tool provider. As a former teacher's school, Illinois State University's College of Education continues to thrive, accounting for 15% of the total student population. A part of the training that future teachers receive during their undergraduate study is the course "Children's Literature" (English 170), and one of the tools they use in that course is the Gale resource, Children's Literature Review (CLR). CLR has existed as a print resource since 1976, and currently consists of over 140 indexed monographs. As one of the main resources available to locate reviews of children's literature, this set has proven invaluable to the students in English 170. Milner Library recently acquired the electronic version of this core resource. The authors decided to study its use as compared to use of the print edition before making any decisions concerning the fate of the print version within the library's reference collection. The authors joined forces to craft a brief student survey, obtain the institutional review board approval to administer it, review the results, and write the findings.

Surveying students for their preference of reference material format might be intimidating new librarians, even while the premise might sound promising. Why would one consider creating and administering a survey? How on earth does one go about creating it? What hurdles must be jumped? Finally, how can one transform the survey into publishable material for the purposes of promotion and tenure?

A review of the literature in the arts, humanities, and social sciences indicates that studying student preferences with respect to delivery method of a reference tool is not a new idea. In Carol Tenopir's exhaustive Council on Libraries and Information Resources (CLIR) report, which details user preferences of electronic access to information, she concluded "[c]onvenience remains the single most important factor for information use-all types of users prefer electronic journals only if they make their work easier and give them the information they need. Desktop access, speed of access, and the ability to download, print, and send articles are top advantages of electronic journals for all groups (p. 45)." However, detailing the process of first conducting the research, then writing about it, seems of exceptional value to new library professionals, particularly as statistical studies prove their value to the practice of librarianship. Studies also become fruitful for the allied purpose of pursuing scholarship for tenure requirements. Additionally, as Ghouse and Church-Duran (2008) outline in their findings on new-librarian mentoring, "...the provision of the essential support and guidance needed during the promotion and tenure process (p. 376)" is valuable to both participants and the library as a whole.

Print and E-Versions
The print version of CLR incorporates over 140 volumes, with several volumes added annually. CLR serves as a review "aggregator" for selected works of the authors' profiles within a given volume. The works of prolific authors are often included in multiple volumes to ensure coverage of newly published works. The cumulative indexes for Title, Author, Nationality of Author, and Topic in each volume often reference several volumes for one author's works.

The electronic version of CLR is available through a package service provided by Gale. Libraries may subscribe to one or multiple Gale literary reference sets and access to any or all of them would be through the same search page. The basic search allows a user to search for a specific word or words, and limit to a single or range of years. An advanced search provides more sophisticated search options, including Boolean term searching. The database also allows browsing among an alphabetic list of authors, works or topics. As is to be expected from an online resource, information from all volumes is included in each search; put differently, one search retrieves results from all volumes.

When Milner Library was able to subscribe to the online version of CLR-and to help decide which format to continue funding-the authors chose to solicit student opinion and preference with respect to both formats. An anonymous survey was deemed the most reliable and accurate means to deliver data on these fronts. Paired with the often required assignment of finding book reviews for children's literature for English 170, the authors realized the ideal timing and setting for their survey.

To decide which sections of English 170 to target, the authors decided to approach Graduate Assistant instructors who were familiar with library instruction sessions and were amenable to them. Ultimately, two sections of English 170 agreed to allow the authors to work with their classes, surveying students' use and reception to both the print and electronic versions of CLR. The authors created very brief surveys-one to be administered to students while they were using each format of CLR. They asked the students to note the time immediately before accessing whichever version of CLR they were using; to search for an author or a work of children's fiction; and finally to note the time when their search for literary reviews was completed. After both surveys were administered - and both formats of CLR were used - students were asked to indicate their preferred format and their reasoning on a final, also anonymous card. To minimize confusion while tallying surveys, each element of the survey was color-coded.

Before administering any survey to students, the authors had to gain approval from the university's Institutional Review Board (IRB). By submitting detailed parameters of the surveys to the board, the authors were able to ensure student rights to privacy and participation safety while simultaneously gaining an outsider's perspective of the study. Additionally, it presented the opportunity to share with undergraduates how research can affect practice in a classroom setting. By collaborating on the IRB submission, the authors were able to sort out the procedure for implementation to ensure smooth collection of data and analysis of results. Ultimately, permission to conduct the surveys was granted, and the study was allowed to proceed.

Overwhelmingly, students preferred accessing CLR electronically, regardless of the time that it took them to search the print or electronic versions of the resource. Several students' comments relayed that they preferred using the electronic version:

"I can use this resource from home and didn't have to handle more than one book."
"Quicker to find and easier to scroll then flip pages."
"It feels less complicated and the entire database is in one place instead of spread throughout many books and unsure exactly where [sic]."

Outcomes for the authors were as important as the student perceptions. The newer librarian learned that the IRB is merely a starting point for a statistical survey of human subjects. Furthermore, statistical significance and methodology of the survey process is extremely important in the scholarly arena. It might be a consideration to hire a statistician for larger surveys when statistical relevance is crucial. For a study of this size and scope, the literature review was not onerous, as a new librarian might have anticipated. Factors that also impacted the literature review included an examination of publication options, an objective evaluation of the results of the survey and whether it contributed new information or knowledge to the professional literature.

The authors worked collaboratively to create, administer, and review survey results and then write an article about the entire process. This collaboration was mutually beneficial; one author gained insight into a resource not formerly known to her, while the other grasped the process of doing a small literature review, finding the appropriate venue for an article, and writing it and submitting it for review. Both authors found a practicality in the survey administration in exposing undergraduate students to a new electronic resource. The students, in turn, had the benefit of being human subjects in a very pragmatic study that ultimately informed the librarians in a purchasing decision, meaning the study was not only appropriate but also effective.

Anderson, Sherwood. (1969). In R. W White (Ed.), Sherwood Anderson's memoirs: A critical edition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Ghouse, N. and Church-Duran, J. (2008). And mentoring for all: The KU Library's experience. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 8(4), 373-386. doi: 10.1353/pla.0.0022

Tenopir, Carol. (August 2003). Use and users of electronic library resources: An overview and analysis of recent research studies. Retrieved from Council on Libraries and Information Resources website: