The Fall Term is in full swing for many academic institutions around the world and, while it is a new COVID-19 world, libraries are showing up like never before! The library at the University of Phoenix has, even pre-pandemic, been committed to doing what it takes, collaborating closely with faculty, to fully support their students. Whether they are on campus or online, the University Library is proud of the fact that students receive the same quality of help and access to resources. This seamless support and parallel library experience is a goal many newly-pivoting libraries are working toward.
Springshare had the great pleasure of speaking with PJ Purchase, University Librarian and Director of the University Library to get some insight from their vast experience providing exceptional service with Springshare tools since 2013. She recalls,
Our previous Electronic Reserve Readings system was antiquated and difficult to maintain both from a content perspective and an infrastructure perspective as we did not administer or support the site and had to rely on a small IT team to resolve site related issues (such as outages or bugs).
LibGuides removed those barriers, providing an easy-to-use solution that was administered solely by the library but supported by a reliable third party vendor. After seeing the demo, we decided to explore also using LibGuides CMS to replace our entire website. While it took some time, both eventually came to fruition and we now have a dynamic website and ERR pages that we can easily maintain and add to as needed.
About a year ago, the team was searching for an Electronic Resource Management system and caught a LibInsight demo and decided to move forward with it. It provides them with an easy way to track and learn more about their usage trends.
These days, absolutely everything seems like it's more arduous. PJ addresses their particular challenges, saying, "The biggest challenge that we face is that we have no “face” time with our users at this time and only interact with them over the web through asynchronous communication (i.e., email or LibAnswers). This limits the feedback we’re able to get on the library that would naturally come out in a face-to-face or phone reference session. Our collection is curated based upon our curriculum, and the content we create is based on feedback from the colleges and analytics; however, we often have little insight into why something is or isn’t working or how to improve something to make it better." PJ further explains,
One of the biggest positives is that our collection is available equally to all students and faculty. Because we don’t have physical materials, we don’t have collections that are only available to our students in one location. We don’t also have to rely heavily on interlibrary loan to fulfill our students’ needs. It’s allowed our students to have a more instantaneous experience because the information they need is truly at their fingertips.
From an internal side, being an entirely online library with limited student contact has also forced us to be more agile in our thinking. We are more willing to try something that we’re not entirely sure will work because it’s one of the few ways we can get indirect feedback from our users. It’s also forced us to be more creative in our problem solving because we can’t rely on asking students for feedback on what they would like."
What follows is a Q&A style presentation of our interview with PJ, in which she shares first-hand knowledge and useful tips for navigating this unpredictable time and the future ahead with Springshare tools.
Q: What is the biggest challenge for the library to supporting distance learning? How have you been strategizing to meet those challenges with Springhare tools?
A: Honestly, I think the biggest challenge is “getting their attention”. There are many demands on our students and it is critical for us to meet “where they are”. We have a diverse group of students with varying skill levels. Our aim really has been to provide as much on-demand services and help that we can.
Often our students will not ask questions, no matter how much we tell them that interacting with them is the best part of our job! So placing ourselves in their shoes and thinking “what would I need” helps us create services, collections and microlearning’s at the point of need.
Q: How do you decide what LibGuides need to be built? Is there input from the faculty? From Students? Do you have any quality control measures set up for those building your LibGuides?
A: Input comes from students, via the questions they are asking and the problems they are facing; our faculty, responding to what they are teaching and what difficulties they may be facing; our colleges and instructional designers responding to learning objectives, and from our librarians.
Yes, we have multiple systems and controls in place such as a process which helps us decide which guides to create, based upon need and impact; how these are constructed, everything from the structure, use of color, tone, amount of information on a page; to a technical review, which ensures the page is optimized for accessibility and usability.
Q: In the absence of face-to-face interactions, how do you encourage participation or engagement from students inside your LibGuides? Do you use the Blog? The Discussion Boards?
A: We did just launch a Blog but to be honest it is slow going… not much traction there yet. However, every guide/page and or site has a link back to the Ask Us! Service. Hopefully, we are just one click away for our students.
Q: Which are the most popular guides and why, in your opinion?
A: Without looking at our stats I would say the most popular (STUDENT) guides are: How Do I Guides. This is an ever-growing collection of targeted on-demand help based upon frequently asked questions. Our Subject Guides are a robust curated collection of subject-based information with a subject target search box. Internally there is excitement for our unique page builds such as Social Work Program Guide and Center for Collaboration.
When asked about their LibGuides, PJ expanded, saying,
When students are in an entirely digital environment, it’s important that they be able to find answers to their questions quickly and these guides answer a specific question they have or fulfill an immediate need. While this hasn’t prevented us from creating more generic subject guides, it is shaping how we create guides in the future. We are more focused on creating programmatic and course specific guides that address needs at the program and course level.
She says these guides go beyond recommending library resources.
Q: Did you build any guides out of a surprise necessity or in reaction to anything/requests?
A: Absolutely. We also got ‘discovered’ by other teams, who now want to utilize our tools to provide content in a way that doesn’t necessarily fit within the content of the course (like a self-guided support center to provide more instantaneous help for common issues). We have also started some pilot projects with a few of our colleges to build Course Guides and Program Guides. Their aim is to provide students a one-stop-shop to all of the content they need for their course or program.
We use publishing controls to ensure that each guide created by a non-admin goes through a review process before being published. This allows us to both quality check the content and ensure that the layout and design are cohesive with the rest of the library.
Q: How are you advertising your LibGuides and getting them in front of people?
A: Our course syllabi are rolled down from the institution level, so if a LibGuide is included as a resource in the course, students will see the link within their LMS. At this time, the majority of our guides house course reserve readings, but we’re actively working on ways to create more robust content that we expect to drive additional traffic. One of these strategies is collaborating more closely with our colleges and instructional design staff to create content that’s a better fit for students.
Q: What drew you to LibAnswers? Which features does it have that you needed to solve a problem there?
A: We have used both an internal, home-grown solution for reference as well as another vendor. LibAnswers is easier to use than anything we’ve tried before. It gives us great reporting that is useful to us, like knowing when the bulk of our reference questions are received, so we can make decisions, like staffing, to support our students accordingly.
Q: How does the LibAnswers Platform help you stay connected with your students and faculty?
It is the open door for our students and faculty alike. We staff the Ask Us! service from 6 am – 10 pm seven days a week. This is our main source of student contact. We respond to students within (an average of) three hours with detailed reference support. We use this opportunity to focus not only on the research at hand but to also impart information literacy and research skills the student can use over and over.
Q: Where are you providing access to your LibAnswers system? Are you linking to it from specific places? Using widgets from others? How are you letting patrons know about it?
A: It is prevalent throughout the system from the main site, to guides, to course reading pages. If we can put a link or a widget we do it! The widget is part of many standard templates.
Q: Do you have any advice for librarians who are answering patron questions in LibAnswers that might be facing a larger than normal influx during this pandemic?
I would say focus on quality rather than “clearing the decks”. Students appreciate a thorough actionable response rather than a quick incomplete response. Also, put yourself in the student’s shoes. They are time pressed and may have low-level skills, be clear, friendly, and above all show empathy..
Q: Which parts of LibAnswers do the students interact with most? Which LibAnswers features do the library staff enjoy?
A: I would tend to say that they interact with the question form the most, though we do we get decent usage on our most popular FAQs.
From an administrative perspective, the site is very easy to run. The groups allow us to partition answers based on the same or similar groups we offer in LibGuides. The widgets also allow us to offer LibAnswers content within LibGuides, which is important for us.
Q: How important are data and statistics during this unprecedented time in the world? How are you using LibInsight and LibCRM to stay on top of the critical things?
A: Data has been critical from day one for us. We look at usage from many different angles on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. We look at traffic, onsite engagement, drop rates, downloads, watch/listen time, etc..
Q: How do the stats factor into your work? What are you looking for and how are you using them?
We rely heavily on statistics to make decisions about the content we offer and the site as a whole. Statistics help us identify what content is being clicked on and where that usage is coming from, which is something we lacked in our previous system. They are currently driving some of the new site clean-up initiatives we have going on as they allowed us to discover which pages haven’t been used in the last few years.
Q: How has your library used technology to be more efficient to help you serve your population?
A: We primarily use Springshare to power our website and services and have phased out all other tools. The tools that we’re using through Springshare have allowed us to be a lot more effective in serving our students. We now have complete control over the library website and can make changes to the content as needed, allowing us to keep the site up to date with minimal effort. We also have better statistics than we did before, which helps drive the services and content we offer. The content is also easier to maintain overall since we can reuse assets on multiple pages without creating the same asset multiple times in the system.
Q: Why are you using Springshare tools?
Because we love them! They are affordable (which is important in an ever growing cost conscious environment) and easy for us to maintain. I have also found the Support Team to be especially responsive, which is unusual for a vendor.
When recalling her experience with learning to use LibGuides CMS, PJ said, "The Support Center has a vast wealth of information. When I initially started learning the system, I found it helpful to work alongside the recorded videos and would watch the trainer do something and then pause the video to do it myself. It was great because, as a self-starter, it was on-demand learning at the point of need. I didn’t have to wait to schedule something with someone or have someone do it for me. I could do it myself and it didn’t matter how long it took because I could stop and start the video as many times as I needed to."
After all these years, PJ maintains an ongoing conversation with Springshare support. PJ shares,
If I report a feature request, it’s immediately looked at and added to the priority list. I’ve seen features I’ve requested become available in various Springshare tools over time and it’s nice to see that user feedback is actually heard and acted upon. They are also very responsive to bugs and have helped me out on projects (like pulling a long list of guides based on specific criteria) that I didn’t have the bandwidth to do internally.
The COVID-19 pandemic is still very much a factor today. All over the world libraries are either opening their doors with an array of new policies added and strategies in place for trying to serve patrons safely. Or, they're being forced to close once again and swiftly pivot to online approaches. We're so fortunate to be able to share with this dedicated community the incredible work being done by your peers -- like PJ Purchase and her team at the University of Phoenix. If there's one thing that's a comfort in such an unpredictable time, it's that we're all in this together.