3.8.2 Instruction of Library Use

The institution ensures that users have access to regular and timely instruction in the use of the library and other learning/information resources.

Judgment of Compliance

PVAMU SACS Accreditation - Judgement Compliance

Narrative of Compliance

The Reference and Information Services Department provides comprehensive library instruction both on the main campus and at distance-learning sites. The Department's specific mission includes "teach[ing] Information Literacy skills regarding the access and usage of both on and off campus information services to the Prairie View community to enable them to become information literate, independent researchers" [1]. Librarians teach strategies to understand the research process and to access, evaluate, and apply information legally and ethically in accordance with ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards [2] and adhere to the policies set forth in the References and Information Services Policy Manual [3].

Main Campus

To learn how to navigate the library physically, patrons have several options. The Information Desk, located near the elevators and stairs on the first floor and identified with colorful red and yellow letters, is staffed by library personnel and student workers. It provides directions to various collections and departments in the library, among other services. When the Information Desk is closed, Circulation gives directions. Alternatively, the Library Web site includes a step-by-step "Virtual Tour" that starts at the library entrance and allows individuals to click which way they want to go. It identifies the purpose and materials in each area of the facility [4]. Finally, official tours, which are described in greater detail below, are available. Instruction in the use of the library catalog, microfilms, reference materials, and databases comes from several sources as well. The Information Desk is tasked with giving patrons basic assistance with the Voyager Online Catalog to locate resources, directing them to appropriate parts of the Library Web page, and helping people use the computer workstations in the first floor lobby area.
Primarily, though, the Reference and Information Services Librarians handle instruction in the use of library materials through the Reference Desk, class sessions, and individual training. The Reference Desk is staffed when the library is open. During peak hours, a professional librarian is available: Monday-Thursday 7am-9pm; Friday and Saturday 8am-5pm; Sunday 1pm-10pm; extended hours during exam periods; and adjusted hours for summer and between instructional sessions. Statistics of Reference usage are kept hourly [5], aggregated monthly and compiled into annual reports, from which the following information is taken for 2005-2006 [6], 2006-2007 [7], and 2007-2008 [8]:

Reference and Information Services Yearly Statistics Reports





Reference Desk Queries




Class Instruction Sessions




Class Instruction Session Attendance




Library Tours




Library Tour Attendance




Make Time for Research Workshops




One-on-one instruction sessions





As the table above shows, the Reference Desk handles approximately 10,000 questions each year; the full reports further indicate that around 80% of queries come from walk-in patrons. User Satisfaction Surveys confirm the popularity of the Reference Desk as the number one place where students seek assistance when they cannot find information [9] [10].

Thousands of students are served each year in formal library instruction sessions. There was a 40% increase in the number of sessions offered from 2006 to 2008, with a corresponding 46% increase in the number of students in attendance. Faculty can use a convenient online form to request a session [11]. Instruction sessions follow the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards to "create student-centered learning environments where inquiry is the norm, problem solving becomes the focus, and thinking critically is part of the process" [2]. With the help of computer screen-capture software such as SnagIt and Camtasia, Reference Librarians can create course-specific tutorials more easily, and they team-teach just over 10% of all sessions. Under its own Policy 6.1, the Reference and Information Services Department endeavors to schedule at least one library instruction session in each developmental education course offered through University College to prepare students for college-level research [3]. Sessions typically are held in multimedia computing classrooms in the Wilhemina Delco, Elmer O'Banion, Hobart Taylor, or Don Clark Buildings, so students can practice techniques after librarians guide them through examples. Although class instruction sessions are customized for each instructor and frequently for a particular class assignment, popular topics include the following: using the library catalog; library use policies; using general interest databases like Proquest; using subject-specific databases like the Avery Index; citing resources in MLA and APA; understanding the differences between magazines and journals and primary and secondary sources; evaluating sources; locating full-text sources from citations; building search strategies; and understanding copyright and plagiarism [12]. Librarians typically bring hard-copy handouts to distribute to students as well.

At the end of each instruction session, participants are asked to take a 13-question online survey [13]. 90% (2007) and 92% (2008) of students said that the class was presented at an appropriate time during the semester, which strongly supports the timely nature of the instruction [14]. In 2007-2008, 54% of participants indicated that they would like a follow-up course. The Department had already made this a goal for 2007, for at least 10% of its sessions to be multiple lessons to the same class section [15].

In User Satisfaction Surveys in Spring 2007, 32% of respondents reported attending a research instruction session and another 21% indicated that they planned to take a class in the future for a total of 53% of surveyed students interested in library instruction [16]. In Spring 2008, a slight increase, 34% of respondents, said they had taken a session, and 22% reported that they planned to attend one in the future for a total of 56% of surveyed students [17]. Small gains therefore seem to be occurring in getting the message out to the student population not only about the availability but also the importance of library research instruction.

To increase these numbers even more, the Reference and Information Services Department has targeted faculty to persuade them to set up instruction sessions and to send students to the library. In the Academic Program Experience Survey (APES) administered to graduating students in the fall, spring, and summer, participants are asked two questions related to the library: #9, "Faculty required students to make extensive use of library and other out-of-class facilities" and #10, "I was able to secure library and other learning resources needed to complete assignments." Average ratings on these items have risen from 2.47 and 2.10 respectively in Fall 2005 [18] to 3.78 and 4.12 in Spring 2008 [19]. Although the Executive Summary cautions that "the current assessment is based on a convenience sample which cannot be generalized to the larger PVAMU students" [20], the results may indicate a trend towards increased use of library research in the classroom and students' ability to find the materials that they need. Such a trend is further correlated by results of the Faculty Satisfaction Surveys given by the library. In Spring 2008, 83% of respondents said they gave assignments that require the use of the library at least sometimes [21], and only 4% said they were unaware of all the forms of library instruction available [22].

Beyond instruction sessions, between 1000 and 1500 students have official library tours each year, including those attending Panther Camp, the freshman orientation program. Tours give information about circulation policies, the Reference Department, periodicals, the book stacks, the Student Computing Center and Center for Academic Support located on the second floor of the building, and the 4th Floor Space and Special Collections / Archives Department as time permits.

The "Make Time for Research" Workshops, instituted in 2007, occur each Thursday at 4pm in Room 108 of the John B. Coleman Library. This is a consistent time during which individual students or entire classes can meet with a Reference Librarian for assistance with research topics including finding books, locating articles, and evaluating Web sites [23].

Thousands of patrons also benefit from one-on-one assistance from librarians, as the table above indicates. Numbers have gone down in this category, by approximately 23% between 2006 and 2008, perhaps due to the increase informal library instruction sessions and the new online resources available to help patrons navigate the facility's resources.

All of the instruction discussed to this point occurs during library hours, and because User Satisfaction surveys indicate that students have "preferred study times" between 5-9 pm and then again when the library is closed, 11pm-2am [24] [25], the John B. Coleman Library has updated and customized its online services with the following online instructional aids:

  • email "Ask a Librarian" reference, with replies within 24 hours [26]
  • directions for remote access of databases [27]
  • "How Do I" and Frequently Asked Questions Web pages [28] [29]
  • brochures in subjects like "How to Find Books" [30] and "How to Find Articles" [31]
  • style guides for MLA, APA and Turabian citation [32]
  • course-specific research guides in over 41 areas [33] [34]
  • extensive list of links to other useful Web sites [35]


In the User Satisfaction Survey administered in April 2008, 68% of respondents indicated that they were often or always satisfied with the new Library Web site [36].

The Reference and Information Services Department also is exploring ways to teach more information literacy to "introduce search strategies, methodologies and resources that prepare students to think critically and evaluate the relevance and authority of information in an electronic environment" [37]. Proposals include practice activities embedded in research instruction sessions, the creation of online tutorials, development of a Virtual Ask-a-Librarian Wiki site, and the use of Facebook to announce classes.

Distance Learning Sites
Research instruction workshops and other library services are presented to distance learning students in accordance with the main library's mission and policies. Students and faculty receive comparable services through online resources and hands-on instruction at their respective sites.

The on-site Librarian at the Northwest Center works diligently to create course-integrated library research instruction sessions. In Fall 2007, 27 classes were offered, and 13 were surveyed. 41% of the respondents indicated that this was not their first library research session, indicative of regular instruction, and 71% agreed that they would benefit from a follow-up class. 88% of the students said that the session was presented in a timely manner / at an appropriate time during the semester. Finally, 67% of participants rated the instructor as excellent, with another 26% ranking the presenter as good for a total of 93% positive impressions [38]. Topics in these sessions include Library policies (cards, circulation, etc.), searching library databases, Library resources (eRes, ILL, staff, etc.), Citation Styles (APA, MLA), copyright and plagiarism, and writing styles. Distance learning students are eager for all types of instruction, from online tutorials to one-on-one assistance to sessions during orientation or registration [39].

Students in the College of Nursing have an on-site Librarian to assist them with using the John B. Coleman Library resources and also enjoy privileges at the Houston Academy of Medicine-Texas Medical Center (HAM-TMC) Library. They can take library classes on the PubMed search service [40], receive customized instruction at the university facility, and go through library orientations [41].

Supporting Documentation and Links

Comprehensive Standards 3.8.2

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