What an undergrad wants

The attempt to present services to students is a matter of much hand-wringing in academic libraries. “They want Google!” “They need databases!” “Convenience!” “Depth!” “Hopeless!” “Infinite!” & etc.

In my informal tour of various library interfaces today, one presentation has really stood out: The University of Minnesota’s Undergraduate Virtual Library. Take a look:

University of Minnesota Undergraduate Virtual Library

We have an OPAC search bar right up top, but we also have, clockwise from the top right, a ‘full text finder’ (and you know the kids are crazy for full text); a ‘top five’ list of applications that, presumably, you could get help using in the library; the ubiquitous ‘quick links’; a list of recently updated blogs (nota bene – this university library actively promotes and supports blogs across the campus); and, rounding back up top, immediate access to research guides, broken down by subject.

And now to the middle: a big button inviting students to a personalized ‘my library’ space – not an easy sell to undergraduates, unless well integrated and promoted, as this essay about NC State’s service suggests. And finally a cute application called the Assignment Calculator:

University of Minnesota's Assignment Calculator

…wherein you enter a start date, a due date, and a step-by-step roadmap gets generated, linked to guides to such matters as defining a topic, formulating a thesis, conducting research, reserving lab time, revising, writing instruction support, and RefWorks tutorials – all listed under the assurance that “you can beat the clock!” One can even ask for email reminders of various tasks.

Grad students have a similar “dissertation calculator” available on their own portal page (if I had had such a tool, surely I would have shaved years off the process…). In general, Minnesota has set up service pages for a range of user categories, demonstrating thoughtful envisioning of needs – and perhaps even collaboration along the way. A giant “feedback” button (not pictured here) lives at the very top of the Undergraduate page, inviting a click.

As a 2003 NSF-EU DELOS Working Group Report puts it, “Personalization is required to make an increasingly heterogeneous population of digital libraries accessible to an increasingly heterogeneous population of users.” Minnesota’s custom response to the real-world needs of that fitful and sometimes panicked user, the college student on deadline, meets that requirement with (let’s hope infectious) creativity.

Comments are closed.