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Food Insecurity

May 23, 2022

Right now, many of us are wincing each time our gas tank is creeping towards ‘E,’ and we’re noticing our grocery bills are getting higher. The pandemic is still putting us through our paces, but we are not the only ones feeling the strain on our wallet. This year many of our colleges and universities returned to full-time, in-person instruction. With the return to campus, there were some notable changes amongst our students.

At Susquehanna University, where I work as the First-Year Experience Librarian, my colleagues and I were noticing that the café in our library was busier than normal. In fact, it would have a line out the door from open until close. The café manager shared that they were averaging one thousand meal swipes a week –at the school’s smallest eatery. Like many places, our Dining Services Office was struggling to find enough staff. Students were also still wary of COVID, and they preferred the grab-and-go options of the library café and other campus eateries over the large open and maskless space that was the main dining hall. Students were sometimes waiting two hours for food after submitting an order. Some were putting in lunch orders at breakfast or skipping the lines (and dinner) altogether to make it to class on time. Bottom line? Our students were hungry.

In my role I work closely with Student Life, and I was expressing to one of my colleagues my concerns over student food insecurity. She told me that there were two pantries on campus (one in our chapel and one at the Hillel House), but she lamented that the need was growing beyond what those pantries could provide. Considering the library is located on the opposite side of campus from the chapel, I and my colleague, Tracy Powell, proposed we started a third pantry in the library.

Several shelves stocked with dry food items and personal hygiene items.
Free pantry at the Blough-Weis Library, Susquehanna University

All SU pantries are funded by our Student Care Fund, which is a fund alumni specifically donate to in order to provide students with emergency supplies. Our pantry, like the others on campus, is stocked with lots of thought. Not all students have can openers, some students want to avoid the sodium levels that come with ramen noodles, some pre-packaged items still require fresh ingredients, etc. We try to find cans with tabs or ready-made pasta, and our chapel pantry has a refrigerator with milk, eggs, butter, etc. Our library pantry is also stocked with personal hygiene items. We have everything from soap and shampoo to feminine products, contact solution, acne scrub, and hairbrushes. In order to truly meet the students’ needs, we also have a notepad where students can write down items they’d like to see in our pantry. Many of the suggestions are for more organic items, fresh produce, and so on.

Over the summer, when the campus eateries are closed, students hit the pantries even harder. Those of us who host the pantries are considering making each location have its own specialty. For example, the chapel is the only pantry with a refrigerator for fresh products. The library seems to be turning into the hotspot for personal hygiene items. And, finally, the Hillel House seems to be getting more requests than the others for organic and vegan items. Times are changing and so are our students’ needs. Before we think about how best to teach them information literacy, maybe we should stop and wonder if they ate yet today. How can we nurture the student as a whole person in addition to supporting them in their research needs? What resources exist on our campuses that we can tap into, or where are there gaps in meeting our students’ unique and dynamic needs?

Scaling back on LibGuides

May 20, 2022
"This is fine" meme but dog says "why don't we make a LibGuide?"
Twitter user @TwoGreatOaks’ meme that summarizes my feelings about LibGuides

I have a love-hate relationship with LibGuides. So much so I presented about them at LOEX 2022 just a couple of weeks ago. In that presentation, my mentor and I expressed our frustrations and hopes for LibGuides in what we consider to be their optimal use. We started off by soliciting the audience’s grievances, and, boy, did they deliver.

Complaints about LibGuides

It seems like everyone has a beef with making LibGuides. If they are so onerous to make…to keep up to date…to get students to use…Why do we continue to make them? Would anything make them better? I have so much to say on this topic, especially after conducting a literature review in preparation for our presentation, but, for now, I will reflect on the aspect that sticks with me the most: centering the learner.

Take a moment to think about how you decide to make a LibGuide. I suspect we fall into these categories:

  • Subject LibGuides for liaison subjects/departments
  • Course Guides at faculty request or our own volition.
  • General guides about a topic of our choosing, whether subject or current event related.

These approaches do not inherently center the learner. They center the information and, honestly, us. We choose what materials to include in the guides based on subject expertise or familiarity with collections. Faculty let us know what they want to see in the guides sometimes with little room for feedback from us. Or we choose to make a guide based on a topic we find interesting or important. Where are our users in these approaches?

Centering the learner means understanding how our students look for and engage with information. Librarians’ mental models differ from our students’. We have a complete understanding of the research process and present information in a way that reflects that. We create guides that have a certain flow, that have an order that is logical to us: here are the books that might be useful, here are the databases. Students are focused on the product of research. They want access to the information that will get them there which means they are not reading through our guides like a book.

Our students are also search dominant thanks in part to Google. When they see a search box, they will use it both to “assert independence” from the navigation and as an “escape hatch” when they can’t seem to find what they need. They are not browsing our lists of resources on LibGuides just because. It is unsustainable for us to continue to make guides that we *think* might be useful but then never update them. And then hand them over to other librarians when we leave an institution.  

To me it seems like the best approach to making LibGuides is to make them for specific courses and to embed them into the learning management system (LMS), like Canvas or Blackboard. When we go into that class for an instruction session, either teach directly from the guide or make explicit to students that the guide was made specifically for them. They are more likely to use the guide when it is already embedded into the LMS environment that they are in all the time.

This approach will result in fewer guides, which sounds really great to me. The guides we do make, however, will be more meaningful and useful to our students. I’m willing to try it out.

Register for Summer CRD Journal Club!

May 16, 2022

The summer series of Journal Club will meet on the third Thursday of the month from 2:00-3:00 pm. We will meet on June 16, July 21, and August 18. Please use this link to register and let us us know any topics you are interested in reading about this summer. We look forward discussing the latest scholarly literature with you!

The Evolution of Collecting Student Feedback

May 13, 2022
"Clicker" remote from Turning Technologies

Our librarians have been collecting student feedback at the end of instruction sessions for well over a decade. In the 2007-2009 era, we were one of the few departments on our campus to use Clickers — does anyone remember those? — and they were good for getting anonymized pop-quiz assessment data and for injecting some novelty and humor into library sessions. With software and hardware changes and a campus switch to Mac OS, however, they eventually became more trouble than they were worth. Today the plastic shoebox of numbered remotes serves as my footrest under my desk. 

Today's library session was
Extremely helpful (10) to A complete waste of time (1)
The librarian was
Clear and approachable (10) to Grumpy and incoherent (1)
The most useful thing I learned today and why it will be helpful:
Other comments/suggestions:

Around 2009, I began to hand out printed half-sheets of paper with Likert scales for students to rate their satisfaction with the session, plus a prompt for a “one-minute paper” about how they expected to use the knowledge they had gained. I would go through the papers after every class session and transcribe and code the results. It was time-consuming (and sometimes humbling) work, but it gave me a good sense of what the students had to say about our research instruction and how it could be improved. This method also gave us some basic quantitative data to present to the administration. 

Library session evaluation
Course number:
Your professor's last name:
Librarian (choose one):

In 2014, we transitioned the same template to a Google Form survey. All of our students receive a Macbook (and, at the time, an iPad) and are expected to bring a mobile device to every class, so this was feasible. The electronic version retained the Likert scales for rating the librarian’s clarity and approachability, as well as another scale to rate the session’s overall helpfulness. It also included long-answer boxes for students to share “The most useful thing you learned today and why it will be helpful” as well as an option to share any general comments they might have. 

We embedded the Google Form into a LibGuide page that could be reused on subject guides and also to have the “friendly URL” as another distribution option. From a data-management perspective, moving the survey to Forms made my life a lot easier. Responses were exported into a Google Sheets spreadsheet and I could run the average Likert scale scores in seconds. All of the librarians could access the spreadsheet, so each librarian instructor could access, copy, and manage the data from their classes if they liked while still allowing me to retain the comprehensive dataset.  

With a few minor adjustments to the questions over the years, this is how we collected student class feedback from 2014 until this past academic year. As Fall 2021 loomed and I reflected that the Likert scale scores had remained consistent for seven years, I decided that continuing to collect those numbers was unnecessary. I eliminated the Likert scale questions. I reworded the first free-answer question, which asked students to identify what they believed would be the most useful takeaway from the session and why. I also changed the second long-answer question to give them an opportunity to leave a question, rather than the vague “any other comments?” prompt we had used previously.

Please list any specific websites, research tools, or searching strategies that you learned in the librarian visit early in the semester that helped you complete this assignment and/or class:
Is there anything you WISH had been covered in the librarian visit that would have helped you with this assignment and/or course?

I also created a follow-up library session survey for distribution to students later on in the term, after they had a chance to put our teachings into practice. This survey asked the students to list any specific tools, sites, or strategies that they ended up using, and it also asked if there were any areas where they thought more guidance would have helped. The follow-up survey was sent to faculty either several weeks after the class visit or shortly after a major assignment due date, if we knew when a significant research project was due. 

Project Outcome Measuring the True Impact of Libraries

This was a major improvement, but we only used it for one semester! In early January 2022, my director asked me to take a look at ACRL’s Project Outcome. I had heard of it before but somehow had never looked into it; for some reason, I had the impression that it cost money and/or was better suited for large institutions. But I registered for an online presentation about it (“ACRL Project Outcome: Closing the Loop: Using Project Outcome to Assess and Improve a First-Year English Composition Information Literacy Program,” recording available here: 

93% learned something new to help succeed in classes
92% felt more confident about completing assignment(s)
94% intend to apply what they learned
90% were more aware of resources and services provided by the library

What struck me most as I learned about Project Outcome was that after all of my years of trial and error, the current iteration of my homegrown Google Form survey and the new follow-up survey were virtually identical to the surveys Project Outcome uses. When I realized that Project Outcome would allow me to instantly generate a visual representation of the students’ feedback, as well as compare our results to our Carnegie class peers across the nation, I was sold. Our provost favors quantitative data, and like most university administrators, she has many demands on her time. I’m excited to include this data comparison and visualization in our annual report, as I think it “tells our story” in a numerically-based and quick-to-comprehend way. 

I am still learning my way around the Project Outcome dashboard and learning how best to administer and manage the surveys. Embedding the survey into a LibGuide page, as I had done with the Google Form, was a definite fail. Many students could not get the embedded survey to load. Fortunately, the direct URL to the survey is brief enough to post on the presentation screen, and I also made the old LibGuide “friendly URL” simply redirect to it. This seems to be working well. Participation in the follow-up survey is low and probably self-selects to more motivated students, but that is an expected limitation. Overall, I look forward to gathering more student feedback via Project Outcome and learning more about the ways that it allows us to analyze and present that data. 

Register today for the 2022 College & Research Division Spring Workshop!

May 10, 2022

Registration to attend the 2022 College & Research Division Spring Workshop is now open! Academic libraries are constantly adapting and evolving to meet the changing needs of our diverse patrons and communities. The pandemic continues to expose fissures in higher education and library employees have been working diligently to address issues as they arise. Perhaps your library has needed to create new policies or implement new services; maybe your library is designing new physical spaces to accommodate patron needs. As the course curriculum evolves, so do library practices.

On Thursday, June 2, at the Madlyn L. Hanes Library at Penn State Harrisburg, we will explore how academic libraries have adapted and evolved in new and different ways to meet the needs of our campuses and communities. A full event program with session descriptions can be found at this link. The Spring Workshop will include a light breakfast and welcome remarks, morning presentations, boxed lunch, followed by afternoon presentations.

Investment: PaLA Member $50 | Non-member $75 | Student $25

Register HERE:

If you are interested in staying in a nearby hotel, we encourage you to review these options:

Workshop registration will close on Friday, May 20, 2022. 

This project is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor. Support is also provided by the College and Research Division of the Pennsylvania Library Association ( Show your appreciation by becoming a member of PaLA! And if you are a member – thank you!