Phillips Library enhances the student experience with online resources

Aurora University Phillips Library Since 1962, Phillips Library has served Aurora University students with their research and educational needs. According to Amy Schlumpf Manion, Information Services Librarian, steps taken in previous years have enabled the library to better connect students to necessary information.

“We have an online chat system that we’ve been using for several years now that’s grown tremendously in popularity,” said Manion. “We help a lot of students that way.”

The feature is available on the Aurora University website and within the online classroom portal. For traditional and online students, direct help from a librarian is available with the simple click of a button.

“The Ask-a-Librarian service from Phillips Library is so helpful,” says Alyssia Evans, a senior with a major in special education. “With just a click you can be connected to a librarian who can answer questions and even help with in-depth research. I used the live chat the last time I was working on a paper and the librarian who was online helped me determine the best keywords to use and showed me how to use the databases. As a result I was able to locate the best sources on my topic for my paper.”

However, the service is more than an online chat. Thanks to an integrated program, librarians are able to supplement the chat with helpful visuals. “When we’re helping students with the chat, in addition to just typing in answers to them or suggestions about where they could find appropriate research, we can actually take a screen capture of a page—what we’re looking at on our screens,” said Manion. “On the fly we can draw on it with arrows and boxes, highlight things and put messages, and then send that back to the student.”

Students are often asked to watch a short tutorial video at the start of the chat to help them learn how to research topics efficiently. These One Minute Mentor videos demonstrate how to locate a scholarly journal or topic.

“We’ll say ‘Watch this short video tutorial. While you’re doing that I’ll do a sample search and share a screen cast of my results with you,’” said Manion. “The thing we like about sharing the screen casts with students rather than just linking them up with the results is because we’re trying to teach students how to do the research, not to do the research for them.”

Between the five librarians, the online chat function is active 81 hours a week. When it is not online, students can submit questions offline and browse previous questions and answers.

The chat feature has quickly grown in popularity. From May 2013 to March 2014, 1,520 unique chats have taken place on the system. Including phone calls and face-to-face questions, approximately 24 percent of total requests at Phillips Library arrive via the online chat feature.

It has even become a replacement for some face-to-face conversations. “It’s funny because we’ll occasionally have students chatting with us [online] and we realize that they are actually in the library chatting with us,” said Manion. “They’re in another part of the library and they’d rather chat with us from the computer than come up to the desk.”

Regardless of the student’s location, the assistance students receive is appreciated.

“They tend to be so grateful for the help,” said Manion. “I laugh sometimes at how much gratitude they express to me that you would think is more deserving to people in other professions. I have students say to me ‘Oh my gosh, you saved my life,’ and I laugh because I’m not literally saving their lives. I really enjoy helping them.”

All students are able to receive personalized help even if they are not asking a question relevant to the library. In some cases, students are looking for writing assistance or have questions about transfer credits. Similar to transferring a phone call, the librarian can transfer the student to the appropriate center.

While Phillips Library has taken several steps to enhance available resources to students, Manion mentioned that the library is looking into other improvements. One of those options is the ability to instruct students in a web conference environment. Additionally, since librarians are unable to see the student’s screen in an online chat, a program could be used to view and possibly control a student’s computer in order to guide them through the research process.

In the meantime, the library is preparing to add materials to its collection. It has announced plans to purchase the PBS Video Collection, a database of 440 titles, to improve its selection of media resources. Currently, the library has seven databases that provide nearly 2,000 hours of academic streaming digital video. Students also have access to more than 114,000 ebooks and more than 35,000 academic journal titles.

All of these resources combine to be particularly helpful for online students across the country without physical access to Phillips Library. Since the beginning of 2013, Aurora University Online has been offering many of its traditional programs as online degree options, with 14 total undergraduate and graduate programs.

For Manion, the resources assist her in what she loves most about her position. “I love working one-on-one with students,” said Manion. “That’s my favorite thing to do.”