by Roshini Pather
As the Portfolio Head for Library Information Services I often wondered what support we provide for postgraduate students in the Libraries.
A few days ago I was at the Information and Communication Services (ICS) helpdesk having my computer upgraded, when a tearful student rushed in crying: “Can you please help me, my entire thesis has been deleted from my flash drive. And all I was trying to do was print the copies for submission and all my files disappeared.” “A common and frequent complaint”, said the gentleman from the helpdesk. A staff member also waiting for assistance, shared her experience of her PhD study and recounted how she lost a year of her study when her computer crashed just as she saved the last bit of her raw data. It took a whole year to re-do that and currently she uses DropBox for everything.
This got me thinking, as a librarian and university employee whose responsibility is it to assist this student? Many students do not have the necessary research or technology-related skills when they begin their degree and supervisors do not have the time to teach them these basic skills. Students doing postgraduate studies are generally mature students, with family/life responsibilities, have been out of the academic setting for a while, have full-time work and are not necessarily up-to-date with technology and are at differing levels of technological literacy.
Was it the supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that the student is adequately computer literate before embarking on the degree or the students? But this is not just about the student’s computer literacy, what about her language proficiency, knowledge of bibliographic management tools like Endnote, Refworks, plagiarism software - Turn-it-in, statistical packages and the list goes on.
Is this the domain of the Library, the subject specialist, the IT department or the academic staff? Whose task is it to train her in all these elements so that she is able to submit a thesis worthy of examination and publication? Is it the librarian’s task only to teach them how to use the library resources or to prepare them for lifelong learning and getting that degree at the same time?
The library is the first point of contact (and continuous contact) outside of the academic leader or supervisor. Aren’t we ideally placed to offer this support to students. The library is the visible part of the Research portfolio and has the advantage of being geographically placed. It may not be our area of expertise, but we have the necessary competencies, skills and expertise. By being the first point of contact and working daily with postgraduates, we can see where the issues and questions arise, and the pressures they experience. Our key responsibilities is to provide support and assistance to researchers.
As a PhD graduate, I think the library can contribute a great deal to this process. I would have valued some advice and support at the beginning of my studies, tips if you want to call them:
· Format your document right at the Research Proposal stage with the headings, tables, footnotes, line-spacing, etc,
· Save your references according to your chapters because once you reach submission stage and you have 300 some odd references and want to check you have correctly cited them, then it is a struggle to find that reference.
· Use EndNote right from the start.
· Save, save and save again. Nowadays you have DropBox, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Apple’s ICloud, Google Drive, your flash drive and hard-drive.
Academic libraries have changed tremendously in the last few years from their physical spaces to how the service is provided. Information resources are available in many different formats and librarians are able to train users on how best to use them and therefore understand how software is connected, which vocabulary to use, programming and script languages and web design. Users are using a variety of technology in their research. So smart (post-PC) devices are being used more and more – and the librarians provide assistance with these devices and understand the capabilities and limitations
Research Commons: Edgewood Campus
As the student is our client, we should be able to assist or direct them to the necessary expertise. Librarians’ roles are evolving beyond that of information gatekeepers and this is largely being dictated to by technology. Our services and collections are changing and therefore our skill set should also adapt as we are required to perform more and more non-traditional library functions. More importantly, in order to remain relevant, and of value to our users, we should adapt to the changing environment but bear in mind that the traditional library will still remain for many years to come. Librarians should be embedded in the entire research cycle right from the research proposal stage to final submission.
As no single university department is capable of providing all postgraduate services, there is an opportunity for libraries to capitalise and build on their strengths in delivering services to the postgraduate community and to strategically partner with Student services, Information Communication Services, Research Office, Teaching and Learning, Writing Centre and Postgraduate offices/departments to offer a diverse range of events, workshops and courses, which provide critical communication, writing, teaching and professionals skills to postgraduate students and researchers. Intentionally or not, many of these partnerships will address the segmentation and differing lifecycle stages of postgraduate students. At the same time this should be matched with staff development programmes and in-house training to ensure that our librarians are trained to assist in the research process.