The vast majority of students will never use the academic library for its true purpose. Most students just want a quiet place to study or are looking to check the box for an assignment such as gathering peer review sources or compiling a list of research sources with proper citation.
However, any librarian understands that the ultimate goal of working in academics is to extend beyond the transactional relationship. Instead, they are meant to advise students and professors on which sources can help them make a specific point.
For example, a student may want to make a point on the impact that micro-lending to small businesses in third-world countries could improve food security, and want to find sources that help support their point. A librarian’s job is to ultimately help students and staff succeed with their research projects by helping them navigate the voluminous and at times confusing world of academic sources.
But more often than not, librarians end up sidetracked answering questions from underclassmen that are transactional and easy to answer. Fortunately, many solutions are allowing institutions to automate many of the mundane, redundant interactions that librarians have with students.
Here are three strategies that can help librarians better help students meet their research needs.
Understand trending topics
There are few things more valuable to an academic librarian than knowing what it is that students are seeking. Librarians can use this data to order new reference books as needed or know what type of content they need to create online guides for.
Creating student guides helps students get the answers they need, but can go out of date quickly if they’re not covering relevant topics. Fortunately, new advances in Big Data and analytics can help identify trending topics in real-time and make supporting students easier than ever.
It also helps alleviate the repetitive questions that librarians sometimes deal with by providing needed resources up-front. Since many questions are seasonal or related to the timing in a semester, librarians can use analytics to find out when it’s time to change out stale content. For example, questions about extended hours during Finals time aren’t relevant at the beginning of the second semester while information about how to cite in APA format will remain evergreen.
Getting a solid grasp on trending topics allows librarians to help more students without the need to hire additional staff.
Provide support after hours
Students are notorious for studying at odd hours of the night. Naturally, this means that most of their questions are likely to happen after traditional work hours. For most librarians, this has been a point of tension for as long as libraries have been on campus.
But in today’s hybrid work environment, there is no reason to restrict support to strictly work hours. Instead of having your staff work the same shift every day, consider staggering your shifts so that there is help available whenever students need it.
Another solution is to implement a chatbot that can autonomously answer questions at all hours of the day. Implementing a bot allows your staff to rest easy during nights and weekends
Automate lower-level questions
The vast majority of questions are those that are already in an existing document or could simply be answered if students looked for it on their own. A librarian’s time is better spent answering research questions that take more nuance and consultation. They should be helping students and staff get the proof they need to strengthen their thesis and offer compelling evidence in support of their topic.
Yet for many librarians, this goal is aspirational at best. But with modern AI chatbots offering a higher value proposition to academia than ever before, librarians can provide more help where they’re needed most.
Making academic libraries convenient for students is critical to improving the overall experience. However, by embracing what analytics and chatbots have to offer, librarians can better serve more students without stressing their staff.