MLA 2011: Are We Speaking the Same Language?

Are We Speaking the Same Language? International Students and and Academic Libraries

LaTanya West, Branch Manager (Perryvill & Port Deposit), Cecil County Public Libraries
Nedelia Tchangalova, University of MD College Park
Gergana Kostova, University of MD Baltimore County


Gregana – Teaching Library Research Skills to International Students
Lots of different kinds of challenges for international students. How can we help them? We need to understand them so they can understand us! Knowing more about how to research and use our systems can help reduce culture shock/library anxiety. For us, working in a diverse increases cultural awareness and develops cultural sensitivity.

Explore – who are our international students? What countries?
Design activities related to their curriculum [Ed. Note: This goes for ALL our students!]
Improve communication – provide resources about their home countries so they can point their friends to it [Also so faculty can find it]

Collaborate with English Language Institute instructors, orientations, instruction sessions, consultations. Do a needs assessment.
In working with ELI instructors, Gergana found an instructor who wanted help with assignment design, module on avoiding plagiarism (many international students don’t get this in their home countries [cultural norms around this are also different in some countries from what I understand].

Needs assessment was posted in Blackboard, 2 open-ended and 5 Y/N. Asked to complete before library instruction session. What they wanted? Someone “whose job is to assist the international students at the library” and also – patience with their explanations. Many of them know they need help, aren’t familiar with catalog, databases.

After the survey, changed the content of instruction sessions. Focus on finding and selecting sources, off campus access to resources. Consultations can be important – they need a personal contact, they’re even shier about asking questions in groups.

Did a second shot about database searching, with a visual component – Prezi storyboard. Also useful for deaf students.

Also had ELI students provide ideas for library exhibits & help with them.

Tips: Use both verbal and nonverbal communication. Share your personal experience in an unknown environment. Be patient & take a few extra minutes. Be prepared to offer more than just research help. Ask them to demonstrate their understanding “Show me how you’ll do this next time!” Be aware of cultural and social differences in etiquette.

Nedelina: Melting the Ice – International Students and UMD
[Ed. Note: Saw a library degree as a way to help with information overload after moving to the US from Bulgaria]

Her first days in the US – how to address professors, even how to sit in the classroom (feet up?!), food and drink in the class? Social isolation. Then once in library school – library jargon. Tried looking for databases on the shelves.

Social activities – international student coffee hour at the library. Helps with social isolation and also gives them a chance to find out about library stuff. Nedelia also tried to hire a few of them to work circulation – mentoring opportunity. (Important to make policies and procedures very clear though. Possibly a good time to streamline some!)

This Fall Semester, about 10% of students were international at UM College Park.

LaTanya – Play Along: Keys to Customer Service
Up until a month ago was at UMBC. Also teaches an online graduate research class with many international students.

Good customer service – geared towards international students but this really is applicable to all customers and all customer bases.

Have we met the customer’s expectations? Are we willing to say when we haven’t?

P – Pause & clear your mind of preconceptions
L – Listen, try not to “guess ahead”
A – Accept that this may take a little more time & patience
Y – Yes – keep this word in mind – Yes I can help this patron and Yes it will go well.

A – Assess the situation as you go (communicating with or at each other?)
L – Learn new customer service skills as you go – apply them again later
O – Offer alternatives if there’s still confusion (does one of your colleagues know more on the topic?)
N – Never jump to conclusions about the patron or the question
G – Give yourself honest feedback, what worked, what didn’t

Patrons who ask questions but are busy on the phone while you’re trying to help them. This is a cultural thing now, people don’t even notice what they’re doing — it’s not personal, directed at you.

Take responsibility for the way you interact with your customers.

More tips:
Be patient but not patronizing. Try your best but know when to hand off to someone else. Double-check for understanding. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t speak louder, try another explanation. Don’t interrupt. Be careful with slang, gestures, jargon.

Remember that it takes a lot to go ask for help.

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