E-Learning in the Library: Developing an Online Library Research
by Anna Hulseberg
The instruction librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College (GAC) in St.
Peter, Minnesota has created a draft online library tutorial: “Doing
Research at the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library – and Beyond,”
available at http://www.gustavus.edu/oncampus/academics/library/tutorial.
An examination of this draft tutorial serves to illustrate some of the
issues concerning “e-learning” in the context of online library
Why Create an Online Library Tutorial?
The GAC library has a long tradition of course- and
assignment-related library instruction. Throughout the years, librarians
have supplemented this face-to-face instruction with print handouts, and
more recently, Web guides. These print and Web guides cover a variety of
issues, ranging from searching the online catalog to distinguishing
between scholarly journals and popular magazines. An online library
tutorial pulls all of these research guides together into a logical and
linear arrangement that can provide the student with both quick answers
to common research-related questions, and a better understanding of the
complete research cycle. The online tutorial can provide guidance for
students when they access online databases from remote locations as
well as from within the library.
Library Tutorial Content
The GAC library tutorial consists of three modules. Module one,
“Getting Started,” describes different types of research assignments,
provides advice on finding an initial focus for research, and gives tips
for planning a search. Module two, “Searching for Books, Articles, and
More,” the lengthiest section, covers the process of actually searching
for and locating items in the physical library and online. Module
three, “Choosing and Using Sources,” covers topics such as evaluating
and citing sources, and effectively integrating them into the text.
Librarians Jerilyn Veldof and Karen Beavers have compared the mental
models of librarians and undergraduate students as they relate to
online library tutorials. Through usability testing of the online
library tutorial at the University of Minnesota, they found that “while
students tend to view library research as a means to an end [i.e., a
decent grade on a paper or speech], librarians tend to teach research as
if it is an end in itself” (Veldof, 2001). Through the three modules
described above, the GAC library tutorial balances the mental model of
the student with that of the librarian. For instance, the “Getting
Started” module addresses what might be an immediate concern of the
student: that she understand the assignment and expectations of the
professor, and that she identify a good topic for her research. Module
two, “Searching for Books, Articles, and More,” covers the nuts and
bolts of searching for resources, and also teaches general skills that
librarians would like students to learn to apply to searches across
different databases. Module three, “Choosing and Using Sources,” covers
both basic issues such as how to cite sources, as well as more complex
issues such as how to integrate sources into the text.
Library Tutorial Design
The GAC tutorial is arranged linearly. It consists of a total of
four pages: the main page, which contains links to each of the modules,
and one page for each of the three modules. Once you enter module one,
there is a link at the bottom of the page to module two, and there is a
link at the bottom of module two that leads to module three. Through
usability testing of the online library tutorial at the University of
Minnesota-Twin Cities, Veldof and Beavers found that effective design
allows “both a sequencing of movement, as well as freedom of movement
within the tutorial” (Veldof, 2001). With that in mind, it may be useful
to add more navigation to the GAC tutorial. For instance, a hot-linked
outline of the entire tutorial in the left margin throughout would
situate the user in the sequence of the tutorial, and would allow the
user to click into various modules. It also might be helpful to split
the subtopics within each of the modules into separate screens, in order
to ease navigation and to make the text easier to read online.
Relationship to Library Instruction
Librarian Nancy Dewald has identified seven characteristics of good
library instruction (Dewald, 1999). She argues that online tutorials
“cannot completely substitute for a human connection in learning,” and
that librarians should examine those “best practices” in library
instruction that are “applicable to a Web environment” (Dewald, 1999).
The GAC library tutorial can also be examined in terms of Dewald’s seven
characteristics of good library instruction.
(1) Library instruction “is best received when it is course-related,
and specifically assignment-related” – Given the GAC library’s long
tradition of instruction, its online tutorial probably will not exist
as a stand-alone tutorial, but will be integrated into the library’s
instruction programs. In a discussion of the University of Arizona’s
Research Instruction Online (RIO) tutorial, librarians Laura J. Bender
and Jeffrey M. Rosen point out some of the ways an online tutorial may
be used: professors can require classes to work through several sections
in the tutorial prior to in-library instructional sessions; classes can
work through it during library sessions; and librarians can use the
tutorial during encounters at the reference desk (Bender, 1998 ) .
(2) “Active learning is of more benefit than lectures alone” – No
active learning components (such as exercises to be completed by the
student online) have been incorporated into the tutorial in draft form.
Perhaps some of the basic exercises the GAC librarians often assign to
first year students during instructional sessions could be integrated
into the tutorial.
(3) “Collaborative learning” benefits library instruction – As Dewald
mentions, using a tool like online conferencing software would probably
not be helpful for a stand-alone or course-related tutorial, and would
be administratively difficult (Dewald, 1999).
(4) “Being offered information in more than one medium helps
students” – The addition of graphics used strategically might enhance
the GAC tutorial. For instance, Venn diagrams to illustrate Boolean
searches might be helpful.
(5) Stating “clear educational objectives” is important – The
addition of an “Objectives” page might help both students and professors
better understand the intention and layout of the tutorial. The GAC
library might want to consider adding a “For Instructors” link similar
to the link on the University of Minnesota’s tutorial (Veldof, 2001).
(6) “Good library instruction teaches concepts, not merely mechanics”
– The GAC tutorial successfully balances teaching both mechanics (e.g.,
how to access the library catalog) and concepts that can be applied
across various resources (e.g., Boolean searching and evaluating
(7) “Good library instruction does not end with the class session,
but includes the option for asking the librarian for help at any future
time” – The GAC tutorial’s first module concludes with an invitation for
students to visit the reference desk for research help. A reference
librarian e-mail link throughout the tutorial might encourage students
to follow up with further questions.
When its content is fully developed, “Doing Research at the Folke
Bernadotte Memorial Library – and Beyond” will supplement librarians’
face-to-face teaching in course-related instruction sections and at the
reference desk. As they finalize the tutorial design, the GAC librarians
may want to consider adding more navigational tools, interactive
exercises, and options for additional help from librarians. It may be
helpful to split the subtopics within each of the three modules into
separate Web pages. In addition, the librarians will probably want to
develop strategies for integrating the tutorial into course-related
instruction. Finally, they will need to assess the usability of the
tutorial by seeking student feedback on both content and design. Though
the tutorial will soon be out of the “draft” stage, it will always be a
work in progress.
Bender, Laura J., and Jeffrey M. Rosen. “Working Toward Scalable
Instruction: Creating the RIO Tutorial at the University of Arizona
Library.” Research Strategies 16, no. 4 (1998): 315-325.
Dewald, Nancy H. “Transporting Good Library Instruction Practices
into the Web Environment: An Analysis of Online Tutorials.” The Journal
of Academic Librarianship 25, no. 1 (1999): 26-32.
Fister, Barbara. “Doing Research at the Folke Bernadotte Memorial
Library - and Beyond [DRAFT].” Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library.
Gustavus Adolphus College <http://www.gustavus.edu/oncampus/academics/library/tutorial>
(13 October 2003).
Veldof, Jerilyn, and Karen Beavers. “Going Mental: Tackling Mental
Models for the Online Library Tutorial.” Research Strategies 18 (2001):