The ALICE Library Instruction Toolbox: An Exercise in Collaboration
Heather L. May and Bruce G. Kocour
The Appalachian College Association (ACA) is a multi-state consortium of 33 "like-minded, value-centered, independent liberal arts institutions committed individually and collectively to enhancing opportunities for higher education and the quality of learning in the Appalachian region" (ACA 2001 Viewbook). Four of the institutions are located in Virginia: Bluefield College, Emory and Henry College, Ferrum College, and Virginia Intermont College. ACA institutions are typically located in isolated rural communities, have small numbers of students and faculty, and limited financial resources. Twenty-eight of the member institutions are affiliated with a Christian denomination. It is against this academic and cultural backdrop that the Appalachian Library Information Cooperative Endeavors (ALICE) group was formed in 1997. (Although the acronym remains the same, the full name changed to Appalachian Library Inter Campus Extension in April, 2002.)
The ALICE Library Instruction Toolbox originated with an idea of Michael Sturgeon's (Systems Librarian at Lee University and ALICE Steering Committee member) to collect pathfinders from all of the ACA institutions, to compile a list of "must have" reference titles, and a list of journals held by each library. Through subsequent discussions the idea evolved into a Mellon Teaching and Technology Stage II Grant (administered by the ACA) with the following goals:
- "To develop a group of instructional tools to be used in the teaching of basic research methodology and skills"
- "To develop a clearinghouse of instructional tools and toolkits and Web sites to use in teaching advanced research methodology and skills" (http://vcenter.acaweb.org/Toolbox/grant_proposal.html)
The Toolbox Team was formed with representation from Bethany College (Heather May), Carson-Newman College (Bruce Kocour), Lee University (Michael Sturgeon), Maryville College (Roger Myers), the University of Charleston (Susan Foster-Harper), and Wheeling Jesuit University (Rob Behary). The project officially began at the Spring 2000 ALICE Public Services Conference held at Cumberland -College.
The conference included a discussion of the Five-College Consortium in Massachusetts with Chris Hannon from Smith College presenting their collaborative efforts. It also included "best practices" presentations from Behary, Foster-Harper, Kocour, May, and Myers, and brainstorming sessions with all of the conference participants to determine their "wish lists" for the Toolbox.
Subsequent team activities included a visit to the Five-College Consortium institutional members (Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst), participation in an ACRL workshop ("Library Instruction on the Web"), presented at the 2000 ACA Technology Summit. The team was also able to meet three additional times to discuss the development and promotion of the Toolbox.
Throughout the following year, phone calls were made to the instruction librarians at all of the ACA libraries to inform them of the project, to solicit their contributions and input, and to give them the web address of the Toolbox. Visits were also made to eight ACA libraries-Mars Hill, Montreat, Warren-Wilson, Milligan, King, Emory & Henry, Lincoln Memorial, and Cumberland-with the same goals in mind. The project culminated with a presentation of the design, contents, uses, and future of the Toolbox at the Spring 2001 ALICE Public Services Conference held at Montreat College, followed by a brief recapitulation of the project at the 2001 ACA Technology Summit.
Analysis of the Toolbox (as of March, 1 2002)
There are 105 items in the Toolbox, comprising five different formats and submitted by fourteen ACA institutions. (See Appendix A.)
At the Spring 2000 ALICE Public Services Conference held at Cumberland College, brainstorming sessions were held to determine the desired content of the Toolbox. The following list represents the desired general characteristics of the Toolbox.
- Clearinghouse for new ideas
- Interactivity, so students will use it
- Snapshot of BI methods and materials in use at ACA libraries and beyond
- Research techniques-basic and subject oriented
- Compilations of guides, pathfinders, webliographies, and tutorials
- Templates for the above
Appendix B represents the more specific items that were suggested for inclusion in the Toolbox by the librarians attending the conference and the items in the Toolbox that match those requests.
The Team was also charged with including materials on information literacy, and the Toolbox does include items addressing this topic. However, the Team was also told to refrain from "re-inventing the wheel," and to include outstanding instructional and informational literacy materials from outside the ACA. Therefore, the Toolbox includes a page of links to organizations, universities, and colleges outside the ACA (http://vcenter.acaweb.org/Toolbox/nonaca.htm).
Future of the Toolbox
There was no provision in the original grant for any formal continuation of the Toolbox.
However, submissions to the Toolbox continue to be made, and two members of the original team, Kocour and May, have agreed to maintain the site for the foreseeable future. The site has been redesigned taking into account several suggestions for improvement made by the team's consultant, Chris Hannon of Smith College. The Toolbox has also been incorporated into the newly formed ACA Central Library. This administrative inclusion links the project more formally to the ACA's technical and human resources and has already resulted in greater access to ACA servers and technical assistance.
Assessment of the Toolbox is ongoing. Areas that need additional coverage can be identified and the ALICE Public Services listserv used to communicate such needs and wish lists. Updates on Toolbox activities continue with the use of the ALICE Public Services listserv and a variety of venues for promotion. Future ALICE Public Services conferences will include time for promotion of the site. A poster session highlighting the collaborative aspect of the project was presented at the 2002 American Library -Association Convention. Another former team member, Roger Myers, presented the Toolbox as the main program for the Tennessee Library Association's Library Instruction Roundtable during the TLA Annual Conference in March 2002. It is hoped that these latter two opportunities will give the Appalachian College Association and its librarians positive exposure at state and national levels.
The ACA is a relatively large consortium in terms of both membership and geographic coverage. It is this latter characteristic that presents the greatest challenge to collaboration. However, "the widespread adoption of Internet protocols has made it easier for libraries to link together in consortia and pool their resources effectively" (Balas, 44). Two members of the team, Behary and Sturgeon, were particularly knowledgeable about Internet technologies and had the foresight to use XML (extensible markup language) to structure the contents of the toolbox. Using XML makes it easy for the computer to sort the contents of the toolbox in a variety of ways. The contents of the toolbox, for example, can be sorted by title, by institution, and by subject. (For a thorough discussion of XML and related languages, see the W3C site at http://www.w3.org/XML/.)
The team also relied heavily on e-mail and instant messaging to communicate between meetings and on the ALICE Public Services listserv to communicate with all of the ACA libraries. The Toolbox itself is entirely dependent on the Internet for its dissemination. The contents consist of a variety of formats-Word, HTML, Power-Point, and Shockwave-and are located on servers throughout the ACA. The Internet, however, makes viewing this variety of materials, from locations spread out over five states, seamless.
While Internet technologies can efficiently address the technical side of collaboration, it falls short as a replacement for the human side. Effective collaboration must include face-to-face interaction. Team building, a vital component to successful collaboration, cannot occur via e-mail.
In an article describing the Coalition for Networked Information's New Learning Communities Program, the authors identify four phases of team development: team formation, design/development, implementation, and evaluation (Tompkins, 104). It is during the crucial team formation phase that members articulate their visions for the project and define their individual roles based on their strengths. Toolbox team members' roles were largely predetermined, and the team failed to take full advantage of the strengths of its individual members. Nevertheless, needs were identified, and the assignment of duties was made and carried out throughout the project.
The importance of face-to-face interaction in a collaborative project is also illustrated by the success of personal visits to ACA libraries. The project benefited greatly from visits to eight ACA libraries. Meeting with colleagues in their libraries presented a wonderful opportunity to solicit submissions, promote the usefulness of the Toolbox, and gather ideas for improvements in our library services. The benefit would have been even greater if all of the ACA colleges could have been visited. However, the idea of visiting any member institutions was not in the original grant and in fact did not arise until late in the summer of 2000. The option of visiting all ACA colleges proved to be unfeasible given the number of colleges and the fact that the institutions are spread out over five states. Even the relatively small number of visits was problematic given our regular responsibilities at our own libraries. Perhaps future collaborative projects could involve clusters of colleges that are in close proximity to each other, with team membership drawn from these clusters.
The ALICE Library Instruction Toolbox represents one of the first truly collaborative efforts of this fledgling organization. With continued promotion, the array of library instruction materials available through the site will no doubt continue to grow. ACA librarians, faculty, and, most importantly, students will continue to benefit from the collective talent of librarians at thirty-three institutions.
The strength of the Appalachian College Association emanates from the collaborative and cooperative spirit of its members and their deep commitment to improving higher education and the quality of life in Appalachia. Librarians throughout the ACA are proud to be active participants in these endeavors. We welcome the responsibility and privilege that this and future collaborative projects represent.
(The authors gratefully acknowledge the input and approval of all the Toolbox Team members in the preparation of this article.)
ACA: Appalachian College Association 2001 Viewbook. Appalachian College Association, Inc.: Kentucky: 2001.
Balas, Janet. "Library Consortia in the Brave New Online World." Computers in Libraries 18, 4 (1998): 42-44.
Tompkins, Philip, Susan Perry, and Joan K. Lippincott. "New Learning Communities: Collaboration, Networking, and Information Literacy." Information Technology and Libraries 17, 2 (1998): 100-106.
Appendix A - Toolbox Content
Format Number of Items HTML 60 Microsoft Word 36 Microsoft PowerPoint 7 Macromedia Shockwave 2
Institutional Breakdown Number of
Alderson-Broaddus 3 Bethany 7 Bluefield 2 Carson-Newman 16 Cumberland 17 Emory & Henry 1 Kentucky Christian 9 King 2 Lee 18 Mars Hill 1 Maryville 16 Milligan 6 University of Charleston 2 Wheeling Jesuit University 5
Subject Areas Number of Items Accounting, Business, Economics, Marketing 5 Astronomy, Computer Science, Mathematics, Physics 1 Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Environment 3 Communication 3 Education, Psychology, Social Work, Child and Family Studies 16 English 3 Fine Arts, Music, Performing Arts 1 First Year Seminar 4 History, International Relations, Political Science 5 Information Literacy, Bibliographic Instruction, Assessment 16 Law 3 Librarian Tools, Database Guides, General Pathfinders 34 Nursing, Radiology, Respiratory Medicine, Sports Medicine, Nutrition and Dietetics 5 Philosophy, Religious Studies, Theology 5 Physical Education, Sports Studies 1
Appendix B - Materials Requested
Items Requested Number of Items in Toolbox
Corresponding to Request
Tutorials for specific databases/subjects/vendors/web 14 databases Evaluation of Web sites 3 How to cite Internet resources 1 Subject Web guides 16 subject areas Journals vs. magazines 2 Dewey & LC classification systems 2 Information on assessment 2