Building an Effective Library for Technical Students

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In today'scompetitive academic marketplace, vocational and technical traininginstitutions are looking for new and better ways to attract studentsand equip them with marketable skills. At Concorde Career Institute,our goal is "to provide the best quality technical training to eachstudent in the shortest possible period of time." Achieving this goalwith students who enter Concorde with widely varying backgrounds andacademic skill levels is a challenge. Instructors and staffconstantly seek new ways to help students succeed in the classroom,and ultimately in the workplace. Part of the solution to this need atConcorde is an evolving, multimedia library collection. Thecollection is part of a comprehensive learning resourcescenter.

Concorde CareerInstitute in Kansas City is one of 12 campuses nationwide operated byKansas City-based Concorde Career Colleges, Inc. Specializing inallied health technical career training, each Concorde campus offerstraining in specialties high in demand among local health careproviders, hospitals and managed care organizations. In Kansas City,Concorde Career Institute's programs include Dental Assistant,Medical Assistant, Medical Administrative Assistant, RespiratoryTherapy and Respiratory Therapy Technician. The campus also offers anAssociate of Science degree program in allied health.

Prior to joiningConcorde, I worked in academic and public libraries across the UnitedStates and helped maintain or visited collections of varying levelsof comprehensiveness, organization and sophistication. When I beganworking at Concorde in 1997, I found the library to be typical ofsmall technical college libraries, which &emdash; out of necessity&emdash; have tended to invest much more heavily in hands-onclassroom equipment crucial to their curricula than in supplementallearning materials. Concorde's library collection was an eclectic mixof books on varying topics, old examinations, obsolete textbooks,etc. Students and instructors rarely used the collection, largelybecause it was of very limited value in terms of its relationship toclassroom curricula.

SolicitingInput

To address theinsufficient use of the library, I began soliciting input ondevelopment of library resources from instructors, students andadministrators at the campus. During this process I identified otherreasons for the low usage of the library. Many of the students didnot have positive or successful academic experiences prior toenrolling at Concorde. Others had been away from school for two ormore years, and needed to re-adapt to the educational environment.Most of the students were not avid readers or library users.Reflecting their experiences, students tended to be embarrassed abouttheir lack of knowledge of how to use a library; or they feared thata librarian would look down on their lack of knowledge; or they feltshy about "bothering" me with questions.

In addition, many ofthe instructors and staff members had no previous experience withpro-active library support. They lacked knowledge of how acomprehensive library and learning resources center could contributeto their professional development and effectiveness at capturingstudents' attention in the classroom and helping them overcomeacademic shortcomings. I realized that without active encouragementfrom instructors, students were unlikely to make the library part oftheir learning experience.

With formal MLStraining at the University of Maryland at College Park, I had workexperience at educational institutions in which libraries were fullyestablished, with substantial book collections, multiple magazine andjournal subscriptions and computers for online referencing ofinformation. Now I faced a new challenge. Concorde needed a plan fordevelopment of a library and learning resources center. The catch wasthat although administrators, instructors and students agreed that itwould be nice to have a library collection similar to those of areacommunity colleges, they were not sure how library resources couldbenefit them, or if the investment was appropriate for a technicalcollege.

At about this time,Concorde Student Services Director Lori Bohan conceived and developeda voluntary class to help students make successful transitions topost-secondary education. Titled Success 101, the class includedunits on study skills, reducing test anxiety and stress reduction.When Ms. Bohan invited me to make a presentation on the library, Iaccepted eagerly. The class presented an excellent opportunity forinteraction with students because the relaxed and non-threateningatmosphere helped disarm their embarrassment and shyness.

Success 101 alsohelped me to understand students' needs more clearly. All students inthe class participated in a learning styles inventory led by Bohan.Observing this exercise, I quickly realized that most of the studentswere tactile and visual learners, less likely to succeed in atraditional classroom environment based primarily on lectures,notetaking and reading. Visually stimulating learning experiences inwhich students could actively participate seemed to be the answer.Films and relatively new, interactive computer-based learningprograms held great potential to benefit Concorde students, Ibelieved.

ResearchingLiterature

Searching forprofessional literature on this topic, I found very little currentinformation that focused directly on implementation of comprehensivelearning resource centers in vocational/technical schools. Althoughthe "learning resource concept" has existed since the early 1970s,most research addresses K-12 schools. A 1972 Carnegie report entitled"The Fourth Revolution" stated that K-12 schools need "unifiedinformation-instructional resources" consisting of non-printinformation, visual and instructional software components. TheCollege Learning Resource Center, a 1978 book by Dwight F.Burlingame, hinted at expanding potential applications for technicaland vocational schools &emdash; applications that utilized thelearning resource center as a focal point for information technologyand alternative learning modalities.

In the July 1996issue of Library Journal, James Neal's article "Academic Libraries:2000 and Beyond," expressed what I hoped to achieve. Neal wrote: "Thelibrary will play a central role in the development of the campusinformation environment." This concept embodied what I felt Concordeinstructors and students needed in their learning resourcescenter.

Instructors in theMedical Assistant program, the largest program at Concorde's KansasCity campus, helped me gather initial information about the subjectareas in which their students struggled the most. The instructorsidentified anatomy and physiology, radiology and basic math as thegreatest challenges to students. Based on this feedback, I begansearching for materials to address these areas. I reviewedpublishers' catalogs and discussed software, overheads and films withpublishers' representatives. After careful review, I chose a CD-ROMfrom Mosby-Year Book called The Dynamic Human as a learningsupplement for anatomy and physiology, and presented it to theConcorde faculty.

SpreadingEnthusiasm

Offering the CD-ROMto the anatomy and physiology instructors for review, I reasoned thatif an instructor became excited about what a learning resourcescenter could provide, he or she would help me win over the students.This approach was effective. One instructor became enthused about theCD-ROM. Soon, others were asking for demonstrations or for more ideasabout how library resources could assist them and theirstudents.

Now, months later,the Concorde Career Institute Learning Resource Center in Kansas Cityis a work in progress, serving as a model for development of similarcenters at other Concorde campuses. We have several new computerstations for student use and an ever-expanding collection of films,CD-ROMs and educational software that can enhance learningexperiences. The enthusiastic response has made it necessary toarrange for students to use Learning Resource Center materials in thecampus computer labs when all of the center's computers are inuse.

We recently acquireda computer-television monitor configuration, which allows instructorsto effectively apply computer applications in their classrooms.Anatomy instructor Doris Vermillion says students "love it" when sheuses The Dynamic Human CD-ROM to illustrate a difficult concept.Instructors now give assignments to students that require them tovisit the Learning Resource Center and use interactive computersoftware. For example, students in Concorde's Respiratory Therapyprogram complete on-site clinical experiences in hospitals or otherhealth care facilities. Before students can visit clinical sites,instructor Lana Bass requires them to spend specific amounts of timeusing CD-ROMs in the Learning Resource Center that help them learn toidentify various breath sounds and provide drills on calculatingblood gases.

ReportingOutcomes

Although it is toosoon to compile data on how the Learning Resource Center has affectedoverall student success in the classroom, initial outcomes &emdash;reported informally by students and instructors &emdash; arepositive. As our film and multimedia collection expands, severalpublishers are proving to be excellent sources of materials relatedto allied health. In addition, materials for non-medical course workin areas such as basic math and English can be obtained fromothers.

I make a point ofregularly watching for new sources of reasonably priced videos andcomputer software. In addition, most manufacturers of equipment usedin allied health fields have instructional videos on the use of theirequipment, and company sales representatives usually provide thesevideos on a promotional basis at no charge.

Presently, about 30percent of the Concorde Learning Resource Center collection is madeup of videos, software and CD-ROMs. Our goal is to increasemultimedia support to more than 60 percent of the collection. Inaddition, we are integrating online database and Internet access,opening even more doors for our students to enhance their learningexperiences.

Building aneffective library for technical students and instructors is adaunting task that requires working from the ground up. It iscritical to identify barriers to student and faculty use, addressthem directly and solve problems creatively. The reward lies in thefeeling of accomplishment in having created a vital resource thatcontributes to an increasingly dynamic learningenvironment.


Mary Burgess iscoordinator of the Learning Resource Center at Concorde CareerInstitute in Kansas City, Mo.

Productsmentioned:
The Dynamic Human; Mosby-Year Book, St. Louis, MO, (800) 325-4177,www.mosby.com

This article originally appeared in the 06/01/1998 issue of THE Journal.

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