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More Than Pictures of Lizards: The Value of Librarians and In-Person Instruction

Kendra HurtThis post was written by Kendra Hurt, an Instructional Design Intern at the Biodiversity Heritage Library & Smithsonian Libraries. Kendra is graduating this May from the University of Maryland with a Master of Library Science.

This semester I have worked with Bianca Crowley and Trina Brown as an Instructional Design intern, and I’ve been creating videos, writing instructions, and conducting sessions on using Prezi and how to search the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) via advanced search.

Recently I have been helping two researchers from the National Museum of Natural History download reptile images from BHL (example images in this post are from the Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library’s copy of Bilder-Atlas zur wissenschaftlich-populären Naturgeschichte der Wirbelthiere) for their publication. Though I’ve been working on creating new written instructions and recording a video for this very involved process most of this semester, it was exciting and educational to have a real-life use case. I’ve learned more about how researchers use BHL and what they need, and been able to revise the directions accordingly.

The biggest change was making the instructions more browser-neutral, and then adding detailed instructions for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari for the user to follow as applicable. I also added more screenshots for users to visually confirm what is in the instructions with what is (or should be) on their screen.

 

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Plate from Bilder-Atlas zur wissenschaftlich-populären Naturgeschichte der Wirbelthiere, via BHL. From the Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library.

 

Two challenges with keeping these instructions updated and useful are 1) Internet Archive (where the BHL images are hosted) is currently redesigning their website, so beta features change and move, and 2) Internet Explorer has quirks that require different steps than other major browsers. Those two issues, along with the fact that downloading a high quality image is a complicated procedure (which BHL hopes to simplify in the future), has made this whole process of creating and editing the instructions a great learning opportunity and showcased the iterative process of instructional design. Also, even though BHL and the Smithsonian Libraries already do a good job of connecting with their users, and I think BHL’s virtual collection is a spectacular way to get those materials to a global audience, this experience demonstrated for me yet again the unique value of face-to-face interactions in librarianship.

This opportunity also demonstrated that good instructional design is never done, since learning is a conversation between teacher and student, and feedback is a key component. It reiterated for me how complex the teaching process can be—I had to know how to download high quality images fairly well myself and troubleshoot problems that came up, be able to communicate the process in multiple ways, and adapt to the user’s perspective and needs. Directions are rarely “one size fits all”, and it is valuable to have a librarian on hand that can bridge the gap between a user and the resource they need with in-person assistance both when and where the information need arises.

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Plate from Bilder-Atlas zur wissenschaftlich-populären Naturgeschichte der Wirbelthiere, via BHL. From the Harvard University, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Ernst Mayr Library.

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