Challenges of Connecting Off-Campus Agricultural Science Users with Library Services

University of Florida Institutional Repository
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00000112/00001

Material Information

Title: Challenges of Connecting Off-Campus Agricultural Science Users with Library Services
Series Title: Davis, V. (2007). Challenges of Connecting Off-Campus Agricultural Science Users with Library Services. Journal of Agricultural and Food Information. Binghamton: Haworth Press. 8 (2), 39-48
Physical Description: Journal Article
Creator: Davis, Valrie
Publisher: Haworth Press
Publication Date: 2007


Spatial Coverage:


General Note: Valrie Minson also listed on publications as Valrie Davis.
Acquisition: Collected for University of Florida's Institutional Repository by the UFIR Self-Submittal tool. Submitted by Valrie Davis.
Publication Status: Published

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida Institutional Repository
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: Permissions granted to the University of Florida Institutional Repository and University of Florida Digital Collections to allow use by the submitter. All rights reserved by the source institution.
System ID: IR00000112:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00000112/00001

Material Information

Title: Challenges of Connecting Off-Campus Agricultural Science Users with Library Services
Series Title: Davis, V. (2007). Challenges of Connecting Off-Campus Agricultural Science Users with Library Services. Journal of Agricultural and Food Information. Binghamton: Haworth Press. 8 (2), 39-48
Physical Description: Journal Article
Creator: Davis, Valrie
Publisher: Haworth Press
Publication Date: 2007


Spatial Coverage:


General Note: Valrie Minson also listed on publications as Valrie Davis.
Acquisition: Collected for University of Florida's Institutional Repository by the UFIR Self-Submittal tool. Submitted by Valrie Davis.
Publication Status: Published

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida Institutional Repository
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: Permissions granted to the University of Florida Institutional Repository and University of Florida Digital Collections to allow use by the submitter. All rights reserved by the source institution.
System ID: IR00000112:00001

Full Text


Valrie Davis

Keywords: Outreach, distance library services, marketing


In 2005, the University of Florida Libraries created a new position, the Outreach

Librarian for Agricultural Sciences, whose primary purpose is to enhance library services

to the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) off-campus community. As of

Spring 2006, IFAS includes more than 995 faculty and staff located at 13 different

Research and Education Centers (RECs) and 67 County Extension offices throughout the

state of Florida, and more than 240 distance learning students studying from all over the

world. Providing library services to IFAS is complicated, considering the distance from

the main campus, the various levels of research, the wide range of subject expertise

required by users, and the separation into three distinct functions-research, education

and extension. In recent years many of the UF services and resources important to off-

campus users-such as Interlibrary Loan, virtual reference, instruction services, and

electronic resources-have dramatically improved, and yet a lack of awareness for these

services and a feeling of unhappiness persists. Furthermore, competition from resources

like Google Scholar makes building awareness of library services a top priority. This

paper covers the various steps taken, and challenges met, to generate awareness of

available library resources and services.

Valrie Davis is Assistant University Librarian/Outreach Librarian for Agricultural

Sciences at University of Florida's Marston Science Library, P.O. Box 117011,

Gainesville, FL, 32611 (E-mail: vdavis@ufl.edu).

This paper is based on a presentation made by Valrie Davis at the Special Libraries

Association (SLA) Conference in June 2006 for the Food, Agriculture and Nutrition

Contributed Session.

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With the passing of the First Morrill Act of 1862, the University of Florida (UF)

became the first land-grant institution within the state of Florida, dedicated to teaching

agriculture to the next generations of students. The Hatch Act of 1887 and Adams Act of

1906 established the beginnings of agricultural research, including the development of

research stations located throughout the state. Lastly, with the passing of the Smith-Lever

Act of 1914, agricultural extension services were created, making the three-part land

grant system we know today: teaching, research and extension. UF's Institute of Food

and Agricultural Science (IFAS) has a gradually increasing population of distance

education students, with a current enrollment of 240, more than 13 Research and

Education Centers (RECs) and more than 67 Florida Extension Services offices-one for

every county-positioned in microclimates from the panhandle down to the Florida Keys.

The UF Libraries are committed to meeting the instructional, research and service

needs of all IFAS patrons, whether on- or off-campus, but, until recently, the Libraries

did not have a dedicated agriculture librarian attending to the unique needs of these off-

campus users. Previously, UF librarians dedicated to agriculture worked primarily with

the on-campus community, leaving little time for off-campus marketing or resource and

service development. To address this problem, the UF Libraries hired me as the new

Outreach Librarian for Agricultural Sciences; my primary purpose is to increase

awareness within the off-campus community and assess their service needs.


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Despite dramatic improvements to library resources and services-such as improved

Interlibrary Loan/Document Delivery, a new virtual instant messaging (IM) reference,

new web tutorials and other instructional services, and increased electronic resources-

there existed a lack of awareness of these services due to deficient marketing efforts and

a residual feeling of unhappiness left over from past service failures. Troubleshooting

technical issues, sending out new service announcements, or knowing where to market

services was difficult since very little information existed about the off-campus aspects of

IFAS: who they were, where they were, what they need, what challenges they face, how

they communicate with one another and how the library communicates with them, or

even their perceptions and expectations of library services. In order to better understand

the complexity of IFAS, the development of a marketing plan was crucial as it would lay

the groundwork for future planning and development as well as assist in changing the

perception of the library within the IFAS community.

The first step in the creation of a marketing plan was identification: of the

composition of the user groups; of library services of particular significance to off-

campus users; and of the unique challenges present in the UF environment. The next step

was to establish a marketing strategy, complete with goals and objectives, and to identify

potential avenues of communication utilizing both existing communication lines and a

variety of old and new promotion techniques such as web pages, brochures, RSS feeds,

event programming, and email newsletters. The last, and ongoing, step was to establish a

method of evaluation for the future using surveys and feedback forms.

Challenges of Connecting Off-campus Page 4 of 14

Step 1: Identification: Users, Services, & Context

The first challenge, identification of the off-campus IFAS community, was the

most difficult, due to the fact that IFAS is such a large and complex organization, and

there is no single source for identification of the community. Initial contact with the

various administrative and support offices was a valuable first task. In order to find

information, I met with various administrative offices, support offices, and individuals,

such as the UF librarians responsible for various IFAS-related projects, the UF Distance

Learning Office, the IFAS Distance Learning Office, IFAS Publication Steering

Committee, IFAS External Media Office, REC marketing representatives, IFAS Deans of

Extension, of Research, and of Teaching, and off-campus graduate and undergraduate

program student coordinators. Each office supplied important information on the major

issues and concerns, as well as primary communication methods within each of the three

divisions. I also consulted websites, old paperwork, funding reports, library

documentation, and IFAS publications and media reports to find out more about the


Off-campus IFAS users were preliminarily grouped into one of three status types:

faculty (which included extension personnel), staff, and distance learning students.

Eventually each of these groups was further refined in order to troubleshoot their

particular challenges and information needs and to effectively market the right services to

the right people. More detailed distinctions between different types of users soon

emerged: faculty became researching faculty, teaching faculty, extension specialists, and

extension agents; staff became permanent staff or temporary staff; distance learning

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students became distance learning students, off-campus students, graduate researchers,

and undergraduate students. While specific services or resources, such as Interlibrary

Loan and Document Delivery, remote logon, and databases, were general to all library

users, many users required very specific services, resources or technical assistance. For

example, researching and teaching faculty both work within a specific academic

department, but researching faculty require greater assistance with subject resources, such

as specialized databases, and citation management tools, such as RefWorks or EndNote;

teaching faculty, on the other hand, require tools that can assist them in the classroom,

such as course reserves, library instruction, and resources for undergraduate level

research. These distinctions are not so different from on-campus users, but because

communication with off-campus users includes a greater variety of users targeted by one

instruction or one email, knowing what services or subject areas to cover with a limited

amount of time or email space can be problematic.

Two other kinds of users with particular needs are extension specialists and

extension agents. Extension agents are funded partially or completely by county funds,

and their primary responsibility is to create "an important link between the public and

research conducted on campus and at 13 research and education centers" (IFAS Office of

External and Media Relations 2006, 1). Rather than working within a particular academic

department, extension agents are assigned goals and focus areas. The library previously

created subject guides and database listings with academic subjects, rather than extension

goals, in mind. Technical issues also existed for extension agents. While all other users

were able to access electronic resources using their library card or their computer

account, extension agents funded entirely by the county are coded in the UF employee

Challenges of Connecting Off-campus Page 6 of 14

database as courtesy faculty, and, thus, prevented from accessing library databases with

their computer account username and password in the way other UF affiliates-such as

extension specialists-are able. To make this twice as painful, many county extension

agents never receive a library card, making databases completely inaccessible. In

contrast, extension specialists funded by IFAS conduct research in a particular academic

department, and are similar to teaching or researching faculty in that they "require access

to the agriculture literature and databases as do on-campus teaching faculty" (McKimmie

2002, 29-32).

Some non-faculty users also require specific care with technical issues. Permanent

IFAS staff have few technical issues with which to be concerned, but temporary staff

frequently have their library cards automatically expire due to how the user is coded in

the UF employee database. While this problem may not be resolved, it is now easier to

fix when a user is recognized as temporary. The difference between distance learning

students and off-campus students is an example of how terminologies sometimes vary

within different departments. Within IFAS, distance learning students study anywhere in

the world and are not affiliated with a REC, whereas off-campus students are affiliated

with a REC and can be either undergraduate students or graduate researchers. The library

had formerly defined distance learners as undergraduates not located on the main

campus. Thus, while trying to locate statistics on the different IFAS user populations, the

varying terminology used to identify them made the process more confusing.

Off-campus agriculture users suffered from a wide variety of service and

technical issues which could be resolved by general marketing; even issues as simple as

account activation, remote logon and interlibrary loan were problematic. Identifying the

Challenges of Connecting Off-campus Page 7 of 14

varying types of users would assist in identifying the types of resources and challenges

specific to each group. The next step is to identify the current methods of communication

and establish a marketing strategy.

Step 2: Communication & Marketing Strategy

Prior to the establishment of the new Outreach Librarian position, communication to

off-campus patrons was limited to a general UF Libraries newsletter mailed out

approximately every three months, even though good communication with these users

was paramount due to the users' inability to visit the physical building and their

assumptions about limitations of library services to off-campus patrons. Although, library

communication points such as the distance learning web pages, agriculture subject

guides, interlibrary loan pages, pages related to relevant services such as Remote Logon,

and web tutorials were all valuable tools for communicating services or changes and were

easy to update; they were not ideal for dispersing information because they required

active information gathering from the user.

IFAS has several important general communication points, such as the IFAS listserv,

organized mailings, and new employee orientations that reach all faculty and staff

Unfortunately, the IFAS listserv also included people in all 17 departments, on and off-

campus, and so is not subject specific enough to have personal relevance to individuals.

One of the first marketing mistakes I made was to create a Library Services Newsletter

for Off-Campus IFAS; at the outset, this newsletter was designed to be an html email that

Challenges of Connecting Off-campus Page 8 of 14

could be viewed directly from the initial email, rather than an attachment that required

further opening. Consequently, the listserv required the newsletter either be attached as a

link or as a PDF attachment, rather than created as an html email, which then decreased

the number of people who opened the resource. Currently the newsletter is designed

within an RSS feed with the hope that information will be delivered in a format that

meets multiple user preferences. IFAS is now beginning to incorporate RSS into their

own web pages, which may increase the number of subscribers to the UF Libraries' RSS


Initial exploration into student communication methods turned up very little at the UF

distance learning level, or even the IFAS distance learning level, but an opportunity

existed within each academic department through the distance learning coordinators who

could disperse emails to the distance learning students within a given program.

The director of the science library and I also visited the thirteen RECs over the span

of ten months, and presented on available library services and resources. These traditional

face-to-face visits to RECs were time-consuming but successful in that they reached users

who had never seen a UF librarian in person. Attendance in most cases was high and

created a venue where the libraries could learn more about user needs while users

simultaneously learned about their library. With hurricane season spanning half the year,

advanced planning was problematic, and many of the trips had to be scheduled between

November and May or risk being cancelled due to weather. Another issue when visiting

off-campus locations is that RECs often include people from many departments, making

it difficult to cover all the various technical issues, resources, and subject material in one

Challenges of Connecting Off-campus Page 9 of 14

lesson. Because off-campus sessions are often an introduction to the library, technical

issues dominate these sessions. It becomes difficult to include subject expertise due to

time constraints and the wide variety of disciplines represented. On-campus instructions,

in general, focus on a particular subject area and are taught by a subject specialist

librarian. REC instructions can cover a wide-variety of subject areas not always in the

Outreach Librarian's subject expertise, and so sometimes require a large amount of


Focusing email communication methods to smaller communities can reduce the

number of deleted emails, lesson frustration, and, potentially, create a more informed

user. Unfortunately, off-campus communities often cross many departments, thus making

it necessary to create numerous specialized emails or fewer emails so full of content they

run the risk of being deleted or seen as a nuisance by the recipient.

Event programming is another way to communicate, but it is not always seen as a

direct benefit for creating awareness within the off-campus community. UF Libraries are

in the process of creating an event on the new organic farming minor degree and on

integrated pest management with the hope that on-campus agricultural students will

create a lasting bond with the UF Marston Science Library that will carry over to any

future off-campus work in which they might be involved.

The next step was to create the marketing strategy. Creating goals and objectives

matched with the goals of the institution, helped to identify each task that would assist in

creating greater communication, pre-empt problems before they happen, and reduce the

Challenges of Connecting Off-campus Page 10 of 14

amount of energy expended on wasted marketing efforts. As Ann Wolpert, Director of

Libraries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in her article about services

to remote users, "it is important to distinguish between strategy and objectives.

Objectives are the desired end result, while strategy describes a plan for getting there.

Objectives characterize what a library needs to do, strategy describes how it will be

done" (Wolpert 1998, 21). One of the goals of the UF Libraries is to increase awareness

in the off-campus IFAS community of the scope of the library's services. Our marketing

plan attempts to meet that goal by creating a quarterly newsletter outlining new

agricultural resources and services for all faculty, staff and students and delivering

general library services instruction at orientations for new IFAS faculty, staff and

students. In the future we hope to draw on the UF Libraries' Marketing Committee for

even greater marketing power, including a new faculty guide and coordinated mailings to

all off-campus students. These goals and objectives took into account professional time,

budget capabilities, and priorities and allowed me to stay on target within my IFAS

community. As each objective was accomplished, a method for assessing and evaluating

progress emerged.

Step 3: Assessment and Evaluation

Assessing marketing goals and objectives is a good way to gauge marketing and

communication progress. Evaluating the effectiveness of those goals and objectives was

more difficult and was accomplished using a variety of methods, such as obtaining

feedback from face-to-face visits, utilizing Interlibrary Loan and web counter statistics,

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and compiling reference questions. Ideally, a survey would be the most effective and

systematic way of getting feedback, but it requires regular class sessions and a large

amount of planning. The UF Libraries hope to have information available for increased

marketing in the upcoming fall semester, so an initial, less formal, method for acquiring

feedback was adequate for immediate and specialized marketing. Comments and issues

were noted at face-to-face visits to RECs, emails went out to all new IFAS faculty and

staff to identify services they felt were most important and the ways in which they

wanted to receive information, student coordinators were asked what they considered to

be the most important services for their distance learning, and off-campus students asked

what methods they felt were the most direct for communicating library information. In

addition to the emails, reference questions and web counter information were

documented for several months to gauge the success of emails and visits.

Ultimately a large amount of valuable information was gained on how and what

to market to off-campus users. Extension personnel prefer library communications in E-

format. Many of the personnel have never used the library and have never attained a UF

ID card nor know how to get one. Historical information, such as newspapers or

photographs, about their county or their extension office was considered useful, and they

requested a library web page designed specifically for extension. Many of the

information requests made by extension were very specific in nature-for instance, the

origins of the word mango-and so knowing the Outreach Librarian existed was an

important first step for users seeking specific information. Faculty and staff preferred

printable E-format and wanted more information about databases, URLs, and E-Journals.

Database features, such as citation alerts, were valuable, as were literature searches

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performed by librarians. One faculty member didn't feel the IFAS listserv was the best

place to send library information, but didn't have a suggestion on a better medium.

Student Coordinators wanted both print and E-format brochures for their students and

preferred to integrate the librarian into on-campus orientations at the beginning of each


Lastly, web statistics offered information related to user technology requirements.

More than 75% of all off-campus patrons used Internet Explorer, while only 19% used

Firefox; many of the library web pages were initially designed within Firefox, so

accessibility issues could exist. After newsletters were dispersed, visits to the Distance

Services pages progressively increased 65-75% from one month to the next during the

spring semester, and reference questions increased by five to ten emails daily for

approximately seven days following, establishing the newsletter as an effective marketing

tool. Lastly, Interlibrary Loan statistics are perhaps the most valuable for assessing the

success of the improved communications with off-campus users. While the increase in

yearly statistics might be due to any number of factors, it was valuable to note that

Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery requests at RECs increased immediately

following each center I visited.

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IFAS Office of External and Media Relations. IFAS Facts: History. Gainesville, Florida,

2006 [cited 10/01 2006]. Available from


McKimmie, Tim. 2002. Reaching Out: Land Grant Library Services to Cooperative

Extension Offices, Experiment Stations, and Agriculture Science Centers Journal

ofAgricultural and Food Information 4, no. 3:29-32.

Wolpert, Ann. 1998. Services to Remote Users: Marketing the Library's Role. Library

Trends 47, no. 1:21.

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