Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship

v.8 no.2 (Summer 2007)

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Reaching Out to Off-Campus Students via BlackboardTM:
A Consortial Library’s Experience

Niyati P. Pandya, Reference & Instruction Librarian
Shady Grove Library, University of Maryland, USA


Recent changes in information technology have opened new learning opportunities to educational institutions as they strive to serve the information and education needs of the millennial generation.  More academic programs are now offered in non-traditional environments, which require a stronger focus on this generation’s information-seeking behavior.  This forces librarians to undertake fresh approaches toward library instruction. According to guidelines from the Association of  College & Research Libraries (ACRL),  library resources and services “must meet the needs of all their faculty, students, and academic support staff wherever these individuals are located, whether on a main campus, off campus, in distance education or extended campus programs, or in absence of a campus at all (1).” Thus, our focus must shift from providing solely classroom-based instruction to virtual, distance-based instruction where students learn regardless of place or delivery mode of instruction.  This article will review an example of how virtual instruction can be used effectively in libraries as exemplified by the experience at the University of Maryland Shady Grove Library.


The Universities at Shady Grove (USG) is the largest of Maryland’s regional higher education centers offering more than forty undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs at one central location in Montgomery County, Maryland.  USG collaborates with eight participating state universities and community colleges in Maryland (Appendix One).  USG is a multi-institutional consortium within the University System of Maryland (USM), where students complete the last two years of their bachelor’s degree and can pursue graduate studies. As of fall 2006, USG serves a total of 1,534 undergraduate and 689 graduate students (2).  USG students receive the same education as their peers at their home institutions, but at a remote location.

The Shady Grove Library (SGL) at USG operates as a consortial library supporting these diverse non-traditional students. There are two librarians serving this population. I am one of the two librarians serving this population for their information needs.  Freshmen or sophomore level courses are not offered at USG, and library instruction sessions are generally not built into the curriculum of upper-level courses.  As a result, most instructional sessions are one-time presentations at the beginning of each semester, rather than when project or presentations are due, which makes it difficult to reach out and offer assistance to these students.  Results from a faculty study conducted in the fall of 2005 revealed that upper-level students are not confident when attempting to conduct effective library research (3).  Survey results also indicated a traditional instructional approach does not appeal to Shady Grove students, and it is difficult for faculty to give up their teaching time for library instructional activities, especially when teaching upper-level classes. Furthermore, librarians at USG receive minimal on-site instructional technology support to develop online tutorials.  Faced with such challenges, our librarians sought practical solutions to stay relevant to students while promoting library services.

Literature review

A brief literature review showed that the increasing depth and sophistication of instructional products offer a great opportunity for librarians to collaborate with faculty and demonstrate the benefits of these information tools. A librarian-faculty collaboration is ideal in academia because both work with students inside and outside of class environments, engage in sharing information and knowledge in an effective way, and want to develop students to become information literate and independent learners. Betsy Wilson further elaborates the idea: she finds that an academic librarian’s success or failure in helping students become information literate depends largely on building and maintaining strong professional partnerships with teaching faculty (4)

As colleges and universities offer more distance learning programs and use campus portals as a means to deliver course materials, faculty-librarian partnerships can be further strengthened by utilizing campus portals as information delivery mode.  Indeed, librarians are quick to use such campus portals to their advantage.  They have begun working with campus instructional technology departments to promote library services via these portals.  Since a campus portal is a single integrated point for useful and comprehensive access to information, it serves as David Eisler calls it, “as a community or learning hub for students, staff and faculty”(5).  Christopher Cox has provided various tips to integrate library instruction into course management systems like Blackboard Academic SuiteTM(6). Furthermore, instruction librarians at the University of South Florida Tampa Library have successfully used BlackboardTM courseware to deliver library information (7).  Replicating such instructional models in a non-traditional educational community like USG proved challenging, but the librarians at Shady Grove met the challenge. The following describes how the SG Library collaborated with one participating university at USG to deliver customized library instruction and services via BlackboardTM

Facing the Challenge

The University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) is one of the participating institutions at USG.  As the liaison librarian to UMBC’s social work and psychology programs, I established a working relationship with a social work instructor.  I was invited to introduce her students to library resources, which I did on several occasions-using “traditional” library instruction methods.  In the fall of 2004, a new course–Social Work and Information Technology–was introduced at USG.  The instructor wanted to teach the course via BlackboardTM, but was concerned about her students’ ability to adapt to the software. Taking this opportunity to collaborate with the instructor, I offered to assist her and proposed introducing a link to library instruction on her course page. She accepted, and we worked together during the summer to understand the learning objectives for the course and assignments that required a librarian’s assistance. We began to develop a format for the library instruction module.

The instructor arranged BlackboardTM access for me through the BlackboardTM coordinator at UMBC.  The access level allowed me to contribute to course building. We worked together to acquire a basic understanding of the software and to organize library resources on it. I came to find that BlackboardTM is relatively easy to learn and navigate.  The process of uploading the module was simple as well. Initially, I provided a short “Library 101” module via the External Links tab on BlackboardTM (Appendix Two).  This module covered a general overview of the library catalog and databases as well as basic research instructions.  I accompanied the instructor to the first class to demonstrate to students how the library links worked on the BlackboardTM course page.      

The following semester, I decided to extend this effort to two psychology courses at USG.  I obtained the Teaching Assistant access level in BlackboardTM, which enabled me to look at the course syllabus, homework assignments, student forums and discussion groups. With this increased virtual access, I acquired a better overall understanding of the course.  I could proactively locate articles for additional class readings.  I created a “Beyond the Basics” module with more tips for an advanced database and e-journals search on the BlackboardTM course (Appendix Three).  In addition, I attended their lab sessions to introduce them to the library module.

Comments in library instruction evaluation indicated that students welcomed the convenience of this “one-stop shopping” approach to library research. They could look at their assignments, additional readings, and tips on how to search databases all at the same time through their BlackboardTM course.  They realized that I was more than a “guest librarian”, and that I could interact with them on an individual basis at a mutually convenient time.  This worked to a dual advantage: it reassured students to the point where they felt comfortable discussing their research concerns with me; and I was able to maximize the library’s accessibility and usability. While the UM Libraries have online reference and chat available to them, this accessibility via BlackboardTM was more convenient to students enrolled at USG.

A Need for Collaboration

UMBC students enrolled at USG are considered off-campus, remote students; they must log in to their home library to access certain e-resources offered only to UMBC students.  They can, however, access SGL resources when they are on the USG campus. They did not understand the relationship between the two institutions or the different levels of library access. We tried to explain this in our short orientation sessions, but we were not always successful and frequently found a major disconnect.  Comments in the session evaluation forms indicated that students left the library more confused than before and did not want to come back.  Those who did return came only to express frustration at not being able to access some databases remotely.  They felt they did not get library assistance at all.  

Integration of a library module through BlackboardTM was an attempt to minimize this frustration.  UMBC students already had access to BlackboardTM.  It was only a matter of making library resources available via BlackboardTM.  Faculty support made it possible to extend one-time library sessions to a semester-long presence on their course pages.  

UMBC students at USG were coached by the Shady Grove librarians to log in to access library databases through their BlackboardTM course pages.   They also accessed their Interlibrary Loan form in a similar fashion.  This practice was reinforced during the in-class library instruction sessions and also during the one-on-one library consultations.  Faculty members were likewise trained.  Once aware of the access restrictions, students seemed to understand the advantages of searching library resources via BlackboardTM.   This let them save their search results, e-mail links to full text articles to their group or to themselves, build their own reading lists, etc.  A library presence in their course work provided confidence to students as they knew they could contact the librarian directly if needed. This collaboration strengthened library-faculty relations as well.  Librarians are now invited to faculty orientations to talk about their services.  And as programs offer more courses through BlackboardTM, faculty members increasingly desire a library presence on their course pages.


Course management systems like BlackboardTM have become a fixture in the higher education environment.  It is vital that as librarians we stay current with rapidly changing instructional technology.  Integration of information literacy into course management systems such as BlackboardTM is largely dependent on a successful collaboration between librarian and faculty.   Since my initial involvement with BlackboardTM, I have continued to add research tips to courses that I access. Becoming a collaborator on BlackboardTM has provided the librarians at the Shady Grove Library with an opportunity to work closely with faculty and also to reach out to the diverse population at the Universities at Shady Grove.   

This exercise also demonstrates that it is possible to work in an environment where on-site instructional technology support is not always readily available.  It does require a semester-long commitment, but it offers endless possibilities for collaboration and establishment of close relationship with students and faculty. What is more, it opens a virtual window of opportunity to be with students at all times.  It is my hope that librarians working in an off-campus library or consortial library environment will be encouraged to collaborate with faculty to incorporate library instruction into online learning.

Appendix One

Appendix 1


Appendix Two

Welcome to Library 101!

Before you Begin:

Step One: Step Two: Step Three:

Additional Information:

How to Use Catalog
How to Use Research Port
How to Use Find it!


Appendix Three

Beyond the Basics

What are Boolean operators?

AND  (narrows): juvenile AND gang
OR (broadens): crime OR violence
NOT  (excludes): crime NOT domestic
(drug abuse OR substance abuse) AND (Teens OR youth OR juvenile)

E-Journals and Databases: Any Preference?

 If you want to search in a specific journal only then you should check if that journal is available as Electronic Journal.  That way you can browse the table of content or search within that journal.  However, if you want to search using descriptors or subjects, you may want to search in subject specific database.  For example, for articles about juvenile delinquency and drug abuse, you would search in Social Work Abstracts.  Searching this way yields you more articles from a variety of social work related journals, not just one journal.  There is no right or wrong way of searching.  It depends on what you are looking for. 

Cite what you write!

Properly citing materials is a vital part of your research process.  Plagiarism is a serious offence at academic institutions.   Please cite everything that is not yours.

Helpful sites:

  • APA In-text Citations  General guidelines for in-text citations used for APA Style. In-text citations are used when source material is quoted, paraphrased, or summarized.

Bibliography and Annotated Bibliography:

Additional Useful Guides:



1. American Library Association. Guidelines for Distance Learning Library Services. Retrieved June 16, 2006, from

2. Universities at Shady Grove, Office of Student Services. (2006). USG headcount data: Fall 2000-Fall 2006. SG students profile 2006.

3.  The author conducted a pilot survey in Fall 05 with one participating university faculty. The results showed that students need more coaching into systematic research but are unwilling to spend time in the library.

4. Wilson, B. (2000).  The lone ranger is dead: Success today demands collaboration.  College and Research Library News, 61(9): 698-701. 

5. Eisler, D. (2000). The portals progress: Gateways for access, information, and learning opportunities. Syllabus, 14(1):12-18.

6. Cox, Christopher N. (2002). Becoming part of the course: Using BlackboardTM to extend one-shot library instruction. College & research libraries news, 63(1):11-13, 39.

7. Silver, S. & Nickel, L. (2003). Taking library instruction online: Using campus portal to deliver a web based tutorial for Psychology students. Internet Reference services Quarterly, 84(4): 1-9.

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