Library life at UNLV, like many other universities, is much quieter these days. Social distancing is keeping students away, leaving once popular study areas empty. But ask health sciences librarian Xan Goodman about work slowing down, and she’ll say it’s been the exact opposite.
"In 2020, I've doubled the amount of engagement I've had with people online,” she said.
UNLV’s library services are broken up into various divisions. Goodman serves under the research and education category, working primarily at Lied Library. Goodman’s title is health sciences librarian but that description alone does not fully describe her role.
Goodman, like all librarians at UNLV, is a tenured professor who serves a wide variety of students from the undergraduate to doctorate levels in their research needs.
That could mean helping with a specific course or assignment or assisting with bigger projects like dissertations or master’s thesis. But Goodman’s tasks go farther than just helping find resources or proper citations.
“When I work with those students, I also work with them on not just how to use the library, but how to strategically organize their searches, how to set up a research plan,” Goodman said. “I have a whole workshop on planning out your research. I talk with them about how to manage their search results, how to select the proper databases, how to use terminology to craft search strings and search queries.”
Within the realm of health sciences, she applies this process to the tenet of evidence-based practice.
“The ability to locate the evidence, to be able to synthesize it — those are things people need to be taught,” she said. “I don't need the content knowledge to know how to help a doctor of nursing practice student, who's doing a project on dedicated education units and how that works in the public hospital environment. What I need to understand is how to break that topic down using a variety of different methods, how to teach the student how to break that topic down so they can use resources to find the literature they need to do their research.”
Goodman relishes her position, especially in health sciences where she has learned so much new material.
Just as critical as finding accurate information is knowing how to apply it to your work. She helps guide students through critical processes, such as knowing what it means to be “peer-reviewed,” and the differences between articles, editorials, and letters.
Finding information is only half the battle. The rest is students understanding what they are reading and thinking critically about the material at hand.
“We librarians insert ourselves at the information literacy point, and we help people figure this stuff out,” she said. “We offer a critical reading workshop where we teach graduate students how to read articles. When you're a graduate student, you might have 50 articles to read. You can't read 50 articles from start to finish. You have to learn strategies to read an article. We teach students how to engage with a scholarly article, how to get out of it what you need, and we teach them how to take that information and put it in a literature review table, so you can easily pull out the bits you need.”
New normal, same fundamentals
Although COVID-19 has changed the student-library dynamic temporarily, the services the library provides already go beyond the physical stacks. By collaborating with librarians like Goodman, students can collaborate on taming the information landscape beyond just searching Google in the wild.
“I always think about libraries in terms of a Venn diagram with three intersecting circles,” she said. “A library is people, its collections, and other services. You cannot have a library without people because people buy and process materials to make them accessible. Things don't magically come on the internet; there must be databases built in the background to allow people to access those resources. That's people.”
A library's virtual collections can save students on more than just time. Many sites can charge upward of $50 to access an article that could be reviewed for free at the library. There are even physical items like anatomical models available for students to have an actual tactile experience or virtual anatomy resources that allow them to see underlying structures.
A hub for learning
Within the past year, Goodman says the pandemic hasn’t stopped her; if anything, she’s busier than ever teaching online classes and tutorials and meeting with students, sometimes into the evenings.
Despite all of that, she still longs for the in-person moments. She misses being with UNLV students, faculty, and her fellow librarians, with whom she works together on research projects and other collaborations.
“Normally it's packed," Goodman said. "Every computer is filled. The tables are filled with students. They’re moving the whiteboards around. They are designing things in Adobe InDesign. They're printing stuff in our Makerspace 3D printing lab. We are a busy place and a central hub on campus. It's the place where people come to meet each other. [Students] study together, and the library is a place where you can do that.”