Behind-the-Scenes: Library Services at a Distance Learning Institution (Part 2)

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Photo of Excelsior College Library VideoWhile the modern college library continues to evolve, both in practice and in architecture, to meet the demands of the digital age, most people still consider libraries as requiring a physical presence. For newly enrolled students at distance learning institutions like Excelsior College, this can lead to uncertainty around the delivery of library services.

In part one of this “behind-the-scenes” segment, Excelsior Life sat down with Anita Norton, director of the Excelsior College Library to explore the inner-workings of a digital library. In part two of the interview, Excelsior Life explores the student experience.

Excelsior Life: What is the role of an Excelsior College Librarian?

Norton: Our role is a dual role as educator and librarian. We provide reference services, answering questions, and we also teach necessary information literacy skills to support student learning. We ensure access to the resources that we think are the best, both subscription and freely available, in the Library. For faculty and staff, we provide the same services, however some of the services for course development include giving the faculty/SME’s “point of need” resources to help the students within the courses.

For instance, if the student is required to use a particular format for documenting their sources for a paper, like APA, we would suggest linking to our Citing Sources page or our tip sheet, right where the assignment is. This way it will immediately give the student exactly what they need to be successful with the assignment. It will help those who may not be sure of what is being referenced and even those who do know, it will confirm their understanding. Either way it is a win-win situation!

Excelsior Life: How many do you have on staff? What type of experience do they bring to the job?

Norton: There are five distance education librarians with varying degrees of expertise. Collectively, we have close to 75 years of experience. We have diverse backgrounds and all have masters’ degrees in Information Science or Library and Information Science. The library director oversees the daily operations of the Library and is a librarian as well.

We also have a library assistant that fields all calls and answers factual and directional questions along with many other responsibilities, such as keeping usage statistics.

Excelsior Life: What is an average day like? What are the most common types of questions that you hear from newly enrolled students?

Norton: What makes our jobs so interesting is that as academic librarians our daily activities vary greatly.  One thing you may not know about us is that we are embedded in the course development process, which means that each time a course is created or revised we are directly involved in kick-off meetings to help with providing resources for course content, whether it is articles, videos, journal or book titles or the creation of an assignment.

There are also designated times for each librarian to be on “reference”, which means they are the person to answers all questions that come in during that timeframe, whether by email or phone. Common questions are generally about locating information for research papers or citing sources properly in MLA/APA format.  We often get questions that pertain to the Bookstore and textbooks as well, so we direct those appropriately

Since we are responsible for the INL 102: Information Literacy course, we also answer all questions pertaining to the course content.

(Want more? Visit the Library’s “A Day in the Life” blog post for more details about a typical day as an Excelsior librarian.)

Excelsior Life: The Library offers so many resources and services. I can imagine that students, especially those whom are newly enrolled, may not know where to begin. Where should they head for guidance?

Norton: They should head straight to the Library’s website using their MyExcelsior username and password as soon as they have enrolled with Excelsior College. We have an Overview of the Library video to get them started and many other resources on our Tutorials & Tip Sheets page.  They can also contact the librarians directly for personalized guidance. We can be reached by phone, 877-247-3097 or by email to We also have a FAQ database of common questions and answers that they may find helpful.

Fortunately, the Library is incorporated into many of the introductory student success courses, so there is awareness that Excelsior does have an online library. There is also a Library link in all of the online courses in Blackboard.  Finally, we also have a public page for prospective students to know we exist, prior to becoming a student.