Final exam preparation, navigating the library, finding the best sources and more -- Campus Overload Live with Jenna Johnson

Dec 02, 2010

Campus Overload's Jenna Johnson chronicles national college news, drinking fads, admissions buzz and the latest exploits of interns on her blog each day. In her live chat, she answers your questions about life on campus -- and life off campus, too.

Stressed about finals? Not sure how to navigate the stacks at the library? Sick of trudging through endless information online? Join Jenna and guests Bill Mayer, university librarian at American University, and Michael Edson, director of Web and new media strategy for the Smithsonian Institution, as they work to answer your questions during the most stressful part of the semester: final exam time.

Welcome to Campus Overload Live! Thanks for pulling yourself away from studying, cramming and writing to join our chat today...

I am joined by two fantastic guests: William "Bill" Mayer, who is the University Librarian at American University. And Michael Edson, who is the Smithsonian Institution's Director of Web and New Media Strategy.

Okay, I think we are ready to start -- fire away with those questions.

Howdy! I'm Michael Edson, the Director of Web and New Media Strategy at the Smithsonian Institution, and I'm sitting here with Bill Mayer, University Librarian at American University in Washington D.C. (I'm totally having flashbacks too. I grew up in DC and came to this library many times doing research for highschool papers. I think one was about the history of bicycling. I think I got a B+. But I digress...)

Hello folks, I'm Bill Mayer, University Librarian at American University - - I'm the "leader" of the library, and work for the 10,000+ students, 700+ faculty here at AU. It's the last week before finals, and our library is totally jammin' with students finishing up - Michael Edson, Dir. of Web and Media Strategery at the Smithsonian Inst is joing me today - and we're glad to be here with your host Jenna Johnson! Thanks for the invite jenna!

Every year, I do well with all my exams and papers and things until I get to this time of year. I just lose my endurance and will to keep up my studying when it often counts the most. How do I motivate myself to push through?

You aren't alone -- and you are almost there!

This is an exhausting time of year. The best thing that you can do is spend some time planning out your final weeks of class and setting some priorities -- What tests do you *have* to do well on and which ones can you spend less time studying for? What club and campus activities do you *want* to attend and which ones can you skip?

And remember to schedule in some time to sleep, work out, hang out with friends, reward yourself for a strong semester and enjoy the holidays. Good luck!!

I'm sure it depends on the field, but is social media (ie tweets, Facebook statuses) ever considered an academic source? Is anyone setting rules on how such info can be used? And how do you properly cite a tweet in your footnotes?

That's a great question! I've quoted tweets in academic-style papers before. See this URL

Is it better to have a source that came from the stacks (a book that you tracked down, paged through, took notes from, etc) than info sourced to an easier-to-access online journal? Do professors like to see that extra effort?

"better" is the key word here - a trustworthy source is what you're really looking for - traditionally, the library stacks were "trusted" because a librarian would have evaluated the book and purchased it for the collection - an investment of trust. Now, with the internet and all it's warts and roses, you can get confounded pretty quickly. Proper citing of source, regardless of format, is the way to go here. I'll work on posting a link to citing e-resources this hour...


Obviously finals stress students out because everything falls at exactly the same time. (I have a friend who has three finals back-to-back on the very first day of finals) Is this really the best way for students to learn?

Ah, but it wouldn't be college if it weren't for the super stressful finals season, right??

But, yes, some educators have the same idea you have -- they are making the final exam worth less than all the other exams or putting an emphasis on projects or papers. Still, don't plan on seeing finals disappear any time soon, as it's really the ultimate way to test what someone has learned all semester.

Anyone have examples of this?

Looking for some material on federal or state court cases that deal specifically with journalists trespassing or intruding upon seclusion. Know any good books or databases, etc.?

Great question, a little outside my wheel house on that topic, i can refer you to the excellent law librarians at the Washington College of Law -

Are you familiar with the Washington Post internship program and, if so, what are they looking for in accepting interns?

Oh no! You just missed the Nov. 1 deadline for the summer internship program (teams of reporters and editors were actually reviewing the applications before the holiday). But all of the info is here for you:

First off, warm greetings to the amazing Mike Edson, one of my favorite museum professionals, a phenomenally creative thinker, and an all-around great guy. I'm an educator at a museum here in the district, and I'm working with a great class of GWU students on a distance-learning project that's still going full-steam into finals season. Do you have any suggestions as to anything I can do to support my freshmen as they head into what is likely a daunting first exam period?

Hey thanks Mom! (Just kidding...) 

What *are* you telling them? ...I'm trying to remember what it was like as a freshman myself. I think I was pretty clueless... Anybody out the re got ideas?

What do you think are the most effective tools for students to study with? (Perhaps a suggestion outside of the norm of flash cards, reviewing notes, etc) @AJBritten

As Michael and I were just joking (really) your brain is the best tool - surprisingly though, there's a strong stable concept behing good organized study habits - your best tool is organizing your topics effectively, and TAKING TIME to THINK AHEAD. the best hour of your term would be in the early weeks of the semester taking a lit review session with librarians. Then organizing yourself, sure, flash cards are helpful, but i've seen people starting to use twitter #hashtags too..

I didnt know colleges even had libraries anymore. I thought kids just did everything on their iPhones these days.

Hah! Made both me and Bill laugh - - or as the kids say now, LOL!

Seriously, I'm totally impressed with what's happening in university and public libraries around the country - - around the world now. The changes AU has been making have recognized changes in education, the need for social collaboration and learning environments. I just got a walk through the AU library and I saw (and felt) a high level of engagement, focus, interaction. Worry not about the future of libraries. I was also recently in Amsterdam and Copenhagen and saw magnificent new public libraries there - - inspiring and loved civic spaces.

Bill, how has exam prep and finals time changed on university campuses?

great question - in short, it's not changed all that much, really, the stress is the same - but the avenues of study, and the environments for study have changed dramatically...Last night for example we had 500 students in the building at midnight, 300 at 3am, and 140 at 7am today. Amazing....

Bill, you've made a lot of physical changes to the library recently, more interactive spaces. Why?

First off, not just me making the changes - this is a group effort up here, i have an amazing team of librarians and staff enabling the educational success of AU - WE have been shepherding the space changes to better serve our students - comfortable chairs, fresh coffee, food allowed in the stacks, open 24 hours a day, all these are things that create a welcoming learning environment...

I really like how Johns Hopkins University offers pass/fail for the first semester for all freshman- do you know of other colleges and universities that offer this? what a great way to take off the STRESS of first semester freshman year!

Bill just told me that Caltech has done the same thing. He says a lot depends on the culture of the campus and whether pass/fail is honored/respected... It seems like a fine idea to me. I'm also thinking about some of what I've read in DIY-U by Anya Kamenitz about using alternative ways of evaluating student success... DIY U is at

Where is the BEST place to study for finals? The library tends to get jammed this time of year- Dorms are noisy?

The best place is where you feel most comfortable -- my favorite spot to get work done is a crowded, loud coffeeshop near my apartment. But most people would go mad with all of that background sound.

Ask your friends for ideas, explore different places and study somewhere new each day: Maybe not your dormroom, but a quiet hallway in the basement. Maybe not the main library, but a quiet small subject-specific one on campus. Even some campus churches open up their space to students!

I just asked the Twitterverse and here's what I got back:

@tporterf: favorite coffee shop

@dm_cook: Starbucks!

@ajbritten: Lounges, cafes, empty classrooms, @Starbucks.

@swtalbott: Where ever you can study is the best place. I rocked the coffee shop for a while, then it didnt work so I chose home...

Any other ideas? I would love to hear them...

Are academic librarians doing any sort of thing to catalog the tweets, Facebook updates, etc., of their campus officials? I know that many large academic institutions have archivists who do this stuff with the normal mail and e-mail exchanges, but I'm wondering if it's being done with social media.

VERY important question - a year ago, i would have said "no", but there's been a dynamic blossoming of archiving social media - recall the announcement this past spring when Library of Congress announced they were archiving twitter? Easy to say, hard to do....but engaged academics such as librarians are really getting into it now - University social media strategies are getting defined, and with them electronic records retention policies. Not enough being done, but the light is dawning on the importance of this....

Bill - do university students "need" university libraries to do their work anymore (now that so many resources are available online)?

I'd like to think so - with so many internet-enabled resources now, the library is *everywhere* you have network...we're in the dorms, we 're in the classrooms, we're on the quad! Our reference librarians staff virtual chat services for the afternoons and early evenings, and we are working on embedding librarians in the college departments...And judging by the amount of students, we are very much needed - not just in our minds, either....

What other questions are lingering out there? We would love to hear them!

How did interlibrary loan get set up? I am so pleased with that service from my college library!

Ah, history - interlibrary loan has been around for decades - what a great service - i honestly don't have the history details at my fingertips, but one of my earliest jobs in libraries was Interlibrary Borrowing asst at MIT in the early '90's, and it showed me how powerful connecting people with information could I'm glad to see your experiences have been positive

More suggestions for good places to study during finals, thanks to some of my fav tweeters....

@seanathompson: coffee house. It's fairly quiet, plenty of people watching for study breaks, and there's delicious beverages!

@emmacarew:  J-schoolers, in your college newsroom. chances are there are others in your class, and others who've taken same final before

@ec2011: Your student organization's headquarters (aka the @gwhatchet townhouse)

Should students be live-tweeting a lecture? Does that help learning?

As most of you know there's been a lot of debate about students using social media technology in the classroom. My hunch is that it isn't for every teaching style. See this slashdot article (that mentions a wash post article!) as a point of reference for how weird it can get:  

Here's an article about live tweeting in the classroom from the milwaukee sentinel:

From personal experience, many of the conference presentations I go to (an equivalent to a classroom lecture I suppose) are made *FAR* more interesting from live tweeting. The value comes not as much from the observations of people in the lecture hall, but from an involved network of followers. AND the conversation can persist over time. This is only true when the presentation itself is meaningful - - if the subject matter is a dud no amount of twitter will rescue it.

Does all this "new media" really actually help students learn? Some of it just seems so gimmicky and a waste of money! Are students still learning the basics?

We started thinking about information literacy years ago, and now it's morphing into "Digital literacy" but the basics are the same - understanding your subject, investigating opinions, and articulating your own stance are key aspects. Social media speeds up the process - sure, right now, there's lots of wasted time and missed opportunities, because students and faculty are typically mismatched in skill levels and social media systems. We're still learning how to make it work - I can't help but refer you to AU's Center for Social Media : - they are at least a major part of the conversations on the importance of social media. Remember, at core education is about connection. If social media can enable that, so much the better.


Hi Jenna - - on your beat have you noticed any trends towards alternative methods of testing and evaluation? Are we the only educational culture that emphasizes final exams?

Honestly, I am not sure about other cultures... but a lot of the college students I talk with say they are seeing a slight sift in some of their classes, especially upper-level courses.

It all comes back to an educational debate that's happening nationally: Is testing the best way to gauge student learning? Are SAT/ACT scores the best way to evaluate a student for admission?

I'm interested in hearing what others think...

In addition to setting goals for what to accomplish each day, I find that by rewarding myself for getting things done (for example, if I finish half of my paper I will reward myself by taking sunday off to hang out with friends and have fun) I am able to find the motivation to do my school work and keep myself sane by still having some fun! I also make a list of my goals because I love getting to check off the list (or erase it from my white board)! ~A stressed grad student

That is SO healthy! It's really important to have some balance in your life -- no matter how difficult it is to do so!

Any other tips out there for maintaining some sort of balance?

Back in the day, the fall semester of high school and college didn't end till late January, so we students had Christmas vacation to catch up on reading, finish term papers, internalize what we were learning -- and still recharge our batteries a bit with home cooking, sleep a bit late, party a little, etc. Interestingly, I always got better grades in the fall term than in the spring, which had no 2-week vacation just before the end of the term. Then some genius at my university decided we should start the fall term earlier so we could finish before the holidays. Guess what? My fall term grades started dropping to the same level as my spring term grades. Maybe colleges should consider reverting to the old schedule.

All i can say here is that time is compressing - it is one of the artifacts of the 21st century - the pressure to start and finish is whirling faster and faster. I do think there's value in disconnecting at times, in structured ways, that allow for reflection....whether that can alter the semester schedule....eeee....outside my areas of expertise...

What's your favorite book that's not available in e-edition, online, etc?

Cool question! I got hooked on a series of space thrillers by David Webber (because I saw them on a library shelf and they were thick and well worn!) and those aren't out on kindle >:( 

I've decided to purchase hardcover copies of John Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday even thought they're available because i love having them in my hands.

Bill says he's fond of an obscure SciFi title from  Holland about a University Librarian with superpowers who fights evil. No, I just made that up. He's into the Patrick O'Brian series and that's not on kindle yet.

I came across this discussion late, but wanted to put in my two cents in the form of a question. I was a grad student at American University and can tell you that it was the great library staff that really made a difference to my time there. When I see ratings and evaluations of university libraries, there is always a discussion of quantities of titles or how e-friendly they are. But is the quality and/or knowledge of the staff sufficiently counted in library evaluations? To me, the service I received when I was a student was twice as valuable as the materials that weren't immediately on hand (but which the fine ILL staff were able to get for me anyway!)

That's awesome. Bill is proud. I'll add that during our web strategy process at the Smithsonian we were debating whether our collections or buildings were more valuable (in the strategic sense) and somebody tweeted at us and said, basically, "it's the people, stupid!" How right this is!!!!

I've tuned into a few questions on the "future of the library" and that it needs to look more like an Apple store, said one expert. I think that's rubbish. What do you think?

I'm mixed - there's a lot of worth in the personalized service model that the Apple store showcases, and in fact, i think that is indeed where we need to go - libraries do in fact need to change from being a "you can find me here, at this specific time only" model into a "i'm available wherever you want me to be" model - much as online education is driving so much curricular change and increasing opportunities for non-traditional learners, libraries also need to go beyond the traditional.

But, balance and trust are commodities we should be trafficking in - so i apprecaite your stance that it's rubbish - what's your solution?

Bill -- what's your greatest challenge at the AU library system?

Greatest challenge? Transforming our physical spaces from warehouse to learning environments in an atmosphere where the misconception is "it's all online". It's NOT all online, and there's value in the physical - but we have crushing space constraints, and  leveraging our technology to enable alternative approaches is the key. Anothe major challenge, part and parcel with transforming space? Articulating the Story so that others in the world who have never thought about the importance of our work enabling success in education can truly grok what the needs are, and would be willing to get engagted to help. how's that?

Are college libraries still open late, late into the night during finals? Some of my favorite memories from school were burning the midnight oil in the library. It was fun being there outside of the normal hours.

Yep,. still are, more the norm now to be open 24 hours - our coffee shop in the lower level of the library is open till 2am!

What's your favorite library in the world? and why? Is it the architecture? The oldness/newness of a building?

Oohhhhh. Two answers. My local library in the City of Falls Chuch, VA. It's a jewel, and my kids have grown up there. Second answer. The Amsterdam public library (the "OBA") is a totally awesome and inspiring place - - vital, busy, loved - - and i've been inspired by colleagues at the Library Concept Center in Delft, NL., where my friends Jaap van de Geer and Erik Boekesteijn work.  ( & )

See This Week in Libraries via Delft/OBA and Eric & Jaap:

The OBA home page is : and a flickr search for them (for pictures) is here:

Llibrary concept center in Delft is here: 


...I could write a book...


And to be completely obvious, (this is bill writing) my favorite library is whichever one i'm sitting in right at this moment! (currently AU Library, in the Bender Library Building on campus)

Question for Michael -- will the Smithsonian start charging for admission?!!?! Please say no.

HAH! I didn't see that one coming. I'm wired up to explosives that will go off if I stray off of my area of expertise. Don't make me answer, please!!!!


My son needs to finish all of his college applications during winter break but I know already that is going to be a painful battle to get him to do so. How can I motivate him without grounding him?

Oh yikes. Obviously, he needs to get this done -- but he is going to do his best work when he isn't feeling forced to do so.

I think the first thing you need to do is have a frank conversation with him: Why doesn't he want to get this done? If it's a time management thing, you can help him set some goals and spread the work out over the entire break.

But if there's a deeper issue there -- like he doesn't want to go to college, he doesn't want to apply to the colleges you want him to apply to -- then you guys need to resolve that as soon as possible. Otherwise it will blow up into a bigger problem as the year progresses.

Good luck!

Well, it looks like we are running out of time and questions. Thank you everyone for joining us today -- and a huge thank you to my two fabulous guests, Bill Mayer and Michael Edson (who have had me LOL all afternoon).

You can follow all of us on Twitter: @wpjenna, @mpedson and @bill_mayer.

Remember to hug your librarians and study for finals. Good luck!

In This Chat
Jenna Johnson
Jenna Johnson writes about college students and campus trends for the Post. She also runs the blog "Campus Overload," which chronicles national college news, drinking fads, admissions buzz and the latest exploits of Hill interns.
William Mayer
William "Bill" Mayer was appointed University Librarian for American University in May 2007. From 2001 - 2007, Bill served as the Associate University Librarian for Information Technology and Technical Services at the George Washington University, where he was responsible for developing, implementing, and integrating information technology services across the entire library system operation.
Michael Edson
Michael Edson is the Smithsonian Institution?s Director of Web and New Media Strategy. Michael has worked on numerous award-winning projects and has been involved in practically every aspect of technology and New Media for museums, including content development, digitization, blogging, gaming, public access to collections, information architecture, networking, place-of-business applications, programming, project management, graphic design, animation, audio and video production, mobile platforms, and citizen-created content
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