Notes from the Trenches

Conventional word processing software can’t do everything: Teaching LaTeX to faculty, students, and staff.

In 2010, my advisor and I submitted an article for publication. The journal provided a LaTeX template, so I tried LaTeX, which is a typesetting system based of the TeX typesetting language. Calling it a mark-up language wouldn’t be correct, but most learning LaTeX draw connections between LaTeX and HTML. Essentially, a LaTeX document is a structured text file, where the markup directs the typesetting engine in formatting the document. Usually, users generate a PDF file. There are advantages to using LaTeX, such as superior equation rendering, creating advanced document structures more easily, and costing no money.

Often, I learn software by experimentation and reading. After creating the article in 2010, I spoke to an expert user and attended an all day workshop. I found that I was performing functions “the hard way.”

I aimed to create a series of LaTeX workshops to get users started with the system. In fall 2010, I surveyed the university community and 200 people were interested in LaTeX training. Since most don’t have time to take a full day workshop, I elected to provide multiple 90 minute workshops. The series in entirely taught students to create a LaTeX document from start to finish.

I broke the process into logical functional areas and the first two workshops ran spring 2011. As of 2017, the series has transformed. All changes were based on attendee feedback or observed systematic problems. To date, there are eight modules and an online version in our course management system. Materials for the workshop sessions can be found on the LaTeX Workshop LibGuide

LaTeX training addresses an important student need that is within the realm of librarianship. It speaks to the frame, Information Creation as a Process. It involves writing, citing, and publishing. Many publishers offer a LaTeX template and some publishers, particularly mathematics, require a LaTeX submission. All can learn LaTeX regardless of experience; however, you learn faster when you have coding experience. LaTeX users are passionate about LaTeX, so finding guest speakers is likely. I’ve had three guest speakers including a previous workshop attendee that had graduated.

Although I’ve been a LaTeX user for seven years, I found the best example of the power of LaTeX recently. During creating a Microsoft Word template for theses and dissertations, the difference between a word processor and a typesetting system became clear. In Microsoft Word, I placed codes in the fields and supplied two pages of instructions for students using the template. It’s easier to use a dissertation class in LaTeX. I’m investigating PDF tags creation with LaTeX for accessibility, but it’s a topic for another Notes from the Trenches.

-Tammy Stitz, University of Akron

Removing the Reference Desk at Oberlin’s Science Library

Photos from Oberlin College science library, where the reference desk was removed and OberlinRefDesk2OberlinRefDeskthe reference desk collection was transformed into the popular science reading area. The reference and research help function was moved to one section of the circulation/reserve desk, now known as the service and help desk. The help desk is staffed by student assistants, beginning at 3:30 pm on weekdays and all the hours the library is open on weekends. Alison Ricker, head of the science library, is often at the help desk as well and her office is just a few steps away. The new arrangement

has already encouraged more interaction with students seeking help,and the popular reading collection has attracted attention.

-Alison Ricker, Procedures Manual Coordinator, Oberlin College

An Instructional Revelation at Columbus State Community College

I began teaching Information Literacy sessions in 2005. I was usually in a dedicated library classroom for these sessions, but sometimes my job took me to different classrooms. During these field trips to other locations, the instruction environments I encountered varied significantly. In some situations, there was a reliable projector with a screen close to the presentation computer. Other times the screen was across the room from the presentation computer. In one particularly memorable location there was no screen, only an old CRT-TV mounted on the top of a storage cabinet approximately 9 feet in the air. It was somehow connected to the presentation computer and was probably close to 35 inches in size. So again, there was significant variation.

I learned a lot about instruction during the first few years doing almost strictly one-shot sessions. It was mostly lecture and demonstration and I found myself constantly showing students where different icons, buttons, and search fields were located on database, catalog, and website interfaces. To achieve this, I used various pointers. I started by pointing with my hand. In the location I used most, I tried wooden and metal sticks that were available to power on/off the overhead projector. In some of the less ideal locations though, I was really challenged. Eventually, a very seasoned instructor visiting with one of his classes simply looked at me and said: “Just get a laser pointer.” It was a Eureka moment for me. It made so much sense. It was so obvious in hindsight. I was immensely grateful and embarrassed.

In the years since that revelation, I’ve ensured that I always have access to a laser pointer when presenting. There is one stored permanently in our library classroom and another available for use at the other locations I visit. Of course, nowadays there are also many software-based laser pointers available. While those can be useful, they are not always readily available. Whether it’s updates, new installs, insufficient permissions, or a change in location, there are many variables affecting the availability of software-based laser pointers that don’t affect hardware-based laser pointers. So, I continue to use this simple tool and remain forever thankful to the longtime instructor that shocked my brain awake and made me realize how to simplify and improve my instruction repertoire.

-Ryan Scott, Columbus State Community College


This entry was posted in Vol. 36 no. 3 (Sept 2017) and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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