Indiana University

Slough is partnering with Carrie Donovan, instructional services librarian, whom she credits for conceiving and inspiring the project. “Rachel puts her heart and soul into her work,” Donovan says.“ She truly cares about making the libraries accessible and relevant to all our students at IU.” No wonder the American Library Association named Rachel to their 2010 Class of Emerging Leaders.

“I’m hoping this will help international students see there’s a supportive community and that we’re willing to help them.”

Listen to the Herman B Wells audio tours

More than a tour, it's a teaching tool

International students download audio tours

From her experience as a Fulbright teaching fellow in Chile last year, Rachel Slough understands all too well the difficulties of communicating in a foreign language. 

“I had a Spanish degree and I defended an undergrad thesis in Spanish,” Slough says. “I thought I was set.”  But interacting with native speakers is far different from conversing in a classroom. Once, she recalls, when trying to explain to her host family why she couldn’t eat sausage, she instead asked for a condom.  She blushes at the memory. “It wasn’t good,” she says, smiling.

Now a graduate student in IU’s School of Library and Information Science, Slough works part-time as an instructor and teaching assistant in the Herman B Wells Library. And because international students make up nearly 10 percent of the student body on the Bloomington campus, she sees firsthand the challenges they face when doing research or trying to learn about library services and resources.  

Library vocabulary can be tricky enough, Slough says, but some words are especially difficult to translate conceptually. Consider, for example, the Auxiliary Library Facility, or “ALF”, where more than 2 million books are shelved off-site.  Or Interlibrary Loan, which makes it possible to borrow a book from any library in the world. 

To minimize such communication roadblocks, Slough is creating a series of podcasts, or downloadable audio tours, of the Wells Library. So far she’s produced about 15, and because the response from volunteer translators was so great, that number could grow to as many as 46.  Languages range from Chinese and Italian to the African language IsiSwati.

Slough wrote the tour script, recruited volunteer students and faculty to record it in their native language, and is posting the files online.  Many of the volunteers record the tours in the multimedia lab in the Information Commons. One recent graduate, however, recorded the Arabic script from her home in Cairo, Egypt, and simply e-mailed Slough the digital audio file.  

Images and text accompany the audio, allowing students to see the translations side by side. Students, for example, can hear words in their native language and compare it to printed versions in other languages. “This is a teaching tool,” Slough says.  “Our idea is that we’re not just helping international students better understand the United States, but the project is also allowing us to come to know them and their languages.”

Slough is partnering with Carrie Donovan, instructional services librarian, whom she credits for conceiving and inspiring the project. Because of inconvenient timing and the dynamics of the Southern Hemisphere—their fall semester starts in March—Slough had worked with Donovan for only a semester before traveling to Chile. 

"Rachel puts her heart and soul into her work and this project is no different,” Donovan now says after working with her this year. “ She truly cares about making the libraries accessible and relevant to all our students at IU.”

Slough says she wants to help international students grow their appreciation for the libraries. “I see every day how much we have,” she says, “and I want these students to see us in an approachable way.”