LAPTOP SOUP: Serving up Research Tools where Students Need Them

“Soup up your laptop” workshops

OUR CHALLENGE: meeting users in new settings, since they

  • are working increasingly on their own laptops rather than our workstations
  • sit wherever is most convenient for them (not necessarily inside a library)
  • expect to find most of what they need online
  • frequently want to help themselves (rather than asking a librarian)
  • don’t always start research on library pages or licensed resources
  • often sit with others to collaborate in new ways with new tools

OUR RESPONSE: Added new workshop "Souping Up Your Laptop for Research at Columbia," to help users configure that laptop environment to ensure the most effective research experience and the easiest [a seamless?] interaction with the libraries.

  • Focused on:
  • Hardware and software security
  • Most effective use of the campus wireless system
  • Printing through the campus network
  • Software for managing bibliographic citations, accessing specialized resources, and working with digital materials
  • Browser enhancements to provide direct access to key resources
  • (Generally older) undergraduates in the School of General Studies
  • Masters & Ph.D. candidates in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
  • Chose venues carefully
  • Students’ home turf (e.g., General Studies and Graduate School Lounges)
  • Traditional in-house setting of  library classroom


  • Meets a genuine need: attendee response was quite enthusiastic
  • Clear benefit to coming out of our traditional spaces, but identifying the ideal alternative venue is not always as easy as it might seem – each user community has its own culture
  • Need to move beyond familiar computer working environment – for example, while our own workstations are almost exclusively Windows-based, the majority of our attendees were Macintosh users
  • Need to move beyond our library-locked-down, IT-secured environments to be able to understand configuration issues our patrons face and to demonstrate the steps they need to take
  • Student priorities not always what we would expect – printing was clearly the most popular item, followed by downloading EndNote
  • Requires
  • Considerable preparation
  • Flexibility
  • (ideally) participation of several librarians if widely varying individual needs of the attendees are to be quickly and effectively addressed


  • Closer collaboration with IT
  • Survey students (before & after) to get a fuller sense of their needs
  • Consider the addition of more library tools and links, e.g., Zotero
  • Address other user groups
  • Fine-tune publicity and venues to match specific dynamics of each user group