February 17, 2018

Carrie Miyoshi Macfarlane & Kathleen Sheehan | Movers & Shakers 2004

Maze Busters

Even if one is equipped with an MLS, the 11 libraries that comprise the Harvard College Library can be pretty daunting. That’s why Carrie Miyoshi Macfarlane and Kathleen Sheehan created Threading the Maze. The online publication is presented to students in expository writing, the one course all undergraduates must take. ‘This highly effective introduction helped bring research instruction at Harvard College into the 21st century,’ says Cheryl LaGuardia, head of instructional services at Harvard.

The in-depth guide covers the entire research process, from choosing a topic to getting advice and assistance, from locating books and magazines to finding a place to study. It is continually updated as renovations force collections to move and links out to more specific guides and publications.

The duo don’t hand out a paper version of the guide when they teach, just their card with the course and the URL. Amazingly, the card isn’t getting lost at the bottom of a backpack. ‘Usage statistics jump around the time of the class and again when the paper is due–so we know they remember us,’ says Macfarlane.

While students today are computer savvy (‘print is never the first choice,’ notes Macfarlane), they’re not necessarily library savvy. Macfarlane and Sheehan find a real mix in how much freshman know about research. Instruction works best when it is tied to a project and it isn’t abstract. An online publication provides the perfect reinforcement since it supports a variety of learning styles. Threading the Maze
has also been a hit with faculty, who regularly link to it from the class page, and the two credit it with contributing to a positive buzz about library instruction.

Macfarlane and Sheehan believe that collaboration has greatly enhanced the product–from generating content to fine-tuning the process it leads students through. ‘We don’t cowrite every section, but we plan it together and we both edit the entire work,’ Sheehan reports.

Threading the Maze
is the first publication using a research guide template developed by Harvard College librarians. The next steps are to develop a guide for graduate students in the arts and sciences, then guides for specific courses. However, neither woman sees online tools replacing in-person instruction. ‘The personal contact should never go away, students need and appreciate it,’ says Sheehan. ‘I think of online publications as one important way to make sure they come into the library.’

‘That’s the most exciting thing,’ says Macfarlane, ‘when you are working with students and one of them suddenly says, ‘I never knew there was so much information. How could I have found it on my own?” Threading the Maze
will help get them there.



Current Position: Instructional Services Librarian, Harvard College Library
Degree: M.S., Simmons College, 1999
Web site: Threading the Maze
Hobby: Geocaching, treasure hunting that mingles the virtual and the real


Current Position: Instruction and Reference Librarian, Widener Library, Harvard University
Degree: M.S., Simmons College, 1997
Hobby : Her 13-year-old daughter