Students as library partners

16 May

Last week I received the latest issue of College and Research Libraries News in the mail, and I noticed an interesting theme arising from the articles. There are several articles discussing libraries working with students on campus on projects ranging from the evaluation of library service to marketing and outreach.

  1. In “Students research the library” , Gina Hunter and Dane Ward of Illinois State University explain how student-led ethnographic research on student use of the library can provide valuable information to help libraries evolve to meet student needs. With the guidance of faculty and librarians, students can leverage their “native expertise” and ability to build rapport with their subjects to gather data about student behavior in the library.
  2. In “Imagine: a student centered library” , Gretchen Gfeller, Desiree Butterfield-Nagy, and Hansie Grignon at the University of Maine describe their library marketing campaign for the Fogler Library, developed by a Marketing team that included student members. One of their projects that was created by this student member was a poster campaign picturing various student groups and their answer to the question, “what did we find at Fogler?” Another initiative invited student comments and feedback on their favorite place in the library in order to gather suggestions to use in redesigning spaces and services to make the library a more student-centered place.
  3. Secrets to successful mystery shopping” by Candice Benjes-Small at Radford University and Elizabeth Kocevar-Weidinger at Longwood University shares their experience applying the “mystery shopping” concept often used to evaluate retail customer service to the evaluation of service at the library. In collaboration with faculty, they used students in business classes as “shoppers” who participated in the research project for extra credit or participation points for their classes. Using students instead of professional mystery shoppers had the benefit of the participants being familiar with the academic environment and the service expectations of academic library users.


Here at UCSB, our Assistant University Librarian for Outreach and Academic Services, Brian Mathews, is also partnering with students to develop the library’s social media presence and gathering student input into the upcoming building redesign project. Recently there was a large sheet of paper set up in the library lobby asking students to write down what they wanted to see in the renovated library. Much like the easels set up at Fogler library, the setup encouraged students and other library users to enter into a conversation with each other and with library staff. Students would comment and build on each other’s comments, and as one sheet of paper filled up, staff would respond on a new sheet asking for more details on some of the most common comments. In addition to this kind of brainstorming, there is also a design contest in progress and an upcoming design charrette activity to solicit more student ideas, and a libguide for the project to communicate updates to the campus community.

These types of projects appear to benefit everyone involved. The library gets assistance in collecting data about the effectiveness of its services and the needs and desires of its users, and students get practical experience applying research methods they learn about in class. These projects can help build awareness of library services among the student population and increase students’ feeling of investment in the library. In the Gfeller, Butterfield-Nagy, and Grigon article, the student groups included in the “We found it at Fogler” campaign saw the library as being an important part of campus life at the university and reported that they felt a real sense of being a part of the larger campus community through their involvement in this campaign. Perhaps this experience will also encourage them and the students who saw the posters think of the library as a place to turn to for help in the future?

I find that I am really interested in the potential in these kinds of research and outreach projects. Students, as a major stakeholder in the library, are becoming a more active partner in designing a library that best meets their needs. To me, it parallels nicely with educational theory that calls for students to be engaged in their own learning process as partners, rather than being lectured to by experts. Much like Paulo Friere’s concern with creating a dialogue between educator and student, these student-centered initiatives involve people working together to solve problems and move forward, helping to ensure that the academic library evolves with its users.

This may not be a new trend, but if it is a trend I think it’s a step in the right direction.

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