The RIOT discussion on November 17, 2015 began with Elise’s excellent post about the ways academic libraries have tried to leverage their student workers as consultants for other undergraduate students. This discussion broadened to include many topics related to student workers in the UT libraries.
We began the discussion by talking about the fears that surface when we consider letting undergraduate students provide research help as a part of our array of services. Several concerns came up: the need for intensive training, the idea that this is librarian “turf,” and the question of what need we’d be meeting for our users. We came up with a few possible solutions for the training piece of this discussion – first, as with the students who work in the media lab at PCL, training could be project-based. For example, students could be given a research problem or question (maybe mined from actual queries on the desk) and be tasked with finding resources that meet the research need. In this way, students would encounter problems and work through them organically, instead of sitting through long training sessions. The second idea was to seek students with some kind of interest in library work or mentorship – this would lead to students who care about their job and would be more likely to work hard to get up-to-speed. These students could be recommended by some of the centers on campus (the Multicultural Engagement Center – MEC is one possibility). Finally, as a cohort of more experienced students is built, some of the training could be accomplished through student workers mentoring each other.
We also recognized that the domain of the specialized library consultation is for library staff. Student workers are not mini-me librarians. Instead, these students will provide guidance and help other undergraduates problem solve in their research (in the model of the student mentors at the UWC). They may also be able to connect with students who would not have otherwise interacted with library staff. Part of the idea behind this kind of peer mentoring is to facilitate student to student learning, which can be more powerful than staff to student learning.
When we discussed what need we’re addressing, many topics came to the surface, the most interesting of which was the idea that we’d be reaching a new crop of students. Some students who would not feel comfortable asking a librarian for help may be able to consult with peers, plus as these student workers become recognizable across campus, they may be able to spread the fact that research help is available in the libraries.
Overall, we liked the idea of student mentors providing research help – it seems to have many potential benefits for undergraduates. Plus these student mentors could also work at the checkout desk – with more responsibilities and training, maybe they would have additional investment in their jobs. We also have two possible populations of students to draw from at UT – students already involved in the MEC and students who have served as mentors in UGS Signature Courses (these students already do some research help). Finally, an idea that came out of this RIOT that we can act on in the coming semester is to have UWC consultants meet with librarians about their own projects so that they can: see the services we offer, assist students with basic research problems, and communicate about our services to students who visit the writing center.