Librarians Working With the Modern Student – OHIO University Libraries

Librarians Working With the Modern Student

Graphic design by Chance Brinkman-Sull/Ohio University Libraries


Carla Williams, the subject librarian for music and dance, checked her email and saw she had a message from a professor she often worked with.

The professor wrote that he had used one of Williams’ library subject guides she developed to help with research on different instruments.

“He wrote back to tell me how excited the students were about it, and how helpful it could be,” she said, referring to the guide that helps with student research. “There are just a few little tricks that [librarians have that] can be so very helpful and make students’ lives a lot easier.”

Williams added examples like that illustrate the importance of librarians: Their job is to work together with students.

Ohio University subject librarians (dedicated to helping with specific areas of study) and special collections librarians and archivists (those with technical expertise in primary source materials)—called info experts—have shifted the way they interact with students in recent years, but that core principle of “Let’s find it together” remains, said Miriam Intrator, special collections librarian.

“All of us sometimes need help with our research, regardless of our level of knowledge, education, or experience. As librarians, it is our job to help students, faculty, and others with their research,” she said. “We want students to realize that we are here to help and are happy to help.”

Intrator added that as technology advances, so too does the student-librarian relationship.

Miriam Intrator, special collections librarian at the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, works with Sarah Petrell, a fine arts major, during a classroom visit to the Voinovich Seminar Room on the fifth floor of Alden Library. (Photo by Tyler Stabile/ Ohio University Libraries)

“Being an info expert today increasingly means meeting students where they are,” she said. “That means being ready to answer questions over chat, email, [or] in-person and to spend a lot of time explaining databases and how to find and access resources virtually.”

In the past, info experts had shifts at general service desks on all seven floors of Alden Library. Today, service desks remain on the Library’s second and fourth floors as well as in the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections on the fifth floor, but students can also reach out for help using chat, by calling 740-593-2699, scheduling appointments or texting 740-231-3222.

Kelly Broughton, assistant dean for research and education services, said results from a survey conducted by the Libraries in the spring semester of 2017 showed that a little less than half of the respondents were aware they could contact the Libraries’ staff online.

“Before the internet was ubiquitous, students had to come to the Library to do their research projects,” she said. “It was natural for them to just stop at a service desk.  Now, with the information on the internet, students have migrated to using online tools and information, so there’s not that convenient face-to-face connection among students, librarians and research projects.”

Because of that, she added, methods of contacting librarians have also migrated online. OHIO librarians have been offering research assistance via chat services for over a decade, and numbers of contacts from students have steadily increased, Broughton said.

Chat can work as a great initial contact step, which can lead to face-to-face meetings, especially important when working with primary sources.

“I mostly help students with original, primary source research,” Intrator said. “Using and citing primary sources in your work, whether or not it is required, really impresses professors and, if used correctly, can significantly contribute to strengthening your argument and findings.”

Bryan McGeary, the subject librarian for the humanities, said librarians’ flexibility is key.

“It is good to have [the idea of info experts] keep evolving,” he said. “We should be responsive to whatever the needs are of the students. I think it is good that we not be set in our ways.”

Even in the fast-paced online-research age, Broughton said that student-librarian interaction early in the research process leads to the best results.

“We hope that students will relate to info experts,” Broughton said. “And when students have information needs, they think of us as a resource to turn to early and often. So many times, when we work with students, we get this feedback, ‘Oh, I wish I would have known you could help me with this freshman year. I wish I would have known before.’ So, we are trying to get out ahead of that.”

However, Broughton, Intrator, McGeary and Williams all emphasized that the most important thing is that students simply take the step to reach out—no matter their deadline or where they are in the process.

“Don’t panic or give up,” said Intrator. “Get in touch with a librarian, by whatever means possible. We don’t always have the answers, but most of the time we can help get you a lot closer to an answer. We also hate to give up leaving a question unresolved, so we’ll keep working with you as long as possible.”