Got Student Research? Get to your Librarian!

January 30, 2017 / By: Dr. Erika Scheurer, Associate Professor of English / Director, Writing Across the Curriculum

Dr. Erika Scheurer, Director of Writing Across the CurriculumFor the past eighteen months I’ve had the pleasure of participating in a research project with Research and Instruction Librarian, Talia Nadir. We studied faculty-librarian collaborations in Writing in the Disciplines courses. As we delved into our study results as well as into the extensive literature on faculty-librarian collaborations, my eyes were opened: I realized that not only have I underutilized librarians in the past, but I have been essentially clueless about how librarians see their role in the university.

A major take-away of our study is that when librarians are invited to fully share their expertise as students conduct research, everyone benefits: the faculty member, the students, and the librarian. I’m going to share with you what I learned as well as some processes and best practices that Talia and I have developed for faculty-librarian collaborations:

  • Librarians consider themselves partners in education. Indeed, Talia’s title is “Research and Instruction Librarian.” At some universities, librarians have faculty status. What do they see themselves as teaching? This is often a source of friction. Faculty may want librarians to teach students about databases and citation management tools (for example, RefWorks). Librarians, on the other hand, are eager to teach students research as a process, including higher-order skills such as critical thinking about sources and how to thoughtfully engage with source material as they write.
  • Librarians welcome an opportunity to do more than just an online subject guide or a “one and done” presentation. They can come to your class while students are working on their research and support them individually. In our study, the students reported that they highly valued one-on-one consultations with the librarians. The problem is getting them to make that first step. That is why having your librarian come to your class (or having them meet in the library) can be especially useful: students experience all the librarian can offer and then are motivated to follow up outside of class.
  • Librarians depend on faculty. We have power and prestige in the university context that they do not have. It is up to us to reach out in an informed way so that everyone benefits to the fullest from the librarians’ expertise. As Talia often says, “Faculty are the vehicle through which librarians reach students. Without faculty-librarian collaboration, students (and often faculty, too) don’t know what librarians do.”

To that end—reaching out in an informed way—Talia and I have developed a Faculty Guide for Librarian Collaborations. Some of you have already talked with me about how you might build librarian collaborations into the scaffolded support for your research assignments. I’m happy to consult with more of you on this anytime. And finally, if you are not sure who your subject librarian is, just look here.