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Belk Library gets “Personal” with Class of 2015

A new “Personal Librarian” program for freshmen is designed to help students succeed with research as they learn about university resources.

Shannon Tennant, the personal librarian for an Elon 101 course led by Jason Springer, speaks to students who will work with her in the months ahead as they seek her help with finding and using resources in Belk Library.

With hundreds of thousands of volumes ranging from books to academic journals to DVDs, Belk Library staff members have seen how navigating the stacks can be daunting for young students – and that’s why they hope a new program introduced this fall will alleviate such anxiety.

Starting with the Class of 2015, every incoming Elon University freshman will be assigned a librarian through Belk’s innovative “Personal Librarian” program. Students receive their designated librarian through their Elon 101 class.

“It’s a nice way to let incoming students know that there’s someone in the library who wants to help them,” said Lynne Bisko, the university’s non-print librarian who organized the program.

A series of recent studies conducted by five institutions in Illinois - Illinois Wesleyan, DePaul University, and Northeastern Illinois University, and the University of Illinois’s Chicago and Springfield campuses – employed ethnographic research practices to determine how students use libraries and what they perceive about the resources available to them.

The American Library Association will publish that series, “Libraries and Student Culture: What We Now Know,” later this fall, according to reports by Inside Higher Ed, an online news organization covering colleges and universities.

According to published previews, the findings aren’t terribly surprising to librarians: students rarely ask for help, they don’t know how to effectively mine online scholarly databases, and they rely too much on search engines such as Google.

Bisko identifies several reasons that students exhibit those behaviors and may shy from requesting help, including self-consciousness, a feeling that they would be interrupting librarians who they perceive to be busy, and simple fear. “That’s just human nature,” she said. “It’s not particular to students.”

Belk Library has set itself a lofty goal. Ideally, Bisko said, 60 percent of freshmen will know by the middle of the spring semester about their personal librarian. Whether they turn to the librarian is another matter; for the purpose of the program, the Belk Library staff simply wants to raise awareness.

“A lot of people come to the library,” Bisko said, adding that resources often go unutilized for lack of time or awareness. “Anecdotally, we’ve discovered some students wait until the last minute (to begin research for class), and some students don’t come into the library until they’re juniors or seniors.”

Though students are assigned a personal librarian through their Elon 101 sections, as they declare majors, assignments will change. Belk Library also assigns librarians to work with individual programs, such as the Honors Fellows.

So far, student awareness of the program is taking hold. Bisko said that personal librarians have already been asked for help with downloading Microsoft Office, with DVD return policies, and with finding information about the author of Elon University’s 2011-12 Common Reading author.

For more information on the Personal Librarian program, visit: http://www.elon.edu/e-web/library/services/personal-librarian.xhtml

Eric Townsend,
9/22/2011 8:49 AM