Personal Librarian program growing after strong start

Brittany Giles didn’t spend a lot of time in her high school library.

She found it difficult to navigate, which often left her hesitant to check out various resources.

When the first-year Sport Management student made the transition to Brock last fall, the thought of visiting the large James A. Gibson Library came with a dose of anxiety.

But then the emails came.

Through the University’s Personal Librarian program, Giles was contacted by Library staff and taught electronically about useful resources and services available at her fingertips.

It was a huge help for the 18-year-old Brampton native, who found herself faced with several university papers to write for the first time.

“The emails definitely helped to get me into the Library during my first year,” Giles said. “It set a good foundation for later in my university career, so I’ll know how to use the system and how to access the resources I need.”

Through the initiative, Library liaisons focused on specific Faculties and programs send personalized email messages that highlight the Library’s online and physical resources and services. They also run polls and contests, and refer students to other relevant campus resources, such as A-Z Learning Services and Student Wellness and Accessibility Services.

Taylor Downes

PhD student Taylor Downes speaks with Liaison Librarian Jennifer Thiessen about the assistance she received through the Personal Librarian program.

The Personal Librarian program was launched in 2013 as a means to help reduce “library anxiety” often experienced by students, while also promoting available campus services, said Elizabeth Yates, Liaison and Scholarly Communication Librarian.

“We’ve grown into seeing the student as a whole person, recognizing there’s a lot of things going on their lives — not just academically, but socially and emotionally,” she said.

For Faculty of Education PhD student Taylor Downes(BA ’13, BEd ’13 and MEd ’14), the personal service offered through the program made a world of difference.

She reached out to Liaison Librarian Jennifer Thiessen for support finding a measurement scale for a paper and future dissertation focusing on adolescent self-concept and social media uses.

“She didn’t rest until she found what I was looking for,” Downes said of the dedicated Library staff member. “Without finding this scale, I wouldn’t have been able to move forward in my work.”

Downes intends to continue using the program and only wishes she had been aware of Library supports earlier in her Brock career.

“It’s great to have someone with a different perspective and strong expertise to assist with finding the right material for my thesis,” Downes said. “One of the hardest steps is manoeuvring through the databases to find strong material to support an argument. If I had known there was someone there to guide me through the process, it would have been invaluable.”

In addition to enhancing the program each year, often based on feedback from student surveys, the Library aims to reach out to new student populations.

“This year, we included ESL students for the first time. While they’re not in an academic program, per se, there is evidence that specialized populations can particularly benefit from tailored Personal Librarian messaging,” Yates said.

With the support of a Brock retention grant, the Library has also expanded the program to include transfer students, who may struggle when coming into programs where existing students have already made academic and social connections, or when transferring from college to find university-level coursework unfamiliar and challenging.

While more common at U.S. universities and colleges, Brock’s personal librarian program is among only a handful in Canada.

“We are consulted by Canadian libraries looking to develop their own Personal Librarian programs and have given presentations on our programming at Canadian and U.S. conferences,” said Yates, who is part of the program’s planning team alongside Liaison Librarian Justine Cotton and Digital Services Librarian Tim Ribaric.

She said the positive feedback received from students is “very gratifying.”

“We may not be able to reach out to all of our students in-person, but we can do it electronically. We are trying to make personal connections.”

For more information on the Personal Librarian program, visit the Library’s website.

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