I’ve been reading a lot lately about student engagement, information literacy, assessment, and instruction. Our approaches to these important issues need to resemble an octopus: lots of arms, nimble, well-formed for its environment, and cool to look at. To be all of these things, we must employ a number of strategies that result in myriad activities, resources, and services. So yeah, we have a lot of work to do and maintain. But here’s one idea based on my work history and cool ideas gleaned from my days working in after-school programs.
The Student Dream Team. Mission: to encourage faculty to make better use of the library and librarians, serve as role models to their peers, and make the library look good*.
You are going to hire these students, train them to be peer reference advisers, maybe even help you teach instruction classes, and spread the word that the library and librarians are helpful resources. This takes time, but I promise it’s worth it.
- Pick the unusual suspects to serve on your team. Ask advisers to recommend students who need academic support (if your institution allows such information to be shared, of course!) Find out who the popular kids are. Ask coaches which students have leadership abilities/are intellectually curious/need academic support. Yes, athletes are busy, but if you want something done ask a busy person to do it. Also, one hope for this is to provide service at odd hours outside the library, so athletes are a great choice. We currently employ a number of student athletes and are able to nimbly work with their schedules.
- Trust me on the above. I worked with at-risk middle school kids for years. We often were covered by local media for our efforts. When they wanted to interview kids, I chose the ones who gave us the most trouble. They ALWAYS shined. They always talked about how much they enjoyed the program and our efforts. Light bulbs clicked during their interviews. By articulating the benefits they got from our program they started to internalize this. They never became perfect kids, but they became kids who respected us, listened to us, and encouraged their peers to do the same. They rose to the occasion. THIS WORKS.
- Ask the students to give themselves a name. I belonged to one called the SWAT Team (Student Wizards Assisting Teachers).
- Don’t start marketing this yet. Trust me on this one. It’s time to build skills and confidence in your team. When it’s time to market, turn that over to them. They know better than we do. It’s true.
- Now is the fun part! Train your team in the ACRL standards, basic reference interviews, spend time teaching them databases, the catalog, all the fun research parts. Don’t forget to make it fun. I love showing students cool stuff available (peer-reviewed articles about their favorite unhinged pop star! Fun quizzes on the Center for Disease Control website! How to get THE BIG BANG THEORY legally!) Have them practice bad reference interviews!
Hoped for results include:
- physical space at the info desk for these students to work reference hours (maybe at odd hours and Sunday nights even?)
- have them shadow you in class instruction, eventually taking over some teaching of the class
- have them join you in planning instruction with faculty to provide a student view
- have them develop best practices to share with librarians and faculty regarding instruction and planning assignments
- spread the word to their fellow students. Do not underestimate the power of this. Do not underestimate how one member of the swim team helping a teammate use the library will result in the rest of the swim team asking them for help. (Rinse, repeat.)
- you’ll know when the team is off and running. This is a good time to have them develop and create a marketing plan. Consider having them help develop marketing materials for faculty. We complain about how reality TV and Facebook has made everyone want to be a celebrity. Here is where we use that to our advantage, people!
Getting students in their first and second year is helpful in maintaining consistency. I worked with a colleague in developing a student leadership program three years ago for our student supervisors. We helped provide the framework, goals, and activities for the first year. Since then, we’ve all but bowed out completely. Putting trust and opportunity in our students’ hands has resulted in buy-in and a sustainable program.
And while I’ve used a lot of exclamation points in this article, do not let that deter you from the seriousness of this idea. It can work. As a librarian and youth coordinator I’ve built many such youth-directed teams. It’s time to bring students more fully into defining and developing their information literacy skills.
*Feel free to dispute me or call me shallow, but this matters. If it does not matter, then how do you explain the success of the Kardashians and why you decorate your house/get tattoos/brush your hair?