Academic outreach to high schools: Research Days at Tredway Library

This week’s post courtesy of Connie Ghinazzi of Augustana College.

High school students have long used college library resources for their assignments. Often this leads to frustration when the librarians don’t have time to really instruct the students on researching in a college library or there is an expectation the librarians will do the work for them.

To make our interactions with visiting high school students more positive and also collaborate with the Admissions Offices’ outreach  efforts, we implemented “Research Days at Tredway Library.” During our trimester breaks, area high school librarians and AP teachers are invited to bring their class to our campus for a full day of research. A list of invitees is generated by calls to area high school librarians. The email invitation also includes instructions on what you will need to set up borrowing privileges from our library.

The research day is made up of an instruction session , time to work on their projects with  their teacher and the college librarian, a brief tour of the campus with Augustana student ambassadors, lunch buffet hosted by the Admissions counselor assigned to their school, and a brief talk about what to think about when choosing  a college. We have hosted Research Days with great success, limited  by our stipulation that we host these only during our breaks. High schools schedule these dates 6-8 weeks in advance, making arrangements for bussing  and permissions to be signed to be off school grounds for the day.

Research Days are not a “library tour”  but a work day tied to a specific assignment. Outcomes for the research day are agreed on by the high school teacher and the instruction librarian. The instruction librarian designs a handout that specifically addresses these outcomes and explains it during the first 30-40 minutes of the session. Since many of the groups who participate are AP English classes, an example of the outcomes   for them might be:

  • Explanation of Library of Congress Subject Headings and how it assists in research
  • Accessing our library catalog to find books and using the LC designations in the call number to recognize the disciplinary approach
  • Creating a simple search strategy in a general and then a subject specific database
  • Using MLA citation style to create a bibliography

After the initial instruction session, the students work on their projects accessing books and databases. We encourage them to research broadly while they are here . Copyright for most databases extends to guests visiting on campus, We don’t charge them for printing during their research day but also recommend they be as “green” as possible, emailing relevent articles to themselves to read more closely later.

By 11:30, students have been working for almost three hours and need a break. Student ambassadors, working for the admissions office, come to the library classroom to introduce themselves and take them on a brief walking tour across campus to our main dining facility. Our students introduce themselves, their hometown, major and a brief list of the clubs or organizations with which they are involved on campus. They each have about 8 high school students in their group and during lunch answer questions our visitors might have about college. The lunch is usually a special buffet set up for our visitors, often a taco or pasta bar with vegetarian options available. At the end of the lunch, the Augustana Admissions counselor assigned to their high school briefly visits with them before the ambassadors bring them back to the library. There they wrap up their research, check out books, and are generally very excited about all they have accomplished during the day.

Why do we do this?  We find high school students are very excited to get out of school and spend a day at college. They tend to stretch themselves in their research because of the greater variety of materials available to them. We find many come back on their own to continue work on this project or others  because now they are familiar with the resources. As outreach, it is a wonderful way to collaborate first with the work our Admissions people are doing in recruiting but also in making our library more accessible to students doing scholarly work. It doesn’t interfere with our primary work with our students, but allows us to serve a real need for academic support of high school scholars in our community.

 Connie Ghinazzi is the Natural Sciences Liaison Librarian and Instruction Coordinator for Tredway Library at  Augustana College in Rock Island, IL. She has a natural love of learning, seeing it as  the way to change habits. Connie came to librarianship as a second career, first spending 15 years as a pharmaceutical representative. When she isn’t at the library, she creates modern quilts, reads and discusses mystery fiction, tries to stay ahead of the weeds in her garden and plays bridge.

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