Lindsey Scales, a reference librarian in University Libraries at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, wants incoming freshmen to know one thing about the internet.
“Google does not have all the answers,” she said. “You can find things on Google, but the great thing about the library is that it’s organized in such a way to be very specific and authoritative for what you need academically.”
However, Scales knows it can be a daunting task for students to navigate those resources. That’s why she launched a partnership between the library and UMSL’s First-Year Experience – a program designed to help first-year students excel academically and adjust to life on campus – to create the Personal Librarian Program.
“It’s definitely not a new concept,” Scales said. “It has been done on campuses across the nation for over two decades. The purpose of doing it is really to offer extra support to new students or first-year students.”
Scales and her fellow librarians previously discussed starting such a program, but it never came to fruition. The COVID-19 pandemic changed things, though, as they looked for ways to support students who might face additional challenges this semester.
The program involves nine librarians, including Scales. Each FYE student will be assigned to a librarian according to the students’ last names. But Scales hopes in the future librarians will be assigned to students according to their majors.
“A personal librarian will be the ‘go-to’ person who assists in the research process,” Scales said. “Also, navigating the library and finding things to support them in their studies and their assignments, things like that.”
She noted that library staff have been working closely with the coordinators of FYE to introduce the students to their librarians. For now, communication will be via Zoom or email due to social distancing protocols. The library’s website also has an online chat function all students can use for research assistance.
The goal is for those relationships to persist beyond freshman year and to introduce available resources early in students’ academic careers. Research indicates that kind of engagement with library services contributes significantly to student success.
“What we’ve noticed is that often, students reach their final year, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that I had access to all these resources,’” Scales said.
Scales added that the Personal Librarian Program is part of a concerted effort to work more closely with other departments.
“The library wants to have a bigger role in the outcomes of our students as far as student success and retention goals,” she said. “We are becoming more involved with other departments on campus to help support student success. That’s one of our big focuses right now. It’s very important to us that students are happy and they feel supported when they come to UMSL.”
As classes begin, the library is underscoring that message.
“We really want to emphasize to students that we’re all in this together,” Scales said. “You’re not alone.”