Teaching is a big part of my job. It is not just going into a classroom and meeting the students for 50 or 75 minutes. Many things happen prior to the classroom teaching. We often meet with faculty ahead of time to discuss their expectations and goals for the class, to work on assignment design, and to design a class that best supports students. These conversations make our collaboration with faculty and our teaching more meaningful. We also emphasize transferable skills in our teaching. What skills can students take away from this class that can be applied in other classes and in their daily lives?
– Lijuan Xu, Associate Director of Research and Instructional Services
Lafayette research librarians are a foundational cohort of scholars who work with both faculty and students on Lafayette’s campus. They are up for anything and engage with all disciplines. As Terese Heidenwolf, Director of Research and Instructional Services, explains, “In some libraries, instruction responsibilities are divided up by discipline. Here we are generalists.” While they are generalists in the disciplinary sense, they also engage in a number of other initiatives on campus. Lijuan Xu describes her role:
I teach classes, I meet with students individually. I am also an academic advisor for first and second year students and a mentor for a first-gen student. I think that all these pieces help me have a better sense of the campus. An advisee of mine said to her friend one day, “Oh, she is my counselor.” I am not trained as a counselor but I’m flattered that she thinks I play that role for her. So often, I think we play that role, whether or not intentionally.
There are also more specific programs that librarians like Angela Perkins, Research and Instruction Librarian, heads that facilitate intensive research experiences for students over the course of a six-week summer session. Angela explains,
One of my main duties is that I direct the Digital Humanities Summer Scholars program where Lafayette students have the opportunity to do original research. In the program I try to engineer the fact that students are not only empowered by me but each other – especially each other. I see myself as someone who interacts with them, works alongside them and am often learning just as much as them.
This engagement translates to the classroom where Angela, Terese and Lijuan all value active learning. As Terese elucidates,
I always have exercises in my classes because searching and looking for information looks simple when someone else is doing it. It is only when you go to do it yourself that you say “Wait a minute, I don’t understand what this means.” “Where did you just go?” “How did you do that?” I just met with an English class where they had to find literary anthologies. So we started by talking about what is an anthology so everyone knew what it was and then I just told them to go find one. They were largely successful and the class ended up doing so much better than they typically do when I show them how to find an anthology. At the same time, those that were not successful knew why and we could have a conversation about it.
Along with the exercises that get students engaged with the library, librarians also work with faculty to make these exercises meaningful. As Angela puts it, “faculty are key in the work that we do.” Terese moves on to explain that faculty engagement,
Makes a huge difference. When faculty are willing to bring enthusiasm to the session, the students perk up a bit more. A lot of times faculty will chime in and talk about how the session relates to their research, how they have to go through a review process to get their research published, how they do their own research. That makes it more meaningful to the students. So it’s not just something that students are learning to complete an assignment. This is something that faculty actually do.
Lijuan also remarks that, “So much of what we do is to think about the course holistically, what faculty want students to take away from the course, and how the library can work with faculty to reach those goals.”
As librarians become embedded in a course, they become part of what Lijuan describes as a “broader community.” She mentioned that students relay that it is “nice to talk to someone who’s not an expert.” Lijuan believes that this is because “it encourages students to think more clearly about how they would present information.” Librarians are also there for one-on-one consultations where they ask students probing questions and help them to refine their research skills and research plans. In the Digital Humanities Summer Scholars program this is something that Angela does right from the beginning:
I have daily check-ins with them where they articulate their research. I ask questions like: What do you know about research? Have you ever written a paper before? What do you think the research process is like? What will research be like in the case of your project? Why is it important to ask this question? What audience are you writing for? All these kinds of questions that dig deeper into their idea of how they are going to execute their project. I then ask them to do a project plan. The plan is the thing – I want to know that they are pacing themselves. I need to know that they can do everything and the kitchen sink in 6 weeks. I also ask them to do journal entries that not only indicate what they are working on or what they are doing but how they are feeling about the process and actually it really helps.
For all of the work that they do, Lafayette librarians are an integral part of the Lafayette campus community and beloved by faculty and students alike.
“Angela Perkins is an accomplished filmmaker and a generous librarian. She understands the needs of our students and has helped them immeasurably in their research, working with FYS students in The Endurance of Race and FAMS seniors in their Capstone projects.” – Nandini Sikand, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies
“Lijuan Xu has been great to work with because she is incredibly knowledgeable about the various online databases available for students to conduct original research. I am always pleasantly surprised at her ability to help my students find the obscure primary sources they need to write their research papers. She is always available to meet with my students on an individual basis, and they always get back to me saying they wished they had met with her earlier!” – Caroline Séquin, Assistant Professor of History
“It is truly wonderful to have had the chance to work with Terese on my courses and in the classroom. From first-year seminars, to upper-level seminars on special topics, Terese has always been enthusiastic and supportive in assisting me with the development of new, experimental assignments. Every semester she rises to the challenge to help students become better at media-literacy and better scholars. We are lucky to have her in Skillman!” – Lindsay Ceballos, Assistant Professor of Russian and East European Studies