Chapter 3: Institutionalizing student involvement in library initiatives – Diversity Programming and Outreach for Academic Libraries


Institutionalizing student involvement in library initiatives


This chapter discusses the development of the library’s student advisory group and the IUPUI University Library Undergraduate Diversity Scholar Program, which may serve as a model for creating a permanent method of ensuring student input for library diversity initiatives.

Key words

student advisory group

diversity council

undergraduate diversity scholar


student employees

Student advisory groups

Student advisory groups have been a tried and true method of receiving input from academic libraries’ primary users and keeping fingers on the campus pulse. University Library formed its first formal student advisory group in 2009 as an outgrowth of the Campus Outreach Group (COG), a marketing and outreach committee composed of library faculty. COG librarians placed a call for student representatives on the library’s website and contacted the Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate Student Organization for their assistance with recruiting from within student organizations. The library asked students to:

 Provide feedback about University Library services and collection

 Promote University Library services and collections

 Generate library programming ideas

 Preview and evaluate proposed new services and resources

 Provide a student voice to library administration.

The student advisory group was slow to take shape, but eventually grew from two to eight students by the end of the 2009–2010 academic year. The final composition of the student group was two graduate students and six undergraduates, with a representative mix of majors from across the campus. The group contained international students but its primary focus was not on diversity, although suggestions for diversity programming were certainly not discouraged, and we were pleased that students from diverse populations wished to serve on the student advisory group. The group continues to evolve and it is proving to be a valuable tool in gathering student input on a variety of issues, many of which the library is only beginning to explore. For example, the library sought and received input from the student advisory group on a new area in the reference room that will be an informal ‘browsing’ collection of popular fiction, magazines, music, and movies with soft seating for lounging and relaxing. At this writing, renovations have been completed and this space is now open for student’s use.

Challenges to forming a student advisory group

Recruitment is the greatest challenge, of course, due to the many demands on a busy student’s schedule and getting the word out takes time and commitment. The advice from the librarian leading the student advisory group is to be persistent and patient; she discovered that having regularly scheduled meetings with specific agendas gave the group purpose and moved issues forward expeditiously. Occasionally, maintaining communication was difficult – e-mail seemed to be a quick, acceptable method in a pinch – but face-to-face meetings were preferred by all. The librarian leading the student advisory group had also not anticipated that Friday meetings were problematic for Islamic students and plans in future to be more aware of cultural considerations.

Another challenge was that the students brought up ideas or issues that could not be dealt with by the group as they lacked authority to institute policy change (the librarian passed these along to appropriate library teams and departments) or were currently impractical to implement, at least from the organization’s viewpoint, such as a proposal for a 24/7 accessible study area. Physical limitations of the facility, costs of staffing, and security concerns inherent in an urban campus setting were deemed prohibitive to a 24/7 space; however, a compromise was reached by extending hours until 2 am during final exams week and, due to added requests by student government and other organizations, as well as financial support from the campus administration, overall library hours have been extended during fall and spring semesters. The student advisory group were pleased that their voices had been heard and action had been taken.

Rationale behind the University Library Undergraduate Diversity Scholar Program

IUPUI University Library and its newly formed Diversity Council developed a program with the intent of engaging and attracting student input to support its goal ‘to create an atmosphere that is supportive of diverse populations and scholarly activity reflecting diverse populations’.

At the time, late 2006 and early 2007, emphasis was placed on introducing undergraduates to librarianship as a career. The idea was to recruit undergraduates, minorities or those interested in pursuing diversity issues, into a work environment that exposed them to librarians, the profession, and to the wealth of resources available through the library. The library has a well-established Graduate Assistantship program in collaboration with the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) in which the Graduate Assistants (GAs) work at our Reference Desk and learn to perform other tasks, such as interlibrary loan, document digitization, and online research guide development. In order to avoid competition with SLIS GAs, this program needed to recruit undergraduates who may not have yet settled on a career and give them an opportunity to work in the library. We would then help them develop programs and events targeting the diversity found in the student population, and to hopefully attract them to the field of librarianship. Additional details about the birth of the Diversity Undergraduate Fellowship (later renamed the University Library Undergraduate Diversity Scholar Program) may be found in Hollingsworth (2008).

The foundation of the Undergraduate Diversity Scholar Program rests on the research conducted by Mary J. Stanley, Librarian Emeritus, IUPUI University Library. Ms. Stanley developed focus groups, working with the Campus and Community Life Office. Student organizations were more easily identified with the assistance of that office. Students from the Latino Student Association and the Black Student Union were invited to participate. Additional participants were recruited from library student workers and staff.

Among the themes that emerged from the focus groups were ‘better marketing to minorities, informing students about the career at an earlier age, and highlighting the different aspects and opportunities of the field’ (Stanley, 2007). The literature points to several methods of gathering input. Among these are focus groups (Stanley, 2007) and surveys. Surveys have been used in assessment but also in determining cultural climate and devising services and outreach to diverse student populations (Royse et al., 2006; Kyrillidou et al., 2009; Walter, 2005). The development of the University Library program rested on input gathered from Stanley’s focus groups, reviews of the literature, and comparison of other university initiatives across the country.

The successful launch of the inaugural Undergraduate Diversity Scholar Program was recorded in the Diversity Council’s 2008 annual report and included the following goals:

 Increase the diversity of the University Library Staff

 Hire individuals with a commitment to and belief in the positive effects of diversity in the workplace

 Give undergraduates the opportunity for professional level work in a library setting, providing insight into a career that may not have otherwise been considered

 Endow undergraduates with skills transferrable to any career.

It was highlighted in the report that the Program was considered to be a significant accomplishment ‘with evidence of impact demonstrated through an Institute for Museum and Library Services grant that was applied for by the Indiana State Library’. The Indiana State Library had received a $1 million Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program grant, having based a significant portion of its proposal on the University Library Diversity Scholar Program’s goals and structure. The Indiana State Library’s grant summary stated:

The Indiana State Library will increase the level of ethnic diversity in all types of libraries across the state by recruiting and providing scholarships for 30 Masters of Library Science students from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds, who will then commit to work in an Indiana Library for at least two years. Scholarship recipients will also benefit from participation in state and regional library associations, as well as other supplementary activities including special orientation meetings in various types of library settings, meetings with library directors, diversity and ethics workshops, transition to work programs, online and face-to-face support networks, and other special projects.

The result of this 2008 grant was Indiana’s Librarians Leading in Diversity (LLID) program ( = 1794). One of the LLID fellowship recipients who graduated with his MLS degree in summer 2010 recently received his appointment as an assistant librarian at IUPUI University Library.

Developing the Diversity Scholar Program

It is important that the program be mission or goal driven. The program should not be established without purpose in mind. In our case, we established the Undergraduate Diversity Scholar Program as an outgrowth of the Council’s Diversity Goal 1: Recruitment, academic achievement, persistence and graduation of a diverse student body.

Critical to the success of any program is support of library administration and funding. The Dean of the Library established a budget line for two hourly wage positions for the Scholars. Funds for events, materials, equipment and other incidentals were authorized as needed by the Dean. The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as well as library donors also contributed funding to further the work of the Scholars.

Volunteers from the Diversity Council or library staff served as supervisors during the initial years of the program. It was decided that a librarian (or librarians) should be designated as supervisors since a goal of the program was to introduce underrepresented populations to librarianship [see Appendix C for complete Supervisor description]. With this goal in mind, the Council felt flexibility in the students’ assignments would cultivate creativity as well as a sense of ownership by the Scholars in the development of their individual projects. We eventually discovered that a variety of assignments provided ongoing tasks to focus on during the Scholars’ initial months of employment as they learned about the library, came to know the personnel, and planned their projects for the coming academic year.

The Diversity Council determined the duties of the Scholars might include:

 Working with digital archives, digital collections and the institutional repository;

 Creating metadata for the digital projects;

 Learning software tools (graphics, digital publishing and archiving);

 Creating exhibits for display cases and websites;

 Interacting with student groups regarding library and research related issues;

 Raising funds, grant and proposal writing;

 Blog posting and website publishing;

 Recording and transcribing oral histories;

 Designing and printing posters;

 Organizing and facilitating discussion series;

 Organizing diversity-related lecture series;

 Researching using primary materials;

 Shadowing reference desk staff;

 Interviewing library subject specialists and learning about all library departments.

The Council devised a simple application form, requesting basic information and a brief essay describing the applicant’s interest in diversity and how they envision their contribution through the Scholar Program. Two recommendations were also required; most applicants provided these from past or current professors. The applications and information about the Program were posted on the library’s website.

Advertising the Program

We explored various venues to advertise the Undergraduate Diversity Scholar Program, with online media becoming our preferred and most pervasive strategy. Facebook, the library’s website, e-mail listservs, and the campus online newsletter all provided vehicles to spread the news and invite participation. We also utilized traditional print advertising, including pamphlets, brief advertisements in the student newspaper, flyers, and posters. By the second year of the Undergraduate Diversity Program, we found that word-of-mouth about the program generated greater interest among the student population. Applicants for the program noted that they heard about the program from former participants or applicants.

Figure 3.1 Example of Diversity Scholar Program Application and Recommendation Forms

Figure 3.2 Example of advertising handout for Diversity Scholar Program

Evaluating the applications

The students were judged on the content and quality of their essays, evidence of previous diversity-related activities, and their Grade Point Average (GPA). Our goal was to attract well-rounded, enthusiastic undergraduates who would thrive in the Program, but we did not want their employment in the library to interfere with their studies or previous commitments. The applications were generally quite strong and it was often difficult to whittle down the list to four or six final candidates.

Figure 3.3 Example of Diversity Scholar applicant evaluation sheet

The Diversity Council conducted 30-minute face-to-face interviews with the final candidates before selecting two to whom they would offer the positions. Some of our interview questions included:

 How have you used the libraries’ resources in your course work?

 Tell us about a time that you worked in a team environment at work, school or volunteering.

 What interested you in applying for this Program?

 What are your career goals?

 What strengths would you bring to this Program?

 Tell us about a time that you’ve had to take the initiative to get something done.

 If selected for this Program, what do you hope to gain from the experience?

 There can sometimes be tensions when diverse groups/people come in contact. Tell us how you have dealt with (or would deal with potential) tensions/conflicts.

 One of your recommendation letters describes you as a ‘highly motivated’. Can you give us an example of when you’ve had to use this trait?

The Council also asked about particular experiences or projects that the candidates may have highlighted in their applications, such as starting a student organization or diversity-related work done for a course or in collaboration with a professor.

Hiring and training the Scholars

After the Scholars were selected, the Council devised simple ‘ground rules’ for organizing the students’ time to ensure a smooth transition with staff in the students’ work area and with the library’s payroll office.

1. You may clock in for work between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

2. You may be in the UL1115 area for library or school work between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

3. You may have visitors in the UL1115 area while using the space for school work rather than library work. You are responsible for your visitors’ conduct as UL1115 is not a public area.

4. If working more than 8 hours in one day, it is important that you clock out for a lunch or break to ensure that overtime is not accrued.

5. At least 5 hours per week will be devoted to digital library projects. Please clock in under the appropriate digital library account for these 5 hours.

Our new student Scholars met with the library’s administration to complete required employment paperwork, including authorizing a background check (required for all employees) and entering their information into the university’s online time clock system. The students were e-mailed an orientation schedule for their first week of employment (see Appendix B for sample) to introduce them to the behind-the-scenes environment of the library, meet library staff, finish any personnel paperwork, and settle into their work areas.

Feedback from the Scholars

At the end of their year with us, the Council requested feedback from the Scholars and they offered valuable suggestions for improving the Program. Diversity Scholar Ashley’s ideas for enhancement included:

Since there are basically two aspects to the position – creating projects and events for the library and collaborating with different teams in the library on established projects, it would be beneficial if this were a 50–50 split of the duties to ensure a balanced experience.

Have more structure, communication, and teaching. A blueprint to develop the team collaborations is needed and these projects should be in place when the Scholars are hired. Determine what training is needed so the Scholars are brought up to speed quickly and efficiently on the materials and technology they will need to complete the projects.

The unstructured time for the Scholars is extremely valuable as it permits informal brainstorming and research for the self-directed projects, like displays and events.

The feedback process was later formalized by the creation of a brief exit survey:

1. During the course of the program, did you share information you’d learned about research or library resources with your peers? If so, please describe briefly.

2. How did the program change, if at all, your perception of librarianship as a career or academic libraries in general?

3. What aspects of the program do you believe will be most useful to you as you continue your education and/or pursue your desired career path?

4. What did you enjoy most about the program?

5. What aspects of the program could be improved and/or eliminated?

6. What insights, tips would you share with next year’s Scholar?

7. Describe the sum of your experience in 5 words (or less).

8. Please share anything else you’d like us to know.

This has helped us to evolve the Undergraduate Diversity Scholar Program by gaining insights such as those shared by some of our other Scholars:

It really changed my view about librarians. I did not know they work under tenure, and study topics relating to research and information literacy etc. I did not know that librarianship is a science before I got to know and experience the things that librarians do.

I would encourage next year’s [scholars] to practice thinking outside the box, and not stick to a specific formula. I think the one drawback of this year’s displays is that we didn’t really change the format from one display to another. I would have liked to do a display just on some particular concept, such as ‘minority’ music like jazz, reggae etc. that provide a cathartic outlet for social problems. So I think, given the freedom that we are granted, we should make full use of it and not fall into a groove.

I really learned a lot about the campus environment (what you can and can’t do in terms of advertising, which offices are able to help you with certain things, etc.) while planning ‘Beyond Stereotypes.’ I definitely plan on retaining that knowledge and using it when planning future events with other organizations/campus entities in the future.

Postponed Scholar outreach project to high school students

The Diversity Council discussed the possibility of creating a similar program for high school students, paralleling one begun at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) ( It was thought that our Undergraduate Diversity Scholars, having been mentored in our library, could gain additional experience in turn by acting as mentors to local high school students. IUPUI University Library would benefit by extending its outreach beyond the campus and into the community and by fostering the recruitment of minorities to the profession.

Points that were put on the table for discussion to create such a program included:

 High school juniors and seniors would be eligible.

 It would require more structure than our Undergraduate Diversity Scholar Program.

 The objectives of this outreach program would be for the high school students to:

– be exposed to a university environment and learn college success skills,

– use the experience as a bridge between high school and college,

– learn transferable job skills, and

– gain job experience in a professional environment.

 Possible time frames

– Fall and/or Spring semester in cooperation with a local high school that followed a similar academic calendar.

– Summer (our Diversity Scholars are not contracted to work through the summer, but this might be presented as an option).

– Spring break (dismissed as being an insufficient time period and would conflict with library staff and high school students whose families might have vacation plans).

 Possible work assignments

– Rotate students through library teams so they would be exposed to the wide range of tasks and aspects of library work. (There would probably be insufficient time to expose the students to all library teams and this may raise training issues and affect the necessary buy-in from the teams.)

– Students would probably not perform librarian-type assignments but typical hourly employee assignments. (This really does not expose them to the range of work of academic librarians.)

 Develop an incentive to attend IUPUI. For example, if you’re a High School Diversity Scholar, the library will guarantee you an hourly job while attending IUPUI, provided you maintain an acceptable grade point average and work performance.

However, after careful consideration, the Diversity Council reached the conclusion that it would be best to strengthen our Undergraduate Diversity Scholar Program over the next few years and table the discussion for a high school outreach program until a later date. As it turned out, this was a wise decision in light of subsequent budget constraints and the issues of Council members’ workloads.

Unexpected Scholar issues

Although the University Library Undergraduate Scholar Program encourages students from underrepresented minorities to apply, we had not foreseen problems arising from the application of an undocumented non-US resident student. Although there are undocumented students at IUPUI, they are not permitted by federal law to be employed. We contacted several other campus units and asked if this issue had arisen with their student employees and the Diversity Council considered reorganizing the program into an academic scholarship rather than an employment situation. We were unable to achieve a solution that would adhere to law and create a level playing field for all Scholar candidates, so unfortunately this issue remains unresolved at this time.

We had also not considered the ramifications of having hourly student workers who enjoyed some freedoms not available to other student workers in the library. Our Diversity Scholars’ work spaces are located in a technical support area that is not open to the public; although this area is open during business hours, the Scholars could be granted access to it outside of their normal work hours. Also, the Diversity Scholars were able to set their own work hours, within the limits mentioned above and may even leave the building to perform Scholar-related work elsewhere on campus (e.g. student interviews, meeting with student organizations, etc.). Some library staff were also concerned the Scholars were taking liberties by bringing in visitors and requesting supplies without proper authorization. These issues were discussed with all stakeholders, compromises reached, ruffled feathers smoothed, and more detailed ground rules created for future Scholars (see Appendix B).

An embarrassment of riches

University Library has been extremely fortunate in its Undergraduate Diversity Scholars, who have all proved to be creative, dynamic, and successful students. Each Scholar has put her own stamp (to date all our Scholars have been female) on her projects, many of which are highlighted in the following chapter.