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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 (http://www.slis.indiana.edu/news/story.php?story_id = 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Diversity Council discussed the possibility of creating a similar program for high school students, paralleling one begun at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY) (http://www.library.cornell.edu/diversity/). 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.
– 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.)
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.
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).
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.