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Library House Outreach Program Update

In the Library House Outreach Program, peer fellows help undergraduates learn effective research strategies.


At the most recent Research, Teaching, Learning Shares event, research librarians from Services for Academic Programs, along with two undergraduates from Adams and Currier houses, presented on the Library House Outreach Program. Launched as a pilot in the houses during the spring of 2015, this program employs undergraduate peer research fellows to engage with students in a holistic way. Fellows assist their peers with research questions and provide information about library services and collections.

Ramona Islam and Anna Esty, research librarians and mentor librarians, presented their experiences with the program along with Alexis Gomez and Vegas Longlois, Harvard undergraduates and peer research fellows. Islam provided background about the program’s genesis. Several librarians drafted a successful proposal for reaching out to undergraduates in their own spaces that was informed by data from environmental scans that indicated students could benefit from a more personal approach to research support.

Gomez described the current work of the peer research fellows in the houses: sending weekly newsletters to fellow students; fielding research-related questions via email; and holding weekly study breaks in the dining hall, where they distribute handouts with tips on research strategies and resources. Longlois shared her experience going through the five-week peer research fellow training curriculum, which covers topics applying to research in general, such as search strategies, critical thinking about use of sources, copyright and fair use awareness, academic integrity issues, and citation tools, as well as Harvard-specific resources such as HOLLIS+ and Get It Services. Visiting several libraries and special collections on campus is also a part of their training.

Esty ended the presentation with details about the program’s assessment. Data shows that peer research fellows have most typically received questions in the evenings, are highly rated by their peers, and have made successful referrals to research librarians when necessary. However, many students are not yet aware of the program, which Library House Outreach hopes to expand to two more houses in the fall of 2016. The group has put out a call for two more librarians to join the program as mentor librarians to serve these two additional houses.

According to Islam and Esty, serving as mentor librarians has been a rewarding experience. Both value the opportunity to work closely with students who appreciate learning skills and knowledge they can put to use in their studies and in other areas of their lives; Gomez enjoyed her experience as a peer research fellow so much that she plans to pursue a career in librarianship.

If you are interested in joining this program, the session recording, mentor librarian description, and application information can be found on the RTL Shares libguide.

In addition to regular house outreach and weekly meetings, the peer research fellows and mentor librarians have been engaged in assessment of the program, presented at the Dartmouth October Conference, and are currently working on a chapter for publication in the forthcoming volume Peer-Assisted Learning in Academic Libraries (from Libraries Unlimited).

Article written by Anna Esty and Ramona Islam.

Article published on January 6, 2016.