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Library Lessons I'd Tell Myself Four Years Ago – Or Anyone Starting at Harvard Now

Advice on making the most of library resources from Silvana Gómez '21, the Commencement Undergraduate English Student Orator and an intern for Harvard Library Communications.

I have learned a lot in the last four years at Harvard: How to secure the best seat in a lecture class, how to take advantage of study breaks in entryways that weren’t even mine, and the fact that Felipe’s is only better than Jefe’s once you turn 21. These are some of the most notable lessons of my Harvard career.

Woman graduate wearing robes in Harvard Yard
Silvana Gómez '21 delivering the undergraduate English oration at Commencement 2021

Throughout the last four years, I’ve also learned to make use of different resources that Harvard has to offer. As a first-generation college student, asking for help in college did not come easily to me. When I first started at Harvard, I would default to trying to figure things out on my own.

But as my year progressed, I realized it was okay to ask for help, and this realization elevated my academic work as I sought guidance from those around me. There were so many people and resources at Harvard whose sole job was to help me navigate the difficult transition to college. One of these resources was Harvard Library!

My top library takeaways after four years at Harvard:

  1. Before you buy books, see if you can borrow them
  2. As a low-income student, I always found the first week of the semester difficult as I was required to buy books and textbooks for each of my classes. Once I discovered library services like BorrowDirect, Course ReservesScan & Deliver, and Interlibrary Loan, this became less stressful. Since I could get a lot of the books through Harvard Library with these various services, I’d use the money I would have spent on expensive books on something else necessary for the semester. Always check to see if the libraries have the book that you are looking for. Even if they don’t, they may be able to find a copy for you at another library.

  3. The Library’s research tools – and the librarians who can explain how to use them – will make your life easier
  4. Resources like Zotero (for citations) and PsycINFO (for peer-reviewed literature) made writing papers so much easier. I didn’t feel this way initially – when I first started exploring Zotero, I was completely lost. But I was able to book an appointment with a librarian in Cabot Library who guided me through how to use Zotero for a particular project, and it ended up being really useful for my junior tutorial.

  5. Explore study spaces to find your go-to spot, then reserve it in advance
  6. The library spaces were undoubtedly some of my favorite places to spend reading weeks, so the Find a Space feature on the library site was helpful for finding study spots that met my needs. And being able to reserve those spaces beforehand allowed me to create a schedule that would keep me accountable during reading period. In my case, Widener was definitely the place to be before exams!

There’s a lot to learn during your time at Harvard, and some of the lessons will come more quickly than others. I’m glad to say that over four years, I opened my eyes to all the resources this institution has to offer its students and I learned to take advantage of them. There are several papers and projects I couldn’t have gotten through without Harvard’s library services, and ultimately the libraries played an integral role in my academic success here.

- Silvana Gómez '21