Slight rise in use of personal librarians

Navigating Yale libraries’ nearly 13 million volumes and 22 library facilities can prove daunting, but freshmen and sophomores have a resource — their very own personal librarian.

Though use of the University Library’s Personal Librarian Program, which was implemented in 2008, has increased 5 to 10 percent compared to this time last year, the program has yet to see wide use among students. The program provides all incoming freshmen — beginning with the class of 2012 — a personal librarian to answer library-related questions and provide research assistance. Personal librarians received slightly fewer than 400 inquiries last year, Emily Horning, the humanities outreach librarian and research education coordinator, said. Librarians will try to advertise the program to professors and visit English classes to further encourage students to take advantage of the program, she said.

Horning and Sue Roberts, a librarian of European history, conceived the program, basing it on a similar one at Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, where nursing and medical students have been matched with personal librarians since 1996, Horning said. University librarians were initially reluctant to adopt a similar system for undergraduates because there are so many more of them than of medical students.

“Going from 100 students to more than 1,000 initially seemed like an insurmountable barrier,” Horning said.

The Yale College Dean’s Office decided to implement the Yale College program partly in response to librarians’ perceptions of having lost contact with students as more resources move online, Horning said.

“The traffic we were seeing at the reference desk was dropping so dramatically,” Horning said, “and we knew it wasn’t because students had suddenly figured out the system.”

A pilot program launched in 2007, which provided research assistance to students in Directed Studies, was successful enough to expand to the entire freshman class in 2008, Horning said. The service currently includes 32 librarians from all areas of the library system who assist an average of 10 to 20 students each until they become juniors or declare a major, at which point they are assigned specialist librarians in the student’s area of research.

Horning said that in the future, librarians will focus on raising awareness of the program, the transition from personal librarians to subject specialists for the class of 2012 and the increase in the student body that will come with the construction of two new residential colleges.

At the beginning of the year, Horning said, many questions concern the content of library collections, such as the Bass Library DVD library and students’ access to Beinecke Library resources. As the semester goes on, however, about half of students’ inquiries are research-related. Horning, herself a personal librarian, has fielded research questions on everything from French philosophy to the proper care of pet ferrets, she said.

A survey of students’ use of the program at the end of the previous academic year showed mixed results, Horning said. Though only around 20 to 30 percent of respondents had used the service, about 80 percent could name their personal librarian and 92 percent were pleased with the amount of communication between librarians and students.

Horning cautioned, however, that the survey’s findings might be of limited use because of the small pool of respondents.

Though only three of 12 students interviewed had used the Personal Librarian program, all but one knew it existed.

Katie Haas ’12 said that her experience with her personal librarian was a positive one.

“I needed help finding primary sources for my history paper,” she said, “and she showed me a way of searching on Orbis with only primary sources as results.”

Four students identified their own apathy as the reasons for not having spoken to their personal librarian.

“I get the e-mails every so often, but I haven’t taken advantage of it,” said Takuya Sawaoka ’12. “I’m sure doing so would mean a lot fewer all-nighters.”

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