The University Library System, the second largest academic library in the United States, includes just over 11 million volumes, and finding that one book one is looking for can be an overwhelming task.
The considerable age of some of the books in the stacks of Sterling Memorial Library — some with ancient book spines that look as if they will break, some so old they are unidentifiable save the call numbers plastered to their covers — and the winding halls of the stacks are just two of the factors that makes library research at Yale a confusing process for many students.
“It’s really confusing,” Alexandra Adler ’07 said. “I was looking for a literary criticism and it took me 25 minutes and I was getting really frustrated.”
Rather than require that all undergraduates attend programs about how to use the library, Yale has individual academic departments decide whether to have students attend library orientations.
“We are not sponsors of any mandatory academic programs of any kind. Programs like that exist, but they are sponsored by departments,” Yale College Deputy Dean Joseph Gordon said.
The History Department requires majors to attend a 90-minute training session at the beginning of their junior year, during which students learn about the library’s resources how to access materials.
“These inductions are enormously important,” said Keith Wrightson, the director of undergraduate studies for the History Department. “[The library] is such a phenomenal resource. One can be here for years and not fully appreciate it.”
English majors must also attend library orientation, either as part of a class or as a separate session.
Many other undergraduate departments do not require research training sessions for majors.
“I am not in favor of a mandatory program,” Humanities DUS Benjamin Foster said. “Students here are supposed to be mature enough to go after what they need and want.”
The introductory writing class “English 114” includes library training sessions as part of the coursework. The hour-long program combines instruction on how to use the library with an opportunity for students to search for sources related to the class material.
“I think college writing should always have a research component,” “English 114” instructor Alfred Guy said. “I think it’s important to use secondary sources to get students to answer other authors.”
Requiring similar orientations in other first-year English classes has been discussed, Guy said.
“It’s not appropriate for all English courses necessarily since not all courses do research,” he said.
The library system also currently offers training sessions and tours throughout the year to educate students on how to find what they are looking for, independent of the offerings of undergraduate academic departments.
“We have a very extensive program of library instruction,” University Librarian Alice Prochaska said. “We actually do more than 9,000 training sessions every year.”
Regularly scheduled research workshops sponsored by the library provide opportunities for researchers to broaden their knowledge of resources and research strategies and learn techniques for searching specific electronic databases.
The library also provides hands-on help for seniors writing their senior essays.
“People writing senior essays ask the reference librarians in the subjects they are writing on and those people will advise them — and help them find what they want,” Prochaska said.