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Peer Research Mentors at Gettysburg College: Transforming Student Library Jobs Into High-impact Learning Experiences (Management project)

ABSTRACT:

Research and Instruction librarians at Gettysburg College developed a Peer Research Mentor (PRM) program for undergraduate students. The program is designed to empower a group of student employees to work in partnership with experienced librarians in order to increase a PRM’s own research skills and support other student researchers more effectively.

The program focuses on student training, reference service, and out reach to other students. The authors share the development of the program; describe their approach to training, supervision, and assessment; and offer insight about how to operate and sustain a similar program with limited resources.

TRAINING / PREPARATION OF PEER MENTORS

We know that conducting research is challenging for students, so we predicted that our PRMs would feel even more anxious about the prospect of assisting their peers in doing research. In our initial cohort, only one of our students had worked in a library before, and a few had experience with tutoring or teaching. None had experience with a help desk or even felt confident about the full research process.

IMPLEMENTATION OF THE PROGRAM

Our PRMs’ average week include s two shifts at the Research Help Desk (four hours total), planning or carrying out outreach projects (about two hours), and a weekly check-in meeting with their direct librarian supervisor (30 minutes). Every other week, students attend the biweekly meeting with all PRMs and Research & Instruction Librarians (one hour).

Direct supervision of the PRMs is distributed across librarians in the department in order to balance the work load and sustain the program. This also enables PRMs to develop a close, mentoring relationship with their supervisor. Individual meetings are devoted to advising on outreach projects (which may be completed individually or in groups), debriefing reference questions, discussing areas in which PRMs would like more training, and other topics of concern to PRMs.

EVALUATION OF THE PROGRAM

From the very beginning, we  planned a range of approaches to help us understand and assess the impact of our Peer Research Mentors. First, we assess PRM activity at our Research Help Desk by tracking questions and answers in our Springshare LibAnswers system. We record the usual detail about reference transactions (who answered it, question, answer, time, mode, and READ scale).

Percentage Breakdown of Reference Transactions, 2014- 15

Percentage Breakdown of Reference Transactions, 2014- 15.

In addition, we also track what we call a “PRM connection.” A PRM connection is when a student patron approaches the Research Help Desk because they know or at least recognize the PRM on duty. If the PRM knows the student from a class, residence hall, student club, or some other context, we assume a PRM connection and instruct PRMs to check the custom box in LibAnswers. PRMs do not always have a PRM connection with student patrons, but they often do.

Percentage Breakdown of Reference Transactions, Fall 2015

Percentage Breakdown of Reference Transactions, Fall 2015.

IMPLICATIONS AND LESSONS LEARNED

PRMs have positively impacted their peers through their work at the Research Help Desk and their outreach projects, but they have also had a positive – and significant–impact on the Research & Instruction department. PRM-developed videos, research guides, research consultations, and workshops have enabled us to expand our reference and instruction services to a wider variety of students.

PRM work has also helped us strengthen collaborations with campus partners like Academic Advising and international Student Services. As we do not often have the opportunity to sustain connections with students over a span of years, the mentoring relationships we have with PRMs are especially fulfilling to librarians.

NEXT STEPS

As the program matures, we continue to follow campus conversations about student engagement and high-impact practices, as well as to seek opportunities to engage students in these practices.

We are already using the PRM program as a model for another library-led learning experience involving academic research and peer mentoring: our new Digital Scholarship Fellows experience (launching in summer 2016). We hope the program may serve as a useful model for other parts of our campus – and for other libraries, as well.

Source: Gettysburg College
Authors: Clinton K. Baugess | Mallory R. Jallas | Meggan D. Smith

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