This article was contributed by Pauline Nicholas, Rocelle Davis, Faith McKoy-Johnson, Jessica Lewis, Karlene Nelson, Jerdaine Sterling, Yolanda Tugwell, Karen Tyrell – Halls of Residence Librarians, The University of the West Indies at Mona Campus.
First year is usually challenging for many new university students. Adjusting to campus life and university classes can be an overwhelming and frightening experience. Librarians recognize that many first-year students have “library anxiety” — they shy away from using the library, approaching a librarian, or visiting the reference desk.
The University of the West Indies at Mona (UWI Mona) Library has participated in a number of campus-wide and library-specific initiatives to mitigate this sense of fear and familiarize students with an academic library. For the 2013-14 academic year, the library implemented a novel outreach initiative called the Halls of Residence Librarian Programme. Under the theme “Bringing the Library to You,” it provided students with research and reference assistance in residence halls, or for students who do not live on campus, the commuting students' lounge.
Program goals and the librarian’s role
The library assigned a librarian to each of the eight undergraduate residential facilities at the UWI Mona campus. The objectives of the program were to:
- Foster academic success among first-year students
- Help first-year students maximize the use of the library and its resources
- Create positive outreach experiences for first-year students
- Lower the attrition rate at UWI
The role of the Halls of Residence Librarians (HRL) was to:
- Provide personal research assistance to first-year students living in residence halls as well as commuting students who are attached to a hall
- Communicate information about helpful research tools and library events and services
- Seek opportunities for first-year students to attend special events
- Direct students to the relevant liaison librarian for assistance
- Be the first point of reference in the library for first-year students
To ensure the program received the support it needed, the library sought management buy-in. The campus librarian was on board and convened the initial meeting with the residence halls’ student services managers, who arranged for each librarian to make short introductory presentations in the halls and in the commuting students’ lounge. These casual sessions were the first step in developing a relationship between the students and the librarian. The program was also promoted on social media and through email, fliers and posters.
Research Rescue Days
Top row (L-R): Jessica Lewis, HRL for Mary Seacole Hall; Karlene Nelson HRL for Taylor Hall; Yolanda Tugwell, HRL for Chancellor Hall
Bottom row (L-R): Jerdaine Sterling, HRL for Preston Hall; Karen Tyrell, HRL for Elsa Leo-Rhynie Hall; Faith McKoy-Johnson, HRL for ABC Hall
Finding resources in the library for academic purposes can be daunting for first-year students, so the highlights of the year were two Research Rescue Days. Librarians armed with laptops, library brochures, giveaways and other library documents set up branded reference desks in the commuting students’ lounge and on each residence hall so that reference services could be provided beyond the physical walls of the library. Students came with research questions, and librarians used these opportunities as teaching moments. They taught students how to use the UWILINC (the UWI information portal), online public access catalog, databases and other research tools to locate information. Some of the comments the librarians received included:
“When are you coming back?”
"This kind of intervention by the library is to be commended and continued.”
“Why wasn’t this kind of service offered to me when I was in first year?”
The Halls of Residence Librarian Programme is the first of its kind at UWI Mona. By connecting the UWI Mona Library to first-year students in a personal way, we can minimize library anxiety among these students and set them on the path to academic success.