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Drexel Freshmen Get Help From ‘Personal Librarians’

With students spending more research time in front of the screen and less in the stacks, librarians at Drexel University are trying a fresh approach to helping new freshmen navigate their resources: “personal librarians.”

The Personal Librarian Program assigns each of the university’s 2,750 entering freshmen to a librarian. The librarians get in touch with their students before they arrive via snail mail—sending a signed letter and business card—and later meet with students in person for a crash course on the library’s offerings. Each of the approximately 20 librarians trained for the program will also work with their students throughout the semester to encourage them to use the resources and help them figure out how to do so.

“Our role is to help coach our students and help them learn the tools and skills needed to become very savvy,” said Danuta A. Nitecki, Drexel’s dean of libraries. “We believe it’s about human interaction.”

Although most students know their way around a search engine, Ms. Nitecki said, they often don’t know what they are searching for. Having an actual librarian on hand can help them narrow down their questions and figure out more efficient ways to find relevant research material. “The point is not just about interacting with information out in the Internet—it’s about trying to identify what questions you’re trying to answer,” Ms. Nitecki said.

Modeled after programs at medical-school libraries and a few other undergraduate institutions, the Drexel program is trying to redefine the library’s role as more of its research material moves online. Getting students acquainted with the staff also positions librarians as educators, not just archivists.

“We really have future lives in really being core members of the academic community,” Ms. Nitecki said. “We’re not just about building collections and answering questions.”

Drexel’s program has sparked interest among other undergraduate college and university libraries. Academic librarians across the country are attempting to establish their institutional value—as described in a new report from the Association of College and Research Libraries—by expanding services and making libraries more attractive to students.

“This is a way to add a more welcoming and inviting environment,” Ms. Nitecki said. “We do a lot to try to promote that.”

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