Mentoring students to research and produce contextual material for digital projects can reframe the librarian/student worker dynamic as one of collaboration and partnership and enhance the role that librarians play within the academic community.
student workers, librarians, mentoring, digital projects
Reframing Librarian / Student Worker Relationships through Collaborative Digital Projects
This poster session features examples of a variety of digital projects for which librarians mentored undergraduate students to create enriched website content such as essays, timelines, and interactive maps. Going well beyond the typical kinds of tasks that student workers had been given to do previously, these projects engaged students as scholarly partners in developing websites that not only made newly digitized resources available, but provided attractive and informative background material to enhance their research value. Teaching students the necessary research methodologies, overseeing their technical, design, and written work, verifying its functionality and accuracy, and helping them to understand the sometimes subtle responsibilities of contributing to an institutional website all involved a shift in the kinds of work that the librarian-mentors had done previously as well. Just as the students needed to step up to become true collaborators in website development, the librarians needed to step more fully into their role as peers to classroom faculty, paying just as close attention to the quality of the final work produced by student researchers, as to the processes by which their research unfolds.
Taking on this enhanced mentoring role required a substantial investment in time and expertise on the part of the librarians. But the benefits have been many. One overarching outcome of this shift is that librarians and student workers engaged in such projects no longer see each other primarily in terms of employer and employee but as academic partners, mutually engaged in the intellectual life of the institution as a whole. In effect, students at our institution have become partners in teaching and outreach as well as in their own learning, helping us to design websites and associated programs that speak more directly to what students may find of interest or may need in order to start exploring library collections more fully. They also have developed new research interests along with skills and experiences that have built their CVs and helped prepare them for future work; some even now intend to pursue careers as professional librarians.
Librarian-mentors experience similar benefits by enhancing their roles as faculty peers. Not only have we attracted new graduates to our profession; we have raised our profile at our home institution as well. An example is our new funding opportunity for developing digital projects. Once it became clear that the library’s students were being mentored to research, create, and publish intellectually and technically rigorous content, our projects were seen as equally enriching to the students’ educational experience, and several of the students we have hired to work on them have been funded through a fellowship program that previously had only supported research being overseen by full-time classroom faculty.
In short, the librarian / student worker relationship has been reframed as one of collaboration and partnership through shared work on digital projects, and all of us have gained in the process.