As I have indicated in previous columns, the diversity of our profession attracted me to librarianship over twenty five years ago. As a teen in East Tennessee, I was enriched by the wide variety of materials my public library provided. (I volunteered at the library throughout high school and college.) I loved surrounding myself with books, videos, music, magazines, and information. And, just as importantly, I loved interacting--partnering-- with the wide variety of people seeking access to all these great items. Fast forward a couple of decades, and while the genres and formats have expanded beyond the printed word and hard copy recordings, the concept of access has remained similar. Librarians continue to engage in partnerships with each other, businesses, vendors, schools, and consortia to build, nurture, and sustain equally valuable partnerships with the users who access our resources.
This column will describe the unique partnership that Walker Library’s User Services department has developed with a local high school. Rutherford County Schools launched a magnet school in 2010, Central Magnet School (CMS). Central Magnet is less than one mile from the Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) campus. By 2010, the recruitment and retention of high quality students became increasingly important to all higher education institutions across the state. When MTSU officials solicited the Library to engage in a relationship with CMS seniors on their capstone research project, we were intrigued by the concept. Our partnership was generated between the CMS library and User Services. MTSU officials hoped to attract student applications as a result of engaging the CMS seniors in a research project and providing them with a “real life” college library experience. While this sort of relationship occurs between other magnet schools and universities across the nation, it was something new for us. The school’s principal and two librarians met with the Library’s (now retired) Dean, Mr. Don Craig, myself, and colleagues in December 2011 to discuss details.
While our primary focus at Walker Library is the support of MTSU students, faculty, and staff, we are open to and welcome the general public. We offer library checkout privileges and guest computer logins to those presenting an appropriate photo ID. There are some services, such as Course Reserves, equipment checkout, specialty printing, and MTSU patron off-campus access to e-resources that are not available to the general public. However, we do our best to provide assistance and access to everyone. Prior to the explosion of e-content, we experienced concerns that our print materials would not be available to our primary user-base if we offered unlimited checkout of items to non-MTSU patrons. This issue remained until recently, but we are finding now that our fears never came to fruition. In fact, quite the opposite occurred: As our circulation statistics continue to decline, we are delighted to see our community users checking out our print materials.
The partnership with CMS extended beyond simply offering the students borrowing privileges (which we did, of course). We also organized specialized building tours and library instruction sessions that mirror a freshman seminar class we teach to undeclared MTSU freshmen. In order to accommodate the 250+ CMS students, we settled on a date that was conducive for access to our instruction classrooms, librarian availability, and timing of the student project. We orchestrated staggered sessions utilizing four or five of our librarians to lead the instruction and building tours without large groups bumping into each other.
In the partnership’s inaugural year, the CMS students came to us as rising seniors (the spring before their senior year). They were to be assigned their capstone thesis project toward the end of their junior year and would be working on the project over the summer. The tours and instruction sessions went well. However, we quickly discovered that the students actually did not have their project rubrics. Thus, our sessions served more as an overview of Walker Library rather than an opportunity for guided research instruction. We feared that too much time would pass between their library visit and when they actually began working on their research projects. The CMS librarians collaborated with the CMS English faculty to determine that the students would narrow down their research topics before the end of their junior year. So, we took a huge leap of faith and offered to host drop-in research appointments over the summer. Summers are typically a bit less patron intensive from our MTSU population, so our librarians were able to devote some dedicated hours to the CMS research appointment concept.
After some intense email communication efforts to the 250 person rising senior class, we ended up with about fifteen students attending our summer drop-in sessions. These sessions offered them one on one help with navigating our resources once they picked out a topic. Our communications strongly suggested that they share ahead of time their research topic (in case we were flooded with students at the drop-ins). As with the group orientation sessions, the CMS librarians and the attending students were grateful for their research drop-in sessions at Walker Library.
Overall, however, we all agreed that timing was a bit off that inaugural year. CMS went back and tweaked their senior capstone project timeline. It was decided that for the following year’s students, we would wait until the students were actually in their senior year before hosting the instruction sessions and tours. So, we did not hold sessions this past spring (2014), and we did not hold any summer research drop-in sessions. Instead, we waited until August 2014, before MTSU classes started but after the CMS students were back to school, and hosted the staggered groups again. This turned out very well, and the CMS librarians have already shared that this timing was much more effective. This year turned out to be win-win all the way around. The timing worked for both our librarians here at MTSU and for the students in relation to their project. The checkout procedures for CMS went smoothly. We are seeing CMS students utilizing our services and resources quite regularly. And, the best news of all, MTSU President Dr. McPhee reported at his August 2014 State of the University address to MTSU personnel that 70% of this past year’s CMS seniors applied to attend MTSU.
I like to think that User Services and I had a role in this outcome. I believe that this is an excellent example of the value libraries can play when engaging in partnerships!