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TL v57 n2 The Research Assist Term Paper Consultation Program
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 57 Number 2



The Research Assist Term Paper Consultation Program

Jeannine Williamson
Reference Librarian

Louann Blocker
Distance Education Assistant

LaVerne Gray
Resident Librarian

University of Tennessee

Conference Abstract:  The Research Assist term paper consultation program began at UT in the Spring of 2006. Initially marketed to freshman English classes, the program was later offered to Western Civilization. Future plans include targeting Research Assist to individuals. This session discusses the vision, steering group, policies and procedures, successes and challenges.


The Research Assist Term Paper Consultation program at the University of Tennessee Libraries was created in the Spring of 2006 to offer assistance to students in completing assignments involving library research. A term paper consultation program had never been offered at UT, and the project was initially conceived of as a service that could be offered in the Commons. As it turned out however, Research Assist was offered in Reference and Instructional Services.

First Semester

We solicited English 102 (Composition) special focus sections to participate. Two instructors of three sections required their students to use Research Assist. These sections were focusing on art and history. During the first semester there were approximately 60 consultations; during the second and third there were approximately 50. One instructor during the first semester assigned her students to research and write a history of a relative’s work life such as farming in Tennessee. The other instructor asked her students to focus on art and culture, with topics such as the visual effects in Star Wars and their influence on culture.

Reference Department volunteers were solicited through personal requests to participate, through a call from a team meeting, and emails. Volunteers came from a variety of subject areas and included both staff and faculty. Publicity for the program was handled through the instructors since the students were required to participate. In addition, a flyer was developed.

Requests were routed through an email form. A gatekeeper made the appointments. This resulted in some problems, such as missing one of the messages.

Reactions were overwhelmingly positive from the instructors, generally positive from the students, a few of whom did not like having to make an appointment, and generally positive from the librarians who participated. Some faculty and staff felt that the mission and policies needed to be better delineated. One instructor said, “My students who have participated in RA say that it's one of the most valuable experiences they've had to date. Working one-on-one makes them feel like real researchers!”

Second Semester

Research Assist continued to serve the same English 102 instructors it had during the first semester. One section of Western Civilization was added. The students were all writing on Egypt, which presented certain problems since most of the books got checked out. Research Assist volunteers used email to inform each other about sources and indexing terms useful to each class’s unique assignment.

Research Assist formed a steering committee to address several issues: the change from serving whole classes to offering open registration; the role of Research Assist in relation to the Reference Desk; the problem of coordinating with subject librarians, who may have been better suited to answer some difficult questions; the logistics of scheduling; and advertising. A policy statement which was presented to the Reference and Instructional Services Team was written to deal with these issues.

It was decided that in the future individual classes would not be targeted but that open registration would be offered to any student. The email form would be continued for scheduling. Volunteers monitoring the email would contact other volunteers in sequence according to a list to make appointments with the students. These librarians were to contact students within one business day to make the appointments. The Libraries’ AskUsNow page would be used to market Research Assist, along with word of mouth referrals.

Third Semester

During the third semester, as planned, open registration was implemented, although the instructors of the English sections chose to continue to participate. A Gmail account was used for receiving requests. The planned scheduling of librarians in sequence worked generally well, but encountered some difficulties when librarians were out of town. The plan to rotate volunteers checking the email did not take place. Referring to subject librarians for difficult questions and questions from graduate students was begun.

Publicity included word of mouth referrals, the AskUsNow page, information literacy classes, and articles in the University staff announcements listserv and the student newspaper. The student paper ran a front page story on Research Assist. In addition, posters, the Research Assist web page, and bookmarks were used for marketing. In the future there will be business cards and a podcast for publicity.

Plans for the future of Research Assist include continuing the Steering Committee, publicity, and monitoring of progress. It is hoped that one day there will also be drop-in service as well as the appointment system.


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