Supporting library users is a key part of my role as a graduate trainee and encompasses a wide range of duties from assisting new students with finding books to contributing towards an environment where they feel their voice is being heard. Working within student engagement really stretches one’s capacity to think creatively and find novel ways of grabbing people’s attention. A definite highlight for me was researching quotes for the banned book display that I set up on the ground floor. I was prepared for some of the accusations made against Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Ulysses but truly surprised to learn that Toni Morrison’s Beloved was anathema to a US politician as recently as 2017. Before coming to work at the Albert Sloman I tended to regard libraries as neutral spaces that serve a purely intellectual purpose. I now think it’s fair to say that academic libraries reflect the values of the organisations they serve and play an active role in promoting a sense of community and shared values. The Albert Sloman is committed to goals such as diversity and equality and throughout the course of the year the trainees have participated in promoting BHM and LGBT history month as well as raising awareness of various ways that the library and university can assist students with their studies and overall wellbeing.
The library here at Essex takes responsibility for supporting students in ways they themselves may not be aware of, whether it’s liaising with tutors to procure required materials or editing their reading lists. Things have changed quite a bit since I was a student and today’s cohort of graduates enjoy a wide range of online material and digital services that weren’t available even 5 years ago. Reading lists, books, articles and numerous other resources are now available from any location via a laptop or a mobile phone. With the digital landscape evolving so quickly and so many materials being made accessible online it’s crucial that students are encouraged to develop the skill set required to navigate this complex and ever-changing environment.
During our time at Essex we are given the opportunity to meet some of those on the Essex pathways courses and teach them how to make use of the library facilities. Our lessons build upon their skills by showing them how to conduct research for books and articles and discussing the importance of referencing and carefully evaluating what they find online. Thanks to our Information Literacy Coordinator, Stephanie, these lessons are always original and packed with interactive quizzes and activities. Some of our sessions have even included lego as a way of teaching students about the perils of not citing sources correctly (my personal favourite). I felt very privileged as Campus Cat himself decided to attend one of my sessions and found the time to stay around for half an hour before moving on to more important business. His presence was nevertheless very much appreciated (and I think the students enjoyed meeting him too).