In the Spotlight: Reference Assistants at O’Neill Library

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Have you stopped by to say hello at the O’Neill reference desk on a weeknight this semester? If you have, you likely met the evening reference assistants! The three of us work from 4pm to 9pm, Monday through Thursday, at the reference desk. We are all students at Simmons University, pursuing our master’s degrees in Library and Information Science.

Photo: Jacob Kowall, Reference Assistant, O'Neill Library, and Simmons University School of Library and Information Science '21
Jacob Kowall, Reference Assistant, O’Neill Library, and Simmons University School of Library and Information Science ’21

Jacob: I have just recently begun my studies in library science and am in my first semester of studies at Simmons University. Earlier this semester at Simmons, I told an advisor about my position at O’Neill Library. My advisor noted that evening shifts were a rite of passage in the library community, and he recommended that I make an effort to record and reflect on my experiences. So far, I have had many opportunities to help both undergraduate and graduate-level students to make better use of the many resources available at O’Neill. Having studied history at the undergraduate level, I have most enjoyed helping students sharpen their skills in the craft of historical research. My colleagues and I have worked to help students focus their research questions and identify suitable primary sources for their papers. Working on the evening reference team has also offered me the chance to learn from the students of Boston College. Every time I staff the reference desk I get to help students find resources on a wide range of subjects that I’ve never had the chance to personally study – medicine, sociology, business. My experiences in the library have given me a glimpse of much larger aspects of Boston College. I’ve recognized that this university provides an excellent environment for enabling students, staff, and faculty to learn from and serve one another, and I am glad to be a part of this community.

Photo: Rina Izzi, Reference Assistant, O'Neill Library, and Simmons University School of Library and Information Science '20
Rina Izzi, Reference Assistant, O’Neill Library, and Simmons University School of Library and Information Science ’20

Rina here! I will be getting my degree in May (almost there seniors!). I am originally from Virginia and only moved to the Boston area recently. Initially I did not like living here, but working at Boston College has been so much fun that I’ve learned to love my new home. I had no idea what I wanted to do after I got my degree or where I wanted to work, and I think we’ve all been there at one point or another. But now I’ve realized that I want to continue working in higher education libraries. The work I do at Boston College, even just as a student, has been so enjoyable and I’ve learned so much both from my coworkers and from the questions I help answer at the desk. As someone who specializes in historical research, I had to learn the hard way that scientific research, business research, and basically all other types of research are completely different. As such, it is important to approach each search differently and to know which databases are useful for each type of research. While I’ve learned all of this and other theories in class, it really sinks in when someone comes to the desk and asks me how to find something I’d never even thought to find before. Life at the desk is about learning something new, and in the evenings it’s about helping students who started late get help even though the rest of the staff is already gone for the day. In the end, I’m overjoyed to be able to help confused or struggling students realize that things are not as hard as they seem.

Photo: Bridgett Bonar, Reference Assistant, and Simmons University School of Library & Information Science '20
Bridgett Bonar, Reference Assistant, and Simmons University School of Library & Information Science ’20

Bridgett: I think my favorite interactions with students are the first-year writing papers. Students will come up with an amazing, sometimes even too-timely topic that they are really excited about (everything from racism to comic books to waterfront erosion in Massachusetts) and then quietly, and anxiously say–after all they’ve never done this before and what if they can’t and that means they’re Not Cut Out For College? And now they’re Bothering A Librarian, which every pop culture reference to libraries says is not good, and they’ve also bared their soul through a research topic to a stranger–“so I need to find some” (there’s usually a beat here to remember the word) “peer-reviewed sources.” Of course I’m kinda panicking too–because where do I even start with that–after all, I was an English major so my go-to, MLA Bibliography, is a very specific database that does not cover socio-political issues, or really much of anything that isn’t book related. But we (sometimes quickly and sometimes eventually) find something (thank you Research Guides) or at least a place to start, which is relieving for both of us. But really, our interactions are so unique and varied–everything from “where’s the closest microwave?” to “this whole row of computers just lost power!” to “Hey it’s been awhile since I was an undergrad, can you refresh my memory on how this research stuff works?” to “I’ve never used a library before–help!” that it’s really hard to describe them all together or to have expectations on what your workday will look like!

As you may have noticed we all love learning something new, so come by for a chat on your way home one day. Even if you don’t have a question for us, feel free to stop by the desk and just say hi!

Jacob Kowall

Reference Assistant, O'Neill Library

Rina Izzi

Reference Assistant, O'Neill Library

Bridgett Bonar

Reference Assistant, O'Neill Library