The BC Libraries Personal Librarian Program, Pandemic Edition

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Can you imagine starting college in 2020? What is often an exciting, but potentially overwhelming experience turned into something far more challenging for our first year students arriving in September during the pandemic. Along with the usual learning curve associated with  acclimating to college life, making friends, finding classes, and learning the skills they need to succeed academically, students had to add: living masked and socially distanced, learning to use a variety of new online tools and platforms to access much of their coursework, and remembering to show up for COVID-19 tests in addition to calculus tests.

Photos of 11 BC Library staff arranged in a rectangle
BC Libraries Personal Librarians, Fall 2020

The staff of the BC Libraries, always heavily invested in student success and well-being, continue to find innovative ways to support students during this global crisis. The additional wrinkle is making sure students are aware of these new modes of support, which is where the Personal Librarian Program has served a central role.

Now in its tenth year, the BC Libraries Personal Librarian Program is based on a program originally developed at Yale. All incoming first year students, including transfer students for the first time this year, are assigned a “personal librarian”  to provide a warm welcome via email and to guide them towards learning about the resources and services of the Boston College Libraries that are available to support their work. 

Any library staff member who wants to connect with students is welcome to join the program. Staff members who work behind the scenes often find this a rewarding way to connect the work they do with the mission of the library and the university related to student formation and liberal arts education. The staff member will either work with the student directly to answer their questions or provide an introduction to another staff member with the necessary expertise;  whether it’s searching for articles for a paper, dealing with a missing book, or finding ways to get access to a book we don’t have at BC Libraries. This year we have 13 personal librarians, representing 5 of the 8 libraries.

The goal is to provide 5 emails during the course of the academic year, timed to meet specific needs at just the right moment. The emails cover topics such as all the ways to get reference help, our guide for accessibility issues, technology available for loan, as well as the basics of checking out, returning and renewing library materials. In a normal year, the December email is full of cheery news about therapy dog visits, coffee and cookies in the lobby during exam period, and extended hours and spaces in the library. This year, along with words of encouragement and information about accessing many types of electronic resources remotely, students, many of whom are now completing their first semester at home, were invited to enjoy the comforting and familiar sonic environment of the library for studying in the new O’Neill Library Ambience video.

The program is clearly filling a need during the uncertainty of the pandemic; questions from students to personal librarians this semester have more than tripled over 2019. 

Given the rapid changes in policies on the part of both local government and BC, Spring 2021 will doubtlessly be another semester of many changes and the need for new ways of meeting student needs. The Personal Librarian Program will provide guidance and encouragement, and connect students with this year’s additional support as our first year students round out their academic year.

Enid Karr

Senior Reference Librarian/Bibliographer, O'Neill Library