Final projects, papers, and assignments fill students’ dead week and finals week as they approach the homework-heavy end of the semester. Different organizations on campus host events to help students relax during this time, but few take the time to help students directly with these assignments. This is where the library and its resources come in handy. Namely, the personal librarian program.

The Heterick Memorial Library is run by five librarians and an archivist who help run the personal librarian program on campus (Northern Review photo/Chloe Lovell)

The personal librarian program in the Heterick Library exists as a resource to all ONU students as they go throughout their academic careers. The librarians in the program are assigned to help students with different assignments for classes through in-person or virtual appointments. The help provided ranges from assistance making an annotated bibliography to finding sources for a paper to coming up with a capstone topic, and more.

“The purpose of the library, or the purpose of the program itself, is to help be another source for the students to call upon when they need it”

  — Christopher Deems, Systems and Technologies Librarian
Systems and Technology Librarian Chris Deems determines which library books should be ordered, one of his responsibilities when not meeting with students (Northern Review photo/Chloe Lovell)

Each student is assigned his or her own personal librarian from one of the five librarians in Heterick Library the moment they begin their college journey as a freshman. These five librarians each specialize in a variety of majors and each one is assigned to a student based on the declared major of the student. The personal librarians on campus have anywhere from four to six departments that he or she covers, which is different from most larger university libraries. Larger libraries tend to have more personnel working within the libraries to help students, allowing each librarian to be in charge of just one area. This means that the personal librarians in those libraries often have a master’s degree in the area he or she specializes in.

The librarians at Heterick may not have master’s degrees in each department they cover, but several have some previous experience in those areas. For example, Cataloging and Knowledge Architect Librarian Jennifer Donley and Heterick Memorial Library Director Kathleen Baril both cover areas that they had an interest in before arriving at ONU as librarians.

Cataloging and Knowledge Architect Librarian Jennifer Donley works in her office while waiting for an appointment with a student (Northern Review photo/Chloe Lovell)

Donley acts as the liaison for the Art and Design, Communication & Media Studies, Human Performance and Sport Sciences, Philosophy, and Religion majors at ONU. She earned two degrees from the Kent State College of Communications, which gave her insight and prior knowledge on how to best help students in this area. She additionally had taken many classes in Eastern and Western religions in both high school and college, which helps her aid students in the religion major with assignments they might have.

Baril acts as the liaison for the Chemistry, Education, Mathematics and Statistics, Modern Languages, Pharmacy, and Physics departments at ONU, and has previous education in two of those areas. She has a master’s degree in Education, and degrees in both English and French, which proves a great help to the students who require help in those departments.

Having an interest or prior knowledge of the majors they cover better aids each librarian to help students in those prospective areas with their assignments. Aiding students in departments they are not familiar with, however, can be a struggle. Many of the Heterick librarians have to learn on the job once they begin working as liaisons for these departments. Baril has no background experience in Pharmacy but has been learning as she goes since she started the personal librarian program in 2013. Similarly, Donley has no background experience in the Human Performance and Sports Science areas but takes the information as it comes.

“I have to teach myself,” Donley said, “so a lot of times, I learn along with the students, depending on what their topic is, but I do build up experience from the different topics over the years”

Taking on these extra departments and learning the ins and outs of these areas does not bother the librarians. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Working with students is often the most enjoyable responsibility out of the majority of duties a librarian has, Baril explains.

The librarians at Heterick want to help students the best they can in whatever assignment students may need help with by specializing the help they give to each student based on several different factors. The help a student receives often varies depending on the student’s major, assignment, and current progress on the assignment. A Religion or Philosophy major, on the one hand, would require a much different approach to the assignments he or she typically has than would an Exercise Physiology major.

Another factor that affects how a librarian may help a student is how the student meets with the librarian. Students can simply walk into the library and ask to talk to a personal librarian for help, or he or she can make appointments online through the appointment maker website. These appointments can be scheduled as in-person or as virtual appointments, a new feature that debuted with the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. A second feature that came about with the pandemic is an online chat service, where students can ask quick, short questions without physically going to the library.

Students who choose in-person appointments can meet with their personal librarian behind the front desk of the library (Northern Review photo/Chloe Lovell)

When a student meets with a librarian virtually, via Google Meets, for example, the librarian can use the different functions of the application to best help the student. The two can meet face-to-face like they would in-person, but it could be considered safer than meeting in-person due to COVID-19. The librarian can send links through the chat function and the student can share a picture of their screen to better get across their needs to the librarian he or she is working with. Working with a librarian in-person is also beneficial as there is that face-to-face connection, and not one dependent on an internet connection. Working in-person is also beneficial in that the librarians can physically show the student where to find sources in the library if the students are lost and unsure of where to go.

Many courses on campus require students to meet with their personal librarians for certain assignments throughout the semester. If a student does not take a course that requires a meeting with their personal librarian, however, they may never think to use the resource. Additionally, students may think that because they are assigned one personal librarian at the beginning of their academic career, that one librarian is the only one they can contact for help.

Students can go online to make an appointment with any of the librarians on campus to get help on an assignment (Northern Review screenshot/Chloe Lovell)

In actuality, students can make appointments with any librarian on campus, if the assignment they need help with is in a different area of expertise than their personal librarian is assigned. Students can also use more than one personal librarian for a given topic, should the occasion arise. Personal librarians should be used as needed throughout a student’s college career as it can prove to be very beneficial. Donley relates to her own time in college and the resources she had, wishing she had utilized them more.

Asking for help can be nerve-wracking and sometimes embarrassing, but the librarians want to reassure students to not feel embarrassed for seeking out help. The program exists to help students in their studies and to educate students on how to best research within their field. Baril explains that oftentimes, students coming into the library looking for help view themselves as inadequate in their studies.

“I think some people see it as like ‘I failed and I can’t do my research’” Baril says, “and I think of it as like ‘you’re just still learning how to do research.'”

Overall, the personal librarians on campus want to help students succeed by sharing the information they have learned themselves, whether through a degree or through experience on the job. The information they share with students differs based on the student’s major, assignment, and how the student meets with the librarian they scheduled an appointment with. Both virtual and in-person appointments are helpful to students, along with the chat service found on the Heterick Library’s website. Librarians encourage students to use any of these methods to communicate with them when help is needed. Each librarian has a passion for helping students succeed, and they can channel that passion through the personal librarian program – students just need to ask for help.

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