By Kevin Seeber and Raymond Pun
FYE Correspondent Raymond Pun recently interviewed Kevin Seeber from the Auraria Library, University of Colorado Denver. In addition to his work experiences and projects in FYE, Kevin shares his thoughts on student perceptions of, and experiences with, academic libraries.
Ray: Thanks for speaking with us! Can you tell us about your role and briefly describe what FYE activities you and your library have done recently?
Kevin: As luck would have it my job title very recently changed from “Foundational Experiences Librarian” to “First-Year Teaching and Learning Librarian,” though my role at Auraria Library has more or less been the same for the past few years. I should also mention upfront that Auraria is a bit different from other places in that we have three separate institutions—the University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and the Community College of Denver—all sharing one campus and one library. My primary duty in this position is to focus on education and outreach services to new students at all three of these schools, which includes attending new student orientations, leading one-shot library instruction sessions, and teaching a for-credit FYE “College Success” course.
My main focus since arriving at Auraria in 2015 has been on implementing a programmatic approach to information literacy instruction for first-year students. After a good deal of curriculum mapping and consultation with campus partners, we settled on English Composition as the course that would give us the most exposure to students in a research-intensive class. We’ve spent the last few semesters implementing and assessing that program with CU Denver; my former colleague Zoe Fisher and I detailed it for an In the Library with the Lead Pipe article last year.
For the last couple of semesters we’ve been attempting to expand the program into additional departments, though it’s been a bit more slow-going than I would have hoped. One of the things that makes being an instruction librarian at Auraria perpetually interesting is that we often have to do things in triplicate. By that I mean that if we have a successful program working with one of our three schools, that doesn’t mean it will necessarily carry over to the other two—we still need to do the work of meeting with students and faculty, establishing our priorities, and finding a way forward. It’s definitely challenging, but I feel like it gives us a broader perspective on trends in higher education that we wouldn’t have if we only worked with one institution.
Ray: That sounds very challenging but as you said, it does give you broader perspective on trends. Why do you think it is important for libraries to be involved in supporting the FYE?
Kevin: I’m very concerned with student perceptions of, and experiences with, academic libraries. I think a lot of us in the profession like to think of libraries as being these places where everyone is welcome and students are encouraged to engage in discovery. The more I’ve spoken with first-year students over the years, however, I’ve been struck by how overwhelming, and often intimidating, libraries can be for new students.
Let me give an example. I’ve worked for five different schools on three different campuses now, and every one of them involved tour guides who would walk prospective or recently enrolled students around campus to explain different buildings and services. And without fail, when they got to the library they would gesture at the front doors and mention how many books were inside. I remember when I was at Florida State, the talking point was that each student could borrow 100 items from the library and there would still be books left on the shelves. At Auraria, student guides often mention our hundreds of thousands of print items and hundreds of article databases.
At first glance, numbers like these might seem impressive, especially to librarians and administrators. But for first-year students coming from a high school that maybe had a single room media center and a few hundred volumes, entering a gigantic building with a few miles of stacks isn’t necessarily a pleasant experience. More often than not, it conveys an idea that “You have never seen anything like this before,” which can be a very exclusionary sentiment.
So when I think about the first-year experience, and how academic libraries could and should be involved, I think about how we are in a position to advocate for students in a way that isn’t necessarily available to other units on campus. We’re typically not assigning grades, nor are we charged with growing enrollments, so we can instead focus on the students themselves. Who are they? What are their perceptions of our spaces and staff? What are their needs?
Once I learned to embrace those kinds of questions, it very quickly played out in my work. I suddenly realized that in all my years of staffing service points in libraries, I’ve never had a student ask me how many books we had in the library, so why on earth were we including that in the tour? Now whenever I have a group of new students in the building, the first thing I do is point out where the bathrooms are. It seems a bit silly, but it’s also a very simple and practical example of how librarians can center the student experience in their work, rather than emphasize the things we think are interesting or impressive. Modeling that approach for our colleagues across campus could only help make students feel more at home.
Ray: Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I also agree that librarians can center the student experience in their work. What's next for FYE support in your library?
Kevin: For my part, I’m increasingly interested in how transfer students see libraries and their services, and what we as librarians can do to assist students both before and after transfer. (I was thrilled to read your recent conversation with Tammy Ivins, whose work I greatly admire.) More than half of the first-year students on my campus will graduate from a school someplace else, so I’m spending more and more time thinking about what we can do in the first year that will set them up for success in that new place.
Otherwise, Auraria Library just completed a fairly massive renovation, so we’re doing as much outreach as we can to let students know where we are and what services we have to offer. As part of the renovation we started lending a bunch of new items, including WiFi hotspots, passes to Colorado State Parks, and some other really helpful technology. Now we just need to let our newests students know what we have available.
Kevin Seeber is the First-Year Teaching and Learning Librarian at Auraria Library in Denver, Colorado. Prior to coming to Auraria he was Library Instruction Coordinator and Government Documents Librarian at Colorado State University-Pueblo from 2011 to 2015, and Library Operations Supervisor at Florida State University's Strozier Library from 2006 to 2011. His interests include critical information literacy, search algorithms, and MLIS student mentorship.