You likely know, as much from your own experience as from research in our field, that students find the library intimidating. From first-generation college students to older learners who are nervous about digital resources, those who are expected to use the library may be reluctant to do so for one reason or another. And it’s hard for librarians to address this problem given time constraints and other challenges.
One way to address two problems—lack of time and student nervousness—is to encourage peer learning at your institution. When Credo hosted librarians who run Penn State’s Research Bar on a webinar last year, librarians Hailley Fargo and Claire Giancakos told attendees that students find their peers who work as trained research assistants at the Bar much more approachable than librarians. You can find that webinar here; it offers plenty of details on how the service was set up and how it runs on a day-to-day basis. The webinar also features one of the peer assistants, Luz Sanchez Tejada, who talked about how she was trained to do this work and about her experiences helping students to understand the research process.
A Search Bar is only one approach to peer learning, of course. Other methods could be as simple as pairing struggling students with their more advanced classmates when doing a class activity, or encouraging students to form study groups outside class, perhaps facilitating those meetups by offering sign-up sheets on the library’s website. At last year’s FYE symposium at Case Western Reserve, one librarian present described a competition at the library that offered a dedicated study room as the prize, a great way to encourage peer learning.
If your efforts need backup from the literature, see “Peer learning for university students’ learning enrichment: Perspectives of undergraduate students,” an article recently published in the Journal of Peer Learning by Zuochen Zhang and Jonathan G. Bayley of the University of Windsor. The authors point out that peer learning benefits both those who provide help in such a working relationship and those who receive the help. They describe a study that was designed to find out how peer learning programs at their institution are operated and how undergraduate students perceive the programs.
Although there are plenty of peer learning opportunities at the University of Windsor, the researchers found that the students were less aware of the programs than they should be; many weren’t aware of the terms “peer learning” or “peer mentoring,” suggesting work needed to be done (could it be the same at your school?). The study involved interviews with students, who described varying experiences with peer education, some of which might be right for you; the article also discusses related challenges you might expect if you decide to implement a peer approach to programs. For more from the journal, including a look at how peer learning can ready students for graduate study, see here.