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Student organizations as curators in the library

April 30, 2019

Penn State Altoona Library Display Banner

This month our library collaborated with a student organization, the Penn State Altoona Environmentalist Coalition, to curate a “Take a Hike” display as a celebration of Earth Day and National Parks Week. Here I share why and how we did it for librarians eager to try a similar project.

Part of my mission in my role as Student Engagement & Outreach Librarian is making more room for students to be active partners in the library. I aim to show students how our library is not just a space to study or a room full of books, but also a place for them to share their research with a broader audience, express their creativity, and build their resumes outside the classroom setting.

I’m inspired by the book, Students Lead the Library: The Importance of Student Contributions to the Academic Library, edited by Sara Arnold-Garza and Carissa Tomlinson. This book has so many great ideas for librarians seeking to incorporate opportunities for student leadership development, student engagement, experiential learning, and more. In particular, the sections “Students as Curators” and “Student Groups as Library Leaders” offered some helpful models for our student-organization-curated exhibit.

Working with a student organization has some built-in advantages. Members are already super interested in a specific topic and motivated to advocate for it outside the classroom. Plus, they can share the work as a group rather than one individual doing all the work.

So, how did we collaborate?

  1. Reach out. I went to the Student Involvement Fair at the beginning of the semester, asked about each club and what they do, introduced myself and my role, handed out business cards, and brainstormed on the fly about ways our library could support their specific needs, address their challenges, and work together on projects. For groups that expressed interest (including the Environmentalist Coalition), I followed up with emails about a week later.
  2. Be flexible. I had already started planning an April display when the Environmentalist Coalition approached me in mid-March. So, I happily threw out my plans and worked with them instead! Also, when the students later asked if they could bring in original artwork for the display, I enthusiastically went with their suggestion instead of sticking with our first idea for a green paper backdrop.
  3. Be clear. The students had never made a display before, so I gave them a quick tour of the space and then gave them a clear checklist of things they could supply: a bibliography of 20 suggested books, a list of 5 suggested websites for the iPad kiosk, all delivered by a deadline. Plus, I gave them a clear break down of what my responsibilities would be (e. g. get approval from library director, resource acquisition, coordinate with office of strategic communications, installation).
  4. Be a fan! I promoted their hard work with posters, social media posts, a news release, and announcements in the Student Newsletter and the Faculty/Staff Newsletter. I also emailed the group about 2 weeks after installation with positive feedback their display had gotten, and at the end of the month, I recapped their success, suggested how they might describe their work on professional documents, and offered to be a reference if needed.
  5. Plan ahead. To wrap up, I made contact with their incoming officers to let them know that I’d be happy to work with them next year if they were interested.
    collage of library display pictures
    A collage of photos of the library display.

Jessica Showalter is the Student Engagement & Outreach Librarian at Penn State Altoona’s Eiche Library. Say hello on Twitter @libraryjms

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 1, 2019 12:20 am

    Wow, this is great, Jessica!

    • Jessica Showalter permalink
      May 1, 2019 1:39 pm

      Thanks, Michele! You should see the students’ paintings in person–they are amazing!!

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