After I received my BA in history from Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina, I attended a dinner party where I asked a friend why she became a librarian. Her response caused me to think about why she so passionately sought a career as a librarian. Once I realized that I, too, had the same passion, I moved quickly and 30 days later, I found myself in a classroom at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, where I obtained my MLS.
When I completed my degree, it was 1989 and a recession was in full swing. In 1990, I relocated to Miami and became the first Interlibrary Loan Librarian at Florida International University (FIU). South Florida and FIU are like the Ellis Island of the 21st century. Roughly 60 percent of Miami-Dade County’s residents were not born in the U.S., which makes it a culturally vibrant, fascinating environment. In 2000, a new position was created and offered to me as Head of the Access Services Department, but I retained many of the interlibrary loan responsibilities.
When my dad passed away in 2010, it prompted me to reflect on his life and reevaluate my own. During this time, I outlined several milestones that I wanted to achieve personally and professionally. This led me to the notion of creating the First Year Experience. This program seemed like the perfect way to use my professional skills, my personality traits (I'm extremely extroverted) and this new-found vision of how I wanted to spend the next chapter of my life.
Thanks to an open-minded boss and Dean, I was able to launch the First Year Experience initiatives and services here at FIU in early 2011, and I love everything about it. I love teaching the introductory library orientation portion of the freshmen experience classes, which covers an introduction to our library services and facility, and the skills students need to successfully search databases. The freshman experience seminar has 120 sections on the main campus and 30 sections of the additional campus during the Fall Semester.
As part of this introductory session, I emphasize to the students that I am their personal librarian for the first year. I give them my business card so they can contact me directly. My office is located in an open part of the library where students can easily pop in and ask for help. I guarantee that if I can’t help them with what they need, the next librarian I send them to is the subject matter expert and will own their question until they get the answer or information they need.
It may seem pretty basic, but it’s important to remember that for young adults, especially ones whose traits range from somewhat shy to total introverts, it can be extremely intimidating to approach a librarian for help. So part of my course is teaching the social aspect of learning and research—reminding students that the reason we are here is to help them. We are going to ask them if they are finding everything they need when we bump into them in the stacks. I emphasize that students should never apologize to a librarian for asking for their help. From the time the students finish the course, they begin to ask me questions and send me e-mails.
OCLC Symbols: FXG, FXN
Volumes: 1.7 million
Periodicals: access to more than 27,000 serials titles
Population served: 51,000 students (37,000 full-time) from more than 125 countries; in addition, because all public universities in Florida are state-funded, the library is also open to the public
Library staff: 36 librarians, plus 11 positions currently under recruitment; 64 staff, plus two positions currently under recruitment
I constantly seek out opportunities to make the First Year Experience Program known. I frequently attend sessions and student events, visit the tutoring center, and partner with faculty members who work with students who are on probation or are identified as struggling with issues outside the classroom, the latter of which are a pilot program known as the Golden Scholars. These students are required to take my course on conducting research as part of the university’s retention initiatives. FIU is also piloting a program called Golden Scholars. This year we have 30 students in this program and so far, it has been successful. I also liaise with professors and fulfill their requests for library literacy sessions. I am constantly looking for ways to increase the number of professors who are aware of—and request—the services I provide.
Like any new initiative, you’ll need to identify the need, a plan that shows how you’ll deliver the services, and the benefits and opportunities to advance the program.
There are a number of resources that I collected while developing FIU’s program that I’m happy to share. I’m also willing to discuss your particular goals if you are considering or in the process of launching your program.