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U of T’s Personal Librarian program eases the university transition for first-year students

The library program offers personalized help to more than 6,200 students in two faculties.

By RYLEY WHITE | AUG 16 2016

Using the library is a daunting task for many first-year students. That’s why University of Toronto has established Personal Librarian, a program that pairs first-years with a librarian.

“As a personal librarian, I think of myself as a facilitator between the student and the library, and library resources,” says communications librarian Jesse Carliner. He compares the volunteer role to that of an adviser: he answers students’ questions, helps with citations and works through additional issues with students either by email or one-on-one.

Building off of similar programs like those at Yale and Drexel universities, U of T launched a pilot in 2012. According to student engagement librarian Heather Buchansky, that year 1,000 students were connected to 10 librarian-volunteers. As of 2015, personal librarians reached out to all first-year students in the faculties of arts and science, and of applied science and engineering – more than 6,200 students were contacted by one of 49 personal librarians. About eight to 10 percent of students contacted will participate, says Ms. Buchansky.

Student engagement librarian Heather Buchansky helps a student. Photo courtesy of the University of Toronto.
Student engagement librarian Heather Buchansky helps a student. Photo courtesy of the University of Toronto.

“Some students know what they want. They have a book or an article in mind and they can’t access it for whatever reason,” she says. Or, she notes, they may need help coming up with scholarly sources for assignments.

The program has caught on elsewhere in Canada. The University of Victoria, for one, launched a program in 2014 for 4,500 first-year students. Program coordinator Justin Harrison says librarians there “meet and greet” with students twice a year to promote the program.

Back at U of T, Mr. Carliner says being a personal librarian is a great opportunity to ease incoming students into unfamiliar territory and develop a relationship between students and the library. “Some of them keep coming back … I still meet with them, they still send me questions and things like that,” he says. “The ones who do follow up, they all love the program.”

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