For Your Reference: My Experience as a Student Librarian at Concordia University

Par Sophie Trolliet-Martial

As a second year MLIS student at the Université de Montréal (UdeM), I wanted to get experience as a librarian in an academic library before getting my diploma. Consequently, on September 2014, I applied for a job opening as a student librarian at Concordia University. With 46,000 students, the Concordia University offers 500 programs and 7,000 courses. The University has two campuses: the Webster campus, located downtown, and the Loyola campus in the West side of Montreal. As a result, Concordia University has two libraries, the Webster library and the Vanier library. A total of 49 librarians, including 11 McGill/UdeM MLIS student librarians, are working at Concordia.  As required, I sent my resume, a letter of interest, a list of courses completed in my program, and the contacts of two references. Two weeks after, I had an interview with the director of the Vanier library, Mrs Dubravka Kapa, and two subject librarians, Mmes Sonia Poulin and Krista Alexander. Before hiring me, they validated if my personality, my knowledge, and my experience met their requirements through questions, simulation exercises, and a written test. For instance, they asked me why I had decided to do librarianship, they wanted me to talk about my experiences related to the position, and they also expected me to know the difference between doing a reference service in person and on chat. I received a positive answer a couple of days later and since October 2014, I’ve been working part time – 8 hours a week – at the reference desk at the Vanier library.

Before getting efficient, I was trained for around four non-consecutive days. In order to learn to provide reference service (including chat reference) to students, faculty and staff, I met almost all the subject librarians who shared their expertise on any field with me: chemistry, engineering, arts, sciences, journalism, finance, etc. I also learnt how the library works (the different departments, the catalogue, the interlibrary loan service, the research repository, etc.), how to use Question Point and Teamweaver for chatting, how to apply citing styles such as APA, Chicago, etc.), etc.

After the official training, I was ready to start working as a student librarian. From this day, I received different kinds of queries, mostly from students, such as basic, technical, directional and reference questions:

  • Basic questions: Will the library be open during the winter holidays? Are you lending tablets? What is the contact of the librarian specialized in communication?
  • Technical questions: How do the printers work here? Can I install software on a laptop borrowed at the library? Can a printed article at Vanier be scanned and emailed to me? How can I get an article that is not available at Concordia Library?
  • Directional questions: Where can I pick a document in a course reserve up? Where can I get change? Where can I grab a coffee?
  • Reference questions: I can’t find an article online, can you help me out? I’m looking for peer reviewed articles on Nigeria’s youth population. I wanted to get articles or books that discuss the effects of the 2003 Iraq war on US state-society relations. I need to cite a quote from an online article in my essay in APA format. How would I do that?

What I have realized is that the biggest challenge in this job is to identify and clarify the information students are looking for. Sometimes, the information need is clear, other times it is rather vague. It’s important to narrow down the research in order to find the precise information that the patron needs. As a librarian, we also have to understand the level of information that the patron wants. Most of the time, it depends on the status of the students (undergraduate and graduate students) and the type of work they are working on (presentation, paper, essay, master’s or doctoral thesis, etc.).

All answered reference questions are registered. For the reference questions presented in person, we just write them down on a statistic sheet while we use the Libanalytics tool to register reference questions obtained on chat.

To conclude, I have learnt a lot from this experience and I recommend MLIS students to work in a library if possible. I’ve succeeded in putting my knowledge into practice, especially how to find the right information for the right patron in a given time. I have deepened my knowledge on how the databases, the catalogue, the metasearch, the link resolver and the discovery tool are combined and complementary. Perhaps the most important thing is that I am now aware of the ways a librarian can make a difference in the students’ academic life. Helping students access the right information means being part of their personal development and their academic success.

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