This blog post was written by Shelby Stuart, second year graduate student in the School of Information.
I’ve been working as a User Information Services Assistant (UISA) for just over three semesters, and it is one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs I’ve had. My primary responsibility is to staff several of the University of Michigan Library’s reference points, including the Hatcher and Shapiro Library desks and the Ask A Librarian online chat service. During my time as a UISA, I’ve been invited to help with a few projects that have allowed me to get a feel for the responsibilities that librarians are tasked with outside of reference. In terms of both the level of responsibility involved and the amount of experience gained, one of these projects stands out from the rest.
In January of 2015, my fellow UISA, Alyssa, and I were offered the opportunity to work on a project that tasked us with developing a workflow for our fellow UISAs to evaluate library resources that are available to MLibrary on a trial basis. Electronic resource trials are important because they give librarians the chance to test out a resource before they decide to commit to often costly subscriptions. One of the purposes of the Trial Resources Evaluation project is to support librarians by training student reference assistants to conduct standardized reviews, which librarians may then consider in addition to their own evaluation of the resource. This also provides students with an opportunity to gain valuable experience in assessment while allowing them to give input on library resources that are subsequently available to them as students of the University of Michigan.
For Alyssa and me, this project involved, first, creating a document that contained (pre-written) questions and criteria to prompt the reviewers in their assessment of a given resource. Then, we created a spreadsheet where UISAs could sign up to review a resource and track their progress. Our next major step was to create training documentation and prepare a presentation to train UISAs on the project, which we presented at a staff meeting in the fall of 2015. Now that our fellow UISAs have gotten their feet wet with this project, Alyssa and I have the continuing responsibility of managing the project and serving as the points of contact for anyone who has questions or needs guidance.
Managing this project helped me develop skills that I will take with me through the end of my coursework and into my career. The project involved a great deal of collaboration with fellow UISAs and with professional librarians, primarily those who are responsible for electronic resource subscriptions. This type of collaboration helped me sharpen my communication skills and introduced me to the experience of working with a variety of stakeholders, from librarians to trained graduate students to potential users. The project also allowed me to gain important experience in evaluation; in my future career as a librarian, I will be well-versed in assessing electronic resources and their usefulness to the campus community. Finally, this project gave me the opportunity to practice large group instruction both during our presentation at the staff meeting, and also in one-on-one instruction, by following up with individual UISAs who had further questions about the reviewing process.
The Trial Resources Evaluation project—and my UISA experience more broadly—has challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone by taking on greater responsibility and becoming one of the “go to” people for the project, but it has paid off in the skills and experiences that I’ve gained as a result. When Alyssa and I graduate, we will hand off the project to a new pair of UISAs. I hope that they will gain as much from the experience as I have!