Library to offer special help for research needs

John Buckingham and John Buckingham

To the staff of the Department of Library Teaching and Learning, the acronym IRA is about research, not retirement. Individual research appointments – IRAs – are hour-long consultations offered by the Department of Library Teaching and Learning to help undergraduate students learn to better use and find resources for papers or projects. IRAs are offered year round, but advertised only during the ‘peak project time’ of the semester when a majority of class assignments are due, said Katherine Najacht, an associate with the Department of Library Teaching and Learning. The peak session began this semester on March 16 and will continue through April 10. ‘ Students can sign up for an IRA by calling the research and information desk at the Jerome Library.’ ‘It’s something that anybody can come to us at any time and schedule [an IRA],’ Najacht said. Although there are a plethora of on-campus resources available to help students with writing and researching assignments, IRAs allow one-on-one coaching on the particulars of research. Najacht said she loves helping students on an individual basis. ‘If a student comes to us at the desk and they’re really struggling, you have to fight the inclination sit down with students for an hour or more, especially if there are others students who need help,’ she said. ‘[IRAs] give me and the rest of the librarians a chance to devote at least an hour of our time to help one student and allows for a much deeper level of service.’ Learning to research is an ongoing process, said senior Tiara Farley, who has worked at the research desk in the Library for three years. ‘I think the IRAs are a great resource for students,’ she said. ‘It takes the research a step further than just stopping at the desk with a question for a few minutes. And even people with background in research can still learn more.’ But what does an average individual research appointment entail? As the purpose of IRAs is to help students, the library staff tries to tailor every appointment to meet each individual students’ needs and expectations. Librarians show students how to use databases, where to go for articles and even how and where to locate books and other resources within the library. ‘We really want [IRAs] to be student centered,’ said Najacht. ‘We want the student to get what they want out of [IRAs]. And students may have a very different idea of how the time will go than we do as librarian.’ Najacht said researching a paper or project isn’t as simple as just typing a string of words into Google and coming up with all the results; searches have to be tailored to find relevant information. ‘There’s an element of teaching students on how to formulate searches,’ said Najacht. ‘Once they grasp that concept there’s this moment that they’re like ‘Wow, I’m finding exactly what I was looking for!’ And those moments are really validating.’ Despite the fact that most students – graduate and undergraduate alike – wouldn’t mind a little help with researching a project every now and then, IRAs are specifically targeted toward undergraduate students with little experience researching assignments. Although the library staff does offer a similar service for graduate students, they are required to schedule an appointment with a librarian trained in their specific discipline. ‘These IRAs are heavily used by English 112 students where topics kind of run the gamut,’ said Najacht. ‘[Their topics] are more generic than in graduate level courses.’ Freshman Corey Jones is one such student seeking a little extra help with his paper about alternate fuels for automobiles. ‘My last couple papers weren’t really research papers, [the professor] kind of just gave us the information,’ Jones said. ‘I figured I needed to get a really good grade on this one. It’s only gonna help me to learn how to use all the online services and databases.’ Although the intensive session is already well underway, Najacht said there’s still another three weeks in this semester’s session, so students should take advantage of the service. ‘I encourage people to contact the people to contact the desk, set up an appointment, and come meet with us,’ she said. Students can schedule an IRA by calling the research and information desk at (419) 372-6943.