Philosophy of Student Engagement and Outreach

Student engagement is fundamentally about helping students feel emotionally connected to and invested in the university and its institutions.  The library has an important role to play as a welcoming “third space,” alongside obviously academic spaces such as classrooms and obviously non-academic spaces such as cafeterias and lounges.  Bringing students and faculty together in this space is part of the job of the Engagement Librarian.

A university library has something to offer every group on campus and it is the job of the Engagement Librarian to ensure that everyone is aware of the resources on their doorstep.  This requires active collaboration with the Writing Centre staff, the Student Union, the Faculty Association and any other groups on campus that are in a position to spread the word.
Librarians also need to give talks at conferences – and not only library conferences, but also at conferences related to teaching and learning.  Our librarian colleagues already know what the library has to offer – it’s non-librarians whom we need to reach.  Instructors are understandably reluctant to hand over precious class time to a librarian unless they can be convinced that it will result in a real and measurable increase in student learning.  They also need to be convinced that librarians can offer their students something that they themselves cannot, in terms of both preparation and expertise.

The library is in an excellent position to use its space and resources to actively support internationalization and indigenization across the curriculum, service learning, active learning and student engagement.  Demonstrating these concepts in operation to the university community is part the job of the Engagement Librarian.

An example of an outreach event that involves the whole community is the increasingly popular Long Night Against Procrastination (LNAP).  At TRU, the Library and the Writing Centre collaborated on our first LNAP in March.  We had 40 students registered, were expecting around 80 and welcomed over 200.  We had staff on hand from the Library, the Writing Centre, the Counseling Office and TRU World, and even had a few faculty holding “office hours.”

Food is a very important part of the outreach.   At the LNAP, we had coffee and cookies at the start of the evening, pizza at midnight, and a “survivor’s breakfast” at 6 am.  Having food definitely played an outsize role relative to the expense, because the emotional impact of being welcomed and fed, particularly for young adults, is huge.  The other thing that is important is to combine lightness of spirit with seriousness of purpose: “Yes, the Dean of Students just walked by wearing pajamas and clutching a teddy bear, and yes, you need to focus on coming up with a thesis statement!”

Academic libraries also have a lot to offer people of all ages in the wider community. For instance, the TRU Library has a modest Children’s Picture Book collection.  Its primary audience is Education students, but since I began buying the best Canadian books and the latest Caldecott winners, I have noticed that an increasing numbers of young families are purchasing community cards.

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