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Regina Sierra Carter received her Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She currently works as a Teaching and Learning Librarian at the University of Virginia.




Can you name at least one librarian at your college/university? When was the last time you frequented the library for purposes other than studying, writing group sessions, or to snag a caffeinated drink? Be honest… I won’t snitch.


In my humble opinion, librarians are one of the most underutilized resources on college/university campuses. I know this from experience. As a graduate student, I only consulted librarians when I was in a bind or hit a brick wall… hard. I would have been spared a lot of headache and heartache early on in my graduate program if I had simply asked for the help I needed. Instead of seeking assistance from a trained information professional, I stubbornly spent countless hours searching for articles when it should have only taken me 20 minutes.


When I finally broke down and asked for guidance, the librarian was super helpful and showed me how to effectively (and efficiently) conduct searches. At the time, I did not recognize that there was a science (or method) to searching, but now I know better.  


At the University of Virginia where I work, there are over 200+ library staff located across the grounds with expertise in a variety of areas. For example, there are subject liaisons who are experts in English, music, physics, etc. There are also those who specialize in virtual reality, 3D printing, learning technologies, research and data services, rare materials, teaching and learning and so much more!


Becoming acquainted with your college/university librarians is not simply a nicety. Instead, it is a necessity—especially if you would like to maintain your sanity and boost your scholarship. If you ever need help managing 200+ references for your thesis (FYI: many libraries offer citation management workshops!), identifying keywords that will lead to informational goldmines, or would like to utilize materials that are not currently housed at your institution, librarians know how to address these issues and more. It is in your very best interest to become acquainted with a librarian (or some librarians) at your institution and here’s why:


Librarians 101: How to Effectively Utilize These Hidden Figures


1.     I don’t mean to brag, but librarians are smartreally smart. However, if we do not know an answer, it is not the end of the world. 99.9% of the time, we know (or can find) someone who does. Plus, we are super savvy at searching, organizing, and accessing information. If you are feeling overwhelmed about how to organize your data, need advice on citation managers, etc., ask a librarian. You’ll be glad you did.


2.     Librarians have intimate knowledge of services and resources our library/libraries offer. Instead of trying to figure out every service/resource that is available at your college/university library, schedule an appointment to speak with a librarian or take part in a library orientation. We can familiarize you with materials and collections that are relevant to your work and/or personal as well as professional interests.


You may be wondering about how to approach a librarian...I also wrestled with this question before I became a librarian. The simple answer is this: approach us as you would anyone else.

At the University of Virginia, users can reach librarians via telephone, chat, text message, email, and in-person. If you would like help from a subject expert librarian (e.g. education, English, math, etc.), look on your library’s homepage for the library directory or for a list of subject specialist (or liaisons) and go from there. That said, it never hurts to go to your campus library and speak with someone at the front desk. He/she will direct you on where to go from there. If you cannot (or prefer not) to physically visit your library, calling the main line and/or sending an email is a lovely way to start!   


3.     Librarians are here to serve you. However, you don’t pay us a penny for our help. (Well, maybe through your tuition...) Ask us for help for as long or as little as you like. This is our JOB.      


4.     Librarians can point you to prime real estate within the library (e.g. special collections, study spaces, technological equipment, etc.) and explain borrowing privileges. If you are a first-year student (or an advanced one), you may be unaware of the precious gems found in your very own academic library.


5.     Librarians are not your peers or professors. We are neutral professionals. As such, we will not hold it against you if you request assistance at the very last minute. (Though it is in your best interest to seek assistance as soon as possible so we can ensure that you receive the resources/help you need in a timely manner.) Again, we are here to serve you. (See #3.) Life happens… we get it.


Need I say more?


I can say with 100% confidence that developing relationships with one or more librarians at your educational institution can serve you well now, throughout your graduate school career, and beyond.


How have librarians helped you in the past or how do you envision us helping you in the future? Please share.

[Image provided by Flickr user Owen Massey McKnight and used under a Creative Commons license]

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