9 Cultivating and Harvesting Community

Awakening Students’ Greater Intellectual Curiosity through Fruitful Partnerships with Faculty

F. Elizabeth Nicholson; Leslie L. Morgan; and Monica Moore

“The purpose of the Library Research Awards is to help students to see research as a stand-alone, worthwhile goal. Undergraduate research is an accomplishment in and of itself – the development of a desirable and transferable skill set.”


How may librarians help to create an environment in which intellectual curiosity flourishes? First- and second-year students at the University of Notre Dame, as elsewhere, are learning not only about topics in their respective majors, but also how to succeed in the higher education environment. Intellectual curiosity will not be high on a student’s priority list if they are struggling with orienting themselves in their role as a Notre Dame student. Walking into Hesburgh Library can be an intimidating experience – fourteen floors to explore, plus an array of services and electronic resources, not to mention learning how to use the printers. Hesburgh Libraries’ employees are well-equipped to assist students as they familiarize themselves with the libraries’ collections, spaces, and services. This assistance comes in a variety of guises – signage, the HL website, and interactions with library employees at service desks, among others. Helping students find their way at Hesburgh Libraries is akin to preparing the soil in a garden plot: if students are comfortable asking for help and navigating the spaces and collections, they will be receptive to learning how Hesburgh Libraries, and interactions with library faculty, may further their intellectual growth. This growth is nurtured through collaborative outreach partnerships between library and teaching faculty, and the seeds for intellectual curiosity are planted in library research sessions and individual consultations. In this chapter, we will share how outreach at Hesburgh Libraries has contributed to first- and second-year students’ intellectual curiosity. F. Elizabeth Nicholson will begin with an overview of our efforts to use our library research sessions and individual consultations with students enrolled in a first-year writing course to plant and tend to the seeds of intellectual curiosity. Next, we highlight how developing strategic partnerships with our teaching faculty colleagues leads to fruitful engagement with students, using the specific example of Leslie L. Morgan’s work with faculty in the Africana Studies department. In the final section of the chapter, Monica Moore will focus on the “harvest,” so to speak, of the students’ intellectual curiosity as demonstrated in first- and second-year students’ submissions for the Library Research Award.

Planting the seeds in first-year Writing & Rhetoric courses with Elizabeth

At Hesburgh Libraries, the work of subject librarians to foster connection with their respective faculty enables the libraries’ resources, spaces, and services to directly impact the intellectual curiosity and scholarly exploration of our students. This impact is felt early in undergraduate students’ tenure on campus. Hesburgh Libraries faculty have established a solid relationship with faculty in the department of Writing & Rhetoric, resulting in integration in all sections of first-year Writing & Rhetoric (W&R) courses. The majority of these library sessions are taught by library faculty in the Teaching, Research, and User (TRU) Services Program, in which the authors of this chapter work. Typical involvement includes two library research sessions per course section. Fruitful collaboration with the W&R faculty led to the creation of a standard curriculum (Figure 1) as well as student learning outcomes based on the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (Figure 2), for the library sessions (many thanks to our former colleagues, Melissa Harden and Anna Michelle Martinez-Montavon for their excellent work on these materials!).


Figure 1.

Themes of Writing & Rhetoric library sessions


Figure 2.

Essential Questions
First-Year Student Learning Outcomes
Scholarship as Conversation
  • What does “scholarship” mean? What do we mean by “scholarship as conversation”?
  • What barriers exist to entering this conversation?
  • How can we gain greater understanding of topics by examining the connections and ongoing narratives between different scholarly pieces?
  • What are my responsibilities when participating in the conversation?
  • Define what we mean when we say “scholarship”
  • Use this metaphor as a basis for  understanding readings and the work they are being asked to do and for developing search strategies
  • Describe how they are entering the conversation and what hurdles may exist
Research as Inquiry/Searching as Strategic Exploration
  • What is “inquiry” and how does it relate to curiosity?
  • How do we know what we don’t know and how do we figure out what is not there?
  • How is defining a research topic part of the research process?
  • How can failure and mistakes help us in finding information?
  • When do you stop bringing in new information to the writing process?
  • With an abundance of information sources, how do we decide where to look?
  • Describe the role that curiosity plays in the research process
  • Conduct a search, analyze their results and try something new if needed
  • Justify their decisions related to their search strategy and demonstrate an openness to and flexibility with trying new search strategies as needed
Authority is Constructed and Contextual
  • How or why do we decide that someone is an authority on a topic?
  • With an abundance of information, how do we decide what is most relevant to our inquiry?
  • Describe various types of authority
  • Explain why certain communities view certain sources as authorities

Information Creation as a Process

  • What are the capabilities and constraints of information created through various processes?
  • How are you a creator of information?
  • Articulate the capabilities and constraints of various information creation processes.
  • Begin to describe all the ways they are creators of information (schoolwork, social media, etc.)

Information Has Value (Information Is Power)

  • How might the use or absence of citations impact the conversation of research?
  • How could information be wielded by powerful interests in ways that marginalize others?
  • Explain why citation matters, not just how citations are constructed
  • Reflect on some of the constraints and capabilities of the various places that information “lives” (e.g., in a book in a library, on a web domain, in a journal)
  • Begin to reflect on how access to information relates to economic or social justice issues

Hesburgh Libraries Information Literacy Outcomes for First-Year Students


Library faculty focus on process-based learning, highlighting the connections between the actions of writing and library research. The first session focuses on exploring topics through search, allowing students to begin to explore their topics in a low-risk environment, with the expert assistance of a library faculty member. The second session continues the research, with a focus on exploring their topics through conversation. Examining how authors converse via scholarly discourse helps students understand how the resources they found during the first session are positioned in current exploration of their topic. This session also serves to introduce the concept that students will also be contributing to the conversation via their writing. Again, this session gives students the time and space to explore their topic with the guidance of a librarian.


Before the sessions take place, library faculty schedule consultations with the W&R faculty, taking the time to review the major writing assignments, and tailor the existing curriculum to the needs of the course. To plant the seeds of intellectual curiosity, both the library and W&R faculty focus on the iterative nature of research and writing, reminding students that both require time to experiment. Just as a first draft requires revision, so does library research; creating that space allows students to further explore and develop their skills, as well as their interest in any given topic. The collaboration between library and W&R faculty before, and during, the library sessions allows the students to see the direct connection between research and writing, creating the opportunity for curiosity to flourish.


Continuing the care for the seeds planted in library visits and the sessions for Writing & Rhetoric, subject librarians for other disciplines cultivate and nourish relationships with students and faculty through library research sessions and individual consultations. Content for library sessions in the disciplines varies, based on the assignments and the needs of the students. Subject librarians are located across nearly all departments in Hesburgh Libraries, including TRU Services, Rare Books & Special Collections, the Navari Family Center for Digital Scholarship, Collection Strategy & Acquisitions, Archives, and Metadata Services. Because of this, faculty and students may also benefit from the functional expertise, as well as the subject expertise, of library faculty. Librarians offer connections to foster curiosity, both in a discipline and also for services and collections Hesburgh Libraries offers to facilitate and enhance research.

The Faculty Librarian Student Collaborative: Harvesting a teaching and learning experience for faculty collaboration on behalf of motivated undergraduate students with Leslie

The most gratifying experience of being a librarian within the Hesburgh Libraries is that librarians have many opportunities to connect faculty and students to information and services that transform their understanding of what it means to be critical consumers of information. At the University of Notre Dame, opportunities abound for faculty and librarians to cultivate a collegial relationship that is beneficial to emerging scholars at the undergraduate level.


In the fall of 2016, academic librarians were gifted with the opportunity to incorporate the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education into our teaching and learning practice. This framework presented an opportunity for librarians to engage faculty in the College of Arts and Letters in a more purposeful way. The language used in each of the frames speak to a pedagogical practice often consistent within disciplines in the College of Arts and Letters. Librarians who choose academic librarianship as their career endeavor, come to the academy with transferable skills (i.e. presentation/communication skills, programming, networking). Collegial collaboration with faculty and students is a process that is best described as a process of cultivation.


Prior to classes beginning in the fall, librarians at Notre Dame are afforded many opportunities to participate and engage with faculty and students through various orientation activities: new faculty orientation, international student orientation, and first year student orientation sessions. In Africana Studies, I am invited to the department annual retreat held off campus. I am able to present on my engagement and outreach endeavors: library instruction, one to one research consultations, acquisitions/collection development, and ask faculty to share a copy of their syllabus for the development of library research guides with resources from the Hesburgh libraries. Following the retreat, I work to schedule one-to-one “coffee or tea” discussion sessions with faculty on how I can support their teaching and learning efforts in the current semester.  These discussions solidify a commitment to set date/dates for library instruction sessions.


The following media clip provides insight into my efforts to engage one of my revered colleagues in Africana Studies, Dr. Bernard Forjwuor. Professor Forjwuor shares information about his pedagogical focus for students enrolled in the Introduction to Africana Studies course. One of the most invaluable insights he shared is archival materials and information resources that examine critically with voices representing the African, Black and diaspora communities in the Caribbean and throughout the world.

Click to watch interview of Dr. Forjwuor.


Once the dates for library instruction sessions are on the calendar, the faculty and librarian meet to create a lesson plan that encompasses our library strategy, “Connecting People to Knowledge.” The lesson plan often consists of three learning objectives, two active learning activities for 50-minute classes, or three active learning activities for 75-minute classes. (Note: 50-minute classes are held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; 75-minute classes are held on Tuesday or Thursday).  The faculty and librarian agree to share an anecdotal undergraduate learning experience as a way to connect to students’ experiences of doing research in an academic environment. Information that continues to be invaluable to understanding undergraduate student experiences of doing research comes from Project Information Literacy (PIL) led by Dr. Allison Head. In 2001, Susan Ledlow from the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence at the University of Arizona, created a document titled, “Using Think-Pair-Share in the College Classroom” which may be tailored for librarian instructional use.


A classroom within the Hesburgh Libraries is scheduled, faculty are sent a link to the map of the library classroom location. Students are to bring their laptop computers to class. Students are informed about the library instruction learning objectives and activities they will learn during the session. The library instruction classrooms are equipped and designed for movement of tables and chairs for groups of two to four students for the active learning activities. When students are able to engage in small group activities, lively and engaging conversations and learning engagement occurs. With faculty support, students are advised to arrange a one-to-one research consultation with a librarian. Notre Dame undergraduate students are motivated for academic success and as a result, they are likely to schedule a 15-30 Zoom or in-person library research consultation session.


Throughout the semester, the librarian stays in communication with faculty members in order to see if students are connecting to library resources provided by the Hesburgh Libraries. This point of communication determines whether a second instruction session focused on advanced searching is needed or a research consultation session for the entire class is warranted. As the Africana Studies and Education librarian, often a second or third is scheduled if students have informed their professors of the need for instruction or a consultation instruction session. During the pandemic time when the campus was closed, students valued the hybrid model of instruction and one to one research consultation with a librarian. In the fall of 2021, the libraries returned to in-person instruction, and the option to meet with students via Zoom or in person increased.


Library instruction sessions are planned in collaboration with faculty. Students are able to make connections to information resources not only for course assignments, but take their critical approaches to the search process in applying for internships, applying for undergraduate research grants and summer research opportunities beginning at the end of their first academic year. More importantly, faculty and students make invaluable connections to librarians and resources: library services, library spaces, and library research resources.

Reaping the harvest: Reflections on the Library Research Award Program from Monica

As much as we are brought into the research questions and by extension, the intellectual life of our undergraduate students, it has often been the case in my – professional career that I find myself wondering how that particular story ended for a student. Did they stick with that topic or find another, related one? Did they ever make it up to the archives to find that primary source? Are they maybe off at graduate school, inspired by their initial research question to pursue it past that grade, that class, or the four years they spent with us? Does the constant activity of cultivating relationships and planting seeds, described in the above sections, bear fruit?


Unlike faculty colleagues who teach the class or manage the creative project for which the student does the research, as librarians we rarely see the end result of it. Perhaps it is for this reason that I look forward to our library’s annual research award program each spring. Designed to encourage undergraduate research at each grade level, including first-year and second-year students, this program asks students to reflect on the research journey and the library’s role in it. In other words, it is a rare opportunity for students to tell us about how they satisfied their intellectual curiosity using library information sources, without focusing on the deliverable itself.


Library award programs that target undergraduate research have been around for some time and while there are differences between institutions, the primary focus is often the reflective essay from the student that talks about their research experience (Jones, 2009; Tchangalova & Cossard, 2014). This is certainly true of the University of Notre Dame Library Research Award program managed by the Hesburgh Libraries.


Although my involvement with this program started in 2018, we have actually been offering these awards since 2010, albeit under a different name. Students apply for them by writing an essay that describes their experiences using Hesburgh Libraries resources for their course assignments or other research projects. When we review these essays, we look for evidence of extensive and creative use of library resources – our print/digital collection, spaces, people, and technologies – and a detailed description of how these resources supported their projects.


However, the thing that really makes an essay stand out is the way students describe their understanding of the research process, and their growing awareness of research as a process that changes direction frequently, requires persistence and curiosity, and which challenges them to develop skills that they didn’t know that they needed. They become aware of a larger information landscape, and engage with that landscape. Their intellectual curiosity is the main driver here, and not just the final grade.


And that’s what we want, because the purpose of these awards is to get students to see research as a stand-alone, worthwhile goal. The awards recognize undergraduate research as an accomplishment in and of itself. I’d like to emphasize that point: Research is something distinct in their educational experience here, but many times students conflate the research they do with the outcome of that research. If they got an A on that paper, then they must be good researchers; or, conversely, if they got a C or another unsatisfactory grade, they don’t necessarily think about salvaging the research component that went into that work and turning it into something else.


This award program helps to build that awareness. It’s quite possible that many of our Library Research Award winners did not get that A when they delivered that research product, yet they still won an award. Why? Because they can recognize the analog research process they went through and view it as a desirable skill set, one that will help them in other areas of their life. Unlike a grade, it isn’t a thing to be earned and then forgotten. These skills stay with them and transfer to other areas of their life.


The library has a unique role in helping them to develop those research skills. Our resources – meaning the materials we collect, the people we hire, the spaces we create and the technology we invest in – are all done in support of the development of those lifelong skills and the development of intellectual curiosity. It is very gratifying to see that reflected in these student essays.


While the focus of the award is on the research process and not the research product, we do know that those research products look very different these days. Students are doing more than longform, textual research papers; they do things like SWOT analyses, business memos, and multimedia projects such as poster presentations, podcasts, text and data mining projects, etc. As you can see from this screenshot from our LRA website (Figure 3), we try to highlight these types of products and projects to remind and encourage students that they in fact are doing research even when they may not realize they’re doing it.


Figure 3.

Hesburgh Libraries Library Research Award website


The award program also acknowledges that research is often a collaborative process, by offering a Group award category to students who are using library resources for a group project for a class or for some endeavor. This award category, added in 2019 during a revamp of the award program, saw its first applicants and winners in the 2022 award cycle. One of the applications for this category was from a group of students who used their innate curiosity and research skills to make a formal recommendation to the university related to fair compensation practices for university employees. This was done independently of a course, and serves as a great example of the increasingly collaborative nature of research among undergraduate students in pursuit of a specific goal or passion.

As we continue to offer these awards each year, we see evidence of intellectual curiosity in the students’ own words as they describe how library resources supported them during their research journey. Reading their essays each year inspires us as librarians to keep planting those seeds with students and cultivating those relationships with faculty. The end result of this work is captured perfectly by the following quote from a 2022 award winner:

“My thesis journey was not only a testament to my courage and curiosity, but also a demonstration of the Hesburgh Library’s excellent and versatile services. Writing a thesis comes with waves of doubt and confusion, but the library services truly lighten the burden.”




Association of College & Research Libraries. (2016). Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. https://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/ilframework

Jones, L. (2009). The rewards of research: Library prizes for undergraduate research. College & Research Libraries News, 70(6), 338-341.

Ledlow, S. (2001). Using Think-Pair-Share in the college classroom. Online resources. Global Learning at Florida International University. https://goglobal.fiu.edu/_assets/docs/think-pair-share.pdf

Project Information Literacy. (2022, November 1). Publications. https://projectinfolit.org/publications/

Tchangalova, N., & Cossard, P. (2014). Library award for undergraduate research: Increasing the library profile. Practical Academic Librarianship: The International Journal of the SLA Academic Division, 4(2), 1-27.

Recommended Resources

Addy, T.M., Dube, D., Mitchell, K.A., & SoRelle, M.E. (2021). What inclusive instructors do. Stylus Publishing.

Mallon, M. (2020). Partners in teaching and learning: Coordinating a successful academic library instruction program. Rowman & Littlefield.

Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2006). Critical thinking: The nature of critical and creative thought. Journal of Developmental Education, 30(2), 34-35

Prince, M. J., & Felder, R. M. (2006). Inductive teaching and learning methods: Definitions, comparisons, and research bases. Journal of Engineering Education, 95(2), 123-138.

Svinicki, M.D., & McKeachie, W.J. (2014). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research and theory for college and university teachers (14th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Tripp, L. O., & Collier, R. M. (2020). Culturally responsive teaching and learning in higher education. Information Science Reference.

About the Authors

F. Elizabeth Nicholson serves as Unit Head for User Education and Engagement at Hesburgh Libraries at the University of Notre Dame. Elizabeth collaborates with library faculty and campus faculty to develop creative and innovative ways of fostering information literacy skills for undergraduate students. She also serves as the library liaison to the Writing & Rhetoric program. Elizabeth holds a Master’s of Library and Information Science from the University of Missouri.

Elizabeth can be reached at fnichol2@nd.edu

Leslie L. Morgan is the Associate Librarian for Africana Studies and Education at the University of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Libraries. Her academic librarian career encompasses teaching and learning pedagogical practice in collaboration, campus wide engagement connections with undergraduate students, as well as continuing ongoing collaborations with librarians (academic, public, school) in the Michiana community in the State of Indiana. She is a graduate of the School of Information, Wayne State University (MLIS) and a graduate from the University of Detroit Mercy (B.A.).

Leslie can be reached at lmorgan1@nd.edu

Monica Moore currently heads the Research Services unit at Hesburgh Libraries at the University of Notre Dame, where she also serves as the liaison to the graduate school and works with undergraduate researchers. She is the current chair of the university’s Library Research Awards program. She earned her master’s degree in library and information science from Syracuse University.

Monica can be reached at mmoore18@nd.edu


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Intellectual Curiosity and the Role of Libraries Copyright © by F. Elizabeth Nicholson; Leslie L. Morgan; and Monica Moore is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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