12 Librarian as a Mentor

Perspectives from a Supervisor and a Student

Patrice-Andre "Max" Prud'homme and Evalynn Vierheller

“To interact and engage with students has been instrumental in boosting intellectual curiosity and creating a sense of comradery within the office.”


Oklahoma State University (OSU) is a land-grant research university in Stillwater, Oklahoma with just under 25,000 students from all over the world. Located at the heart of campus, the Edmon Low Library was built in 1953; it houses over 3 million volumes and a broad array of e-resources to support teaching, learning, and research. Similar to many other academic universities, the Edmon Low Library is a catalyst for learning and knowledge sharing. It is also one of the largest employers of students on OSU’s campus. Within the context of the organization, librarians, staff, and students play an important role in supporting the mission of the university. Promoting relationships between librarians and their students is of the essence in encouraging knowledge acquisition and inquiries in order to ensure students’ success. This chapter will discuss how the Edmon Low Library has been a driving force for undergraduates at OSU to find mentorship, guidance, and work in different departments to engage with professionals, such as librarians who can act as their supervisors and mentors. It will also expand on the development of intellectual curiosity, and the learning of hard and soft skills for first- and second-year students to become successful in their first years of their undergraduate studies and beyond.

The Library (and the Archives) at the Heart of the University

The Edmon Low Library plays an essential role in campus life at Oklahoma State University. It is a place where students of diverse backgrounds and life experiences gather to study, research, and socialize. University libraries across the United States have been working to develop new ways to make their spaces attractive and functional to students to reflect new philosophies. Some of the ways that the Edmon Low Library have worked to achieve this is by providing an array of programming initiatives, social events, and volunteering activities while also making study spaces or study rooms conducive to individual or group learning.


The library is a connector; it is a place where students can develop new relationships with peers. These social relationships are key to student life to propel them forward to academic success and beyond their undergraduate experience. The Edmon Low Library usually hosts a house party a few days after students have returned to campus for classes. The event is always successful, and it allows students to have the opportunity to get involved and acclimated to the library by participating in trivia, technology showcases, craft stations, scavenger hunts, and many more activities.


The archives at the Edmon Low Library act as the depository for many academic and administrative documents and official records. Its mission is to preserve and provide access to university, local, and state historical and cultural heritage resources. Within the department, faculty and staff are focusing their work based on two distinct and collaborative areas, the Analog and the Digital.


In my role as Director of Digital Curation, I provide leadership and management in the areas of digital curation, preservation, and discovery of digital resources. Evalynn is an undergraduate senior, student assistant, as well as peer mentor and library ambassador. She has been working in the Archives for the past four years after she started as a first-generation mentee in her freshman year. She was connected to the Archives as a first-generation student through the Student Employment-Mentor Experience at the beginning of her freshman year.

Opportunities for Students to Engage

At Oklahoma State University, the library is invested in offering a multitude of jobs in different departments available to students. Undergraduate student employees at the library are hired as either undergraduate student assistants, ambassadors, interns, or first-generation student mentees. Student assistants can be hired at any level of their undergraduate curriculum, except for first-generation student mentees who are hired as freshmen. The library started the first-generation program in 2017. According to the Oklahoma State library (2022), the Student Employment-Mentor Experience was created “as a way to connect first-generation college freshmen to the Oklahoma State University community. The program’s goal is to positively impact the lives and empower the success of first-generation college students.” First-generation mentees are hired for a job at the library before being systematically assigned a peer-mentor and a senior mentor (librarian).


The peer mentors are first-generation students who have previously been part of the program, making them great role models for first-year first-generation students they are paired with. The peer mentor plays a very vital role in the first-generation program because they can provide advice on what resources helped them and offer insights from the perspective of another student working at the library as well. Senior mentors (librarians) are full-time adult employees who have volunteered to work with the program, advising a first-generation college student who does not work in their department. This allows the mentee to connect with an adult other than their supervisor. They can ask the mentor questions and get advice about their experience.


Working in the library can be a very formative experience for students because it allows them to gain work experience, helps them bond with peers, and gives them a sense of responsibility. Continuing into her fourth year in the Archives, Evalynn has worked on various projects, such as the digitization of analog materials, transcription of historical research notes and films, metadata creation, and research for website development. She has enjoyed her experience throughout. She thinks it has benefited her immensely during her time at Oklahoma State University.

The Hiring Process

Typically, the hiring of students takes place before the fall semester begins; it can also be mid-year when students leave for one reason or another. For instance, when an undergraduate student transferred to another university at the end of the fall semester last year, she had to be replaced. I noticed that the team was disappointed to hear this news and started to wonder that students may not necessarily commit to work in the archives to earn money per se; they may also see it as an opportunity to gather around peers of different ages, and care for one another. Working in that space is a way for them to demystify the archives, and as I witnessed, students have exhibited unprecedented levels of intellectual curiosity within that space as they get more involved in their new environment. They progressively engage in various conversations, asking more complex questions that help satisfy their own interest. For example, one student exhibited a strong interest in the transcription work of basketball films from the 1940s that had recently been digitized. Being an aficionado of basketball, the student gazed in awe at the black and white historical films depicting a demonstration of styles and plays by the team from the Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical College, which later became Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, OK. This inherent interest helped the student not only complete the project but also allowed them to enjoy what he was doing at a higher level because he already had a curiosity about the subject.


On the first day that students start their job in the archives, we begin by introducing them to the team. Additionally, I give newly hired students a tour of the main areas of the archives and the library (including introducing colleagues who work on the analog side of the archives, as well as the stacks and library spaces in general). The hope is that by taking these initial steps, students can more easily get a sense of comfort in that foreign space and get a feeling of belonging to a new group of peers. Essentially, their first day is also about stimulating their curiosity and triggering their appetite for new knowledge.

Placing the Student-Supervisor Relationship in Context

To supervise with the intention to build a mentoring student-librarian relationship is a collaborative endeavor. Returning student workers like Evalynn are vital to this endeavor and the integration of new workers because they can act as a trainer and place themselves more easily in the shoes of a new hire. In the day-to-day work in the archives, returning student workers also tend to be more accustomed to the small details than the librarian. They can truly make a difference in the rapport with new library workers. It is worth noting that being closer in age can make a huge difference in being a peer. By contrast, the student-supervisor relationship can be more difficult because while I can be seen as a mentor to the new employee, I also fulfill the role of the boss. Because of this dual role, it can create a degree of separation between the employee and the supervisor. In sum, I want to celebrate these relationships and differences when students share their experiences and inspire one another to grow together in an environment conducive to learning and discovering new knowledge as they progress through their studies.


I believe that providing support and guidance to newly hired students greatly helps them integrate into their new environment. Along those same lines, I strongly encourage students to engage in a dialogue and ask questions, take on the responsibility to reach out to other student peers, and be curious of not only their work in the library, but also about what is around them. It is about broadening their worldview. To that effect, by acting as a mentor, I seek to get students to step out of their comfort zone and engage with peers, particularly freshmen who are just getting acclimated to campus, and who may come from small-town high schools in various parts of the United States.

The Supervisor as a Role Model

As a supervisor and mentor, it is essential for me to act as a role model. Fundamentally, listening is key to all effective communications. Taking the time and actively listening to students’ needs and aspirations is vital to building that librarian-student relationship because it shows that I care. It creates an opportunity to follow up on conversations periodically and ask questions to deepen understanding, which can help create a strong foundation for a librarian-student relationship.

The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting (Fran Lebowitz)

My intention is to create a positive work environment where students are allowed to develop the confidence they need to grow and flourish in their new environment. To that effect, it is in my role to make sure I build trust between the students and myself as well as establish respect towards one another— listening plays a huge part in building these relationship dynamics. Based on these constructive interactions, I can provide adequate support to students for them to reflect on their work and themselves by developing the intellectual curiosity they need to grow.


It is also important for me to set clear objectives and expectations grounded on collaboration, communication, and coordination across the team to bring everybody together working towards a common goal. To that effect, I have organized the work logistics using a work log in which every student reports on their tasks after each work period. The work log is shared with everyone so it can be used to inform one another about project workflows and ask questions. It includes resources, such as, guidelines and standards, a data dictionary, and many others that will help students succeed in their work and become more engaged. With that in mind, I strongly emphasize keeping documentation on every aspect of a project. The rationale brought forth to students is to emphasize the fact that students play an important role in the work of archives, and what they do is critical and needs to be recorded for other students who will take over any given project. While the log can be seen as a forum to ease the lines of communication among students (in-person or virtual), it is also a tool to encourage their intellectual curiosity about the other projects that students work on and how others approach their work. Listening to students and following up on their inquiries to help them navigate regardless of their familiarity with the archives and the university has been a priority for myself in order to set an example for everyone.


Based on these strategies, I have established good relationships with students as a supervisor and mentor. By encouraging juniors and seniors, such as Evalynn, to be active team players, it has helped students to bond and create cohesiveness as a team where everyone can have constructive dialogues around storytelling and learning more about one another. At the same time, it has created a safe and welcoming environment, in which freshmen and sophomores alike have grown and gained more confidence in themselves.

The Librarian as a Facilitator

As a mentor, I act as a facilitator in making connections possible between student workers and stimulating intellectual curiosity within the team. Because students tend to be curious in nature, storytelling is one good way for students to learn about each other, for example, when they share their experience of living in another county in Oklahoma, another state, or another country. On most occasions, students do not hesitate to ask questions outside of work-related topics. They want to be a part of the whole. They want to learn and share stories. Storytelling can spark curiosity and students have been enjoying these conversations every time. It helps bridge differences between team members and brings them closer together. All these lines of inquiry are fascinating to witness and are always good moments to share with students at a moment’s notice.


Along those same lines, the team meets once a week to discuss tasks and have the opportunity to ask questions. Then, I begin each meeting with our word of the week task where each member of the team chooses a word that they find interesting and share it with everyone.  Students responded well to it and found it palatable and relatable to their work in general. These short interactions have been transformative and stimulating for everyone, especially freshmen at the beginning of the fall semester, because it is a quick, fun, and easy-going way to learn about those around them. All these different ways to interact and engage with one another creatively and constructively in conversations have been so helpful in boosting the curiosity level of students in general and creating a sense of comradery within the office. It has helped prepare freshmen and sophomores to get the most out of their academic experience by giving them the support they need to integrate into this new environment. Many students expressed that it can be a big step for them to take because some of them grew up and went to school in either small or rural communities so, coming to such a large campus can be a daunting experience.

Engaging Students in New Learning

In most cases, students will work in teams with other undergraduates of different academic levels, ranging from freshman to senior. Students have adapted relatively well to working with one another in any situation. Again, my objective as supervisor and mentor is to encourage those mutual exchanges. For example, as students work on a large collection, there is a need to apply standards and guidelines for developing metadata to describe content. To that effect, an older student will act as a mentor (peer support) occasionally, helping a freshman, sophomore, or another new hire. These moments are always an excellent opportunity to embrace teamwork allowing the students to bond and learn together.


Students will bring a mixture of both hard and soft skill experience levels to their first time working at the library. Despite these varying skill levels, the librarian knows that each student brings unique qualities to the job; every student is provided necessary training on hard skills and guidance to be an effective team member. Just as essential, if not more so, are the soft skills that will be taught. Above all, the librarian is there to create a positive work environment where respect, trust, and a good attitude are major ingredients to learning and communicating, where team members feel united. And this has made a world of difference for the team.


As a rule of thumb, I encourage freshmen (or sophomores) to adapt to their new environment, make relationships, and develop a keen attitude to learning and be inquisitive at a different pace. With that in mind, I have had students who struggled to integrate for various reasons, in which case a freshman could choose to transfer to a different department in the library. In the event a student has difficulties applying hard skills, for example, I give them more attention and guidance by responding positively and encouraging learning using other ways to tackle a task. For example, a freshman had difficulties working with Microsoft Excel. In that situation, I reassured the student that they could quickly learn the spreadsheet program with the support of the team. To that effect, I quickly noticed the solid teamwork mentality that came into play to help the freshman overcome the difficulties learning spreadsheets.


There are also scenarios in which students are particularly interested in doing more than conventional work. In cases like this, they have taken the initiative to learn more about other techniques that improved workflow and benefited the entire team. An example of this occurred in 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when all the students were sent home for the rest of the academic year. Evalynn, who was a freshman at the time, volunteered to work remotely. To do this, she had to switch projects, which required her to learn how to properly transcribe handwritten cursive research notes based on library guidelines. She ended up loving that type of work, which required some degree of research and composition and has even volunteered to continue the work on other occasions.


The team of students is currently working on an extensive collection of photographs depicting the history of the university. Initially, the data files needed cleansing and organizing—the archives have the technology to maximize that work— before the team of students could start developing the metadata to make the collection available online. To do this, I assigned a freshman to the task. The freshman had already expressed interest in data-related work at the beginning of the fall semester. With the student-librarian relationship established to some degree, it was an opportunity for the librarian to empower the freshman. The student embraced the challenge, trained on using OpenRefine, and rapidly demonstrated efficiency in using it. The student appreciated the learning experience because it aligned well with their educational goals.


This experience was an opportunity to create a more cohesive team where students would need to be more communicative among themselves. Once the data are cleaned and organized, other students take the data files and develop the metadata for access purposes. In this scenario, I wanted to incentivize students’ learning and curiosity articulated around communication and collaboration. My intention was to help and support students in their collaborative efforts by providing them all necessary feedback, helping them gauge their work, and showing that their work as undergraduates is genuinely appreciated. Similarly, the library (including the archives) has been very fortunate to have freshmen (including first-generation) and sophomores who have exhibited a high intellectual curiosity. For example, Evalynn fully delved into transcribing handwritten notes from the acclaimed American historian and scholar from Oklahoma, Angie Debo, who wrote several books and hundreds of articles about Native American and Oklahoma history. She was very enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn more about the author. With all this great work and commitment from freshmen and sophomores, the library has shown how it can inspire students, helping them meet their expectations and satisfy their intellectual curiosity. To that effect, students were able to work with their own strengths, and without any doubt, they fulfilled their own interest and elicited natural curiosity.


Students have not just acquired new knowledge; they have expanded their arsenal of hard and soft skills. As a result, most of them demonstrate better judgment in approaching their work and develop a sharper curiosity to their new environment. Engaging in new learning and being exposed to a rich and inspiring environment, such as the library (including the archives) can be a challenge. To that effect, the library has created that comfort zone, where learning, making friends, having fun and a sense of humor, as well as defining and expanding one’s worldview are all possible.


Strategically located on campus, the Edmon Low library is always a point of destination on campus tours. For students, the library, which is open seven days a week (five of those being twenty-four hours a day) plays a huge role in ensuring success in their social and academic experience at Oklahoma State University. In addition to offering a multitude of study spaces and academic and technological resources to the student population at large, the library provides opportunities for mentorship and guidance of first- and second-year students (including work to a broader group of students).


As one of the largest employers at Oklahoma State University, the library offers work opportunities in various departments where students can get hands-on experience, interact with professionals, and cultivate intellectual curiosity. The OSU Library First Generation College Student Employment-Mentor Experience program is one example that illustrates the institution’s commitment towards students’ success and retention. Sophomores who have been through the program can also serve as peer-mentors to first-generation freshman mentees to help them integrate more easily in their new cultural and social environments at the university and in surrounding areas. Above all, the library (including Human Resources) plays a vital role in providing strategies, support, and guidance for student-librarian mentorship to grow and be a transformative experience for students in their learning and savviness for new knowledge at the beginning of their undergraduate years to last a lifetime.


Edmon Low Library. First Generation and Peer Mentors. Retrieved August 22, 2022, from https://jobs.library.okstate.edu/library-jobs/first-generation-student-employment/mentor-experience 

About the Authors

Patrice-Andre “Max” Prud’homme, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Director of Digital Curation at the Oklahoma State University Library. He provides leadership and management in the areas of digital curation, preservation, and discovery of digital resources. He manages the processing of digital materials and their associated metadata, and advocates for ways to develop user-friendly solutions to increase the visibility of digital archival materials that can meet evolving needs of students, faculty, and the community.
Max can be reached at pprudho@okstate.edu

Evalynn Vierheller is a senior at Oklahoma State University (OSU) pursuing an honors degree in psychology as well as minors in counseling, sociology, and philosophy. She has been at the OSU Library since 2019, working as a student assistant in Digital Archives, as well as a peer mentor and library ambassador. She is responsible for supporting the stewardship of archival materials held at the OSU Library through either digitization, transcription, and creating metadata. She also plays a key role in mentoring first-generation undergraduate student library employees and promoting the library and its features to prospective students through her other positions.

Evalynn can be reached at evalynn.vierheller@okstate.edu


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Intellectual Curiosity and the Role of Libraries Copyright © by Patrice-Andre "Max" Prud'homme and Evalynn Vierheller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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