13 The Library as a Bridge

Working with Faculty and Student Life to Build a First-Year Seminar

Amanda Boyer

“Students may never remember everything we teach them, but I knew the one-shots would be so much more enjoyable for the students (and for the librarians) if the students were more engaged.”


Susquehanna University is a small, liberal arts college in rural, central Pennsylvania. Currently, we welcome about 580-620 first-year students each year. In 2021, the faculty voted to replace the current first-year college introductory course, Perspectives, with First-Year Seminar, the standard accepted by most other undergraduate institutions. In fall of 2021, I became the university’s initial First-Year Experience Librarian. I collaborated with the Faculty First-Year Seminar Coordinator as well as the Senior Director of Leadership and Engagement in Student Life to help ensure the library and information literacy would be an integral part of the newly required First-Year Seminar. In this chapter, I detail my first year serving in this role and how I made library instruction sessions as well as our annual Library Open House required for all first-year students at Susquehanna University.

The Problem with Perspectives

I began my role as the First-Year Experience Librarian shortly after my university had voted to adopt a first-year seminar. Prior to adopting a first-year seminar, all students were required to take a course called Perspectives. This was a two-credit course that typically only met once a week for 50 minutes. The course was mostly grouped by major and served as an introduction to college. The problem with the course was that it varied significantly in rigidity between each section. Some sections were taught by tenured professors, others by adjuncts, and still others by staff members, like athletic coaches. This resulted in some students having little or no homework for their class while others were writing full research papers and doing presentations. There were also several required events for first-year students through Student Life that were not officially associated with the course. Therefore, how their “required” attendance was being enforced was a bit loose. There did not seem to be any clear consequences if students did not attend these unless their specific Perspectives professor chose to take attendance at the event. Again, students’ experiences varied depending on their professor.


As an alumna of Susquehanna, I took Perspectives as a student here. Since I was in the Secondary Education Program, I took the course with other Education majors with a tenured Education professor as our instructor. I don’t recall many of the assignments for the class, though I believe we each did a presentation to introduce ourselves. The course consisted mostly of various campus offices visiting our class to give presentations on their services. We also had lessons on several important skills to help us succeed in college. For example, I recall one lesson on critical thinking and another on meditation. While these skills were useful, the guidelines and requirements for those teaching the course were not specific enough to ensure all first-year students were leaving their Perspectives course with the same foundational skills. The Central Curriculum (our version of required General Education courses) Handbook stated that one of the learning goals of the course must be to “Develop and practice intellectual skills that are required for college success, such as critical thinking and reading, developing an argument expressed orally or in writing, and others” (Committee on the Central Curriculum, Jan. 2022, p. 22). The wording of this learning goal proved problematic as it did not specify which skills were required for all first-year students in this course to develop. The list read as examples or suggestions; therefore, leaving it up to the faculty teaching the course to individually decide what skills they thought were essential for their students.


This discrepancy between the various sections of Perspectives is what pushed the university to want to adopt the First-Year Seminar. Anyone working in first-year experience knows most higher educational institutions already have this program in place as it is considered a high impact practice. The National Resource Center for the First Year Experience out of the University of South Carolina has been pushing these programs for decades now, and they describe the course as, “the impetus for an international movement to improve the educational experiences of first-year college students” (National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience, 2022). It is surprising for a university not to have one already in place.

The Information Literacy Disconnect

No matter the reason why it took Susquehanna so long to adopt this course, the timing of their implementation created an exciting time for me to begin my role as the First-Year Experience Librarian. Not only was the first-year seminar new to Susquehanna, but so was the position of a First-Year Experience Librarian. Prior to 2021, there was not a position dedicated solely to first-year students in the library. The librarians would work together to help cover one-shot instruction sessions for all the first-year courses, which included Perspectives as well as Writing and Thinking, Susquehanna University’s basic English class. While many Perspectives instructors brought their class to the library, not all of them did as they were not required to do so. Again, there was nothing in the Central Curriculum Handbook that specified information literacy had to be taught as one of the required intellectual skills for college success. In fact, it was not even listed among the example skills in the handbook. Still, since there was not one librarian dedicated to ensuring first-year students received this instruction, it was hard for the library to put too much effort into supporting these courses. By this, I mean that there was a standard one-shot lesson plan created for all Perspectives classes and one for all Writing and Thinking classes. There was no room or time for adjusting the one-shots to better align with the differing assignments (or lack thereof) that students were doing in the individual sections of the courses.


That is not to say our first-year students were getting mediocre library instruction. The one-shots were all built using the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy, and the lessons were well-thought out to meet the needs of first-year students. Some of the skills being taught included how to select an appropriate database for their research, how to cite their sources, and how to determine if a source was reliable. As I began my new role the week of move-in and during the last semester of the Perspectives course, it was not yet time to change things. My goal for my first semester became to observe as much as I could about the current state of the first-year library instruction sessions. To do this, I gathered qualitative and quantitative data. In addition to my personal observations, our library uses the ACRL Project Outcome survey tool to survey our students, so I was able to look through our survey results for insights as well. Unfortunately, the survey results are only as good as the percentage of the student population surveyed, and with so many of us starting new roles at the busiest time of year, we often forgot to have students fill out the survey.


While I did not have survey data for each of the classes I co-taught, I still could rely on my qualitative data from these sessions. Since I did not have to worry about what I was teaching my first semester, I was able to focus more on observing how engaged the students were with the lessons. I happened to be hired around the same time as two other librarians in addition to our cataloger getting promoted to librarian. For all four of us, it was our first librarian role with an instruction component, and so, we almost exclusively co-taught all the instruction sessions that semester. As I was not leading each activity, I was able to study the students when the other librarian was presenting.


I noticed a large disconnect between the skills we were teaching and the skills the students needed for their courses. This disconnect grew largely from the fact that while we were teaching foundational research skills that we knew our students would need throughout their time at Susquehanna, they did not immediately need these skills for their Perspectives class. As many of us know, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” Again, this pointed to an issue with the Perspectives course itself rather than major issues with the library curriculum. Since most professors did not require the students to do a research assignment, the students did not understand why they needed to know about using library resources. While we used engaging tools, like Mentimeter and Padlet, to get the students interested, nothing we did could resolve their lack of immediate need for the skills we were teaching.


As we approached midterms, I noticed a vast number of first-year students on our live chat and visiting us at the library for reference help. It seemed they did not retain what we had taught in the one-shots. However, there was this sense of urgency. The midterm assignments for their other classes were setting off light bulbs in their heads, and they were realizing why we taught them about research in Perspectives. From this, I knew the library instruction needed to be tied to what the students were doing in class for them to see the value in the skills. To me, the best way to do this would be to link our library sessions to a required research assignment for Perspectives, and now First-Year Seminar. Not only would this keep the students engaged for the lesson (“I need to pay attention because I need this to do my homework”), but I also hoped the immediacy of the assignment would help give them more practice using the research skills. Without the assignment, they were more likely to forget these skills by midterms or finals. Students may never remember everything we teach them, but I knew the one-shots would be so much more enjoyable for the students (and for the librarians) if the students were more engaged. Plus, First-Year Seminar courses traditionally have fun themes (For example, our Dungeons and Dragons themed course) to help get students excited about learning and exploring their own interests in college. Most high school research is confined to very specific parameters set by the teacher, whereas college is all about researching what the student is curious and passionate about. If First-Year Seminar gave students the opportunity to research what was interesting to them, then they would in turn be more interested in the research skills we had to teach them.

The New and Improved First-Year Seminar

One of the problems with the Perspectives course lay in how the learning goals were written. Since they were not specific enough, it left faculty with too much freedom to determine what academic and social skills the course was teaching first-year students. The learning goals for the First-Year Seminar course were much more specific, and there were clear required elements faculty had to list in their syllabi for their course to get approved as a First-Year Seminar course. As First-Year Seminar is a part of the university’s central curriculum, anyone wanting to teach the course must get their syllabi and course approved by the Central Curriculum Committee before the Registrar would list the course. Among the new learning goals was to “Develop foundational intellectual skills through the course topic” (Central Curriculum Committee, Jul. 2022, p. 22). To ensure students gained these skills in the course, faculty were required to provide instruction on these foundational intellectual skills as well as dedicate a quarter of the students’ final grades to assignments directly linked to these skills. Although this is more rigid than the guidelines for the Perspectives course, it still does not clearly define the exact skills each first-year student should be gaining in this course. The remedy for this came from our First-Year Seminar Coordinator.

Collaborating with Faculty on First-Year Seminar

In order to oversee a smooth implementation of the First-Year Seminar course, our Provost selected a faculty member to be the First-Year Seminar Coordinator. This person was tasked to “Develop, maintain, oversee, and innovate the First-Year Seminar, an area of our Central Curriculum and an integral component of students’ first-year experience” (Ramsaran, 2021, p. 1). Some of the specific duties included ensuring each section of the course would meet the learning goals of the First-Year Seminar, and another responsibility was to better integrate the Student Life Co-Curriculum for first-year students into the First-Year Seminar course. The Central Curriculum Committee had already approved learning goals for First-Year Seminar that replaced the learning goals of the Perspectives course. The combination of the new learning goals and the faculty coordinator to oversee the course would already greatly improve the experiences of all first-year students when they took this course.


To clear up what foundational intellectual skills the course should teach, the First-Year Seminar Coordinator created a sample syllabus with further details on all these skills for faculty to follow. In this syllabus, the following skills were listed: “critical reading, notetaking, and class participation; information literacy and use of research/library resources; effective written communication; unstructured oral communication; structured oral communication; and effective teamwork” (Duperon, 2022, p. 3). While the coordinator left the weights and percentages for each of these skills up to the individual professors, he did re-iterate that all together they had to account for 25% of the students’ grade, and his suggestion for information literacy specifically was 15% of the final grade. He also had a note in the syllabus for faculty that they should expect to work with the First-Year Experience Librarian to help their students meet the information literacy goal. Already, things were working in my favor.


Prior to the faculty coordinator creating this sample syllabus for the faculty to follow, I reached out to him to offer my assistance as the First-Year Experience Librarian. He asked me if I could conduct a literature search for him. He was looking for “research on best practices in FYSEM courses, building belonging, academic skills, etc.” (Duperon, 2021). In total, I pulled one hundred resources on these various topics, and as a librarian, I made sure to include resources on information literacy for first-year students in the final list of sources I sent to the faculty coordinator. As I was new to my role, I had already been doing a lot of research for my own professional development purposes on information literacy for first-year students. Therefore, I was easily able to pull some of those same great resources for the faculty coordinator. In addition to articles on these subjects, I included a few books as well. The most important of these was The National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience’s five-volume book series on implementing a First-Year Seminar. I believe the research support and sources I provided to this faculty member helped ensure information literacy became a required part of the university’s First-Year Seminar course. It also helped that the faculty member who was selected for the coordinator role was already a big supporter of the library.


This collaboration continued after the spring semester, when the coordinator held a day-long training for all faculty who had agreed to teach the university’s first round of First-Year Seminar courses. Some of these faculty had already worked to create their syllabi and get their course approved by the Central Curriculum Committee, while others were still revising theirs. Overall, the faculty seemed nervous about creating completely new courses in time for the fall semester, since when the university decided to implement the program, they voted to make it effective as of fall 2022. As our faculty coordinator was not selected until the very end of November and the sample syllabus for the course not approved until March, this left faculty with very little time to design these courses, get them approved, and prepare to teach them. To help make this process easier, the day-long workshop was held. I was invited by the faculty coordinator to lead a session during the workshop on the information literacy requirement and how the library would help support faculty in this goal.


I was honored to not only lead a session on how I could support the information literacy part of the First-Year Seminar, but I was happy to be invited to attend the entire workshop. This helped give me a deeper insight into the rest of the first-year seminar course as well as spend the day connecting with faculty on their individual courses. At this workshop, I presented to faculty my plan for library instruction for all the required first-year courses. I had taken the spring semester to focus on improving and building a curriculum for the library to use for first-year students. I wanted to build a curriculum that met learning goals from all six categories of the ACRL Framework in addition to allowing for customization of each lesson based off the students’ assignments. One thing I had learned from students in my first semester was that many of them felt that the content they got from their library sessions was repetitive. As in they often felt like they were getting some of the same instruction from their Perspectives’ visit as their Writing and Thinking visit. While the standard one-shots for each of these classes was different, with many of the Writing and Thinking classes, we had made changes based off professor requests. This sometimes led to students getting a similar lesson with the Writing and Thinking class that they had received with their Perspectives class.


To prevent any overlap between the courses, I designated which parts of the ACRL Framework aligned best with both First-Year Seminar and Writing & Thinking. This way I could then re-direct faculty who wanted their students to gain instruction they might already be getting with another course. For example, some of the First-Year Seminar professors asked if I would be covering citations in the library sessions for First-Year Seminar, but I found the “Information Has Value” concept aligned more with the learning goals of the Writing and Thinking course. I was able to tell faculty in these cases that students would get these other skills when they came to the library with other classes. During the workshop, I was able to introduce First-Year Seminar faculty to my plans for the first-year courses, and I was able to show them how the library sessions for First-Year Seminar and Writing and Thinking would complement each other as they both had learning outcomes from different parts of the ACRL Framework. I was able to teach the faculty about the framework, and then, I explained to them how the concepts I identified for First-Year Seminar library visits aligned with the learning goals for the course.


Within the sample syllabus, the faculty coordinator specified the information literacy skills learned in First-Year Seminar should be different than those taught in Writing and Thinking.


He emphasized that in this course information literacy instruction and assignments should focus on teaching students “to discern quality sources of information to inform self-directed inquiry” (Duperon, 2022, p. 2). To me, this best aligned with ACRL’s “Research as Inquiry,” “Authority is Constructed and Contextual,” and “Searching as a Strategic Exploration.” During my workshop with the faculty, I tried to emphasize that First-Year Seminar should just be about warming students up to the idea that college is about researching what they are curious about—not what the professor wants them to research. One of the biggest struggles I notice in first-year students is when their professor tells them to pick a research topic. They are so used to getting super specific prompts in high school that they have no idea how to create a research topic on their own. Hence, why I wanted the chance in their First-Year Seminar session to help them get used to just exploring their curiosities.


I told the faculty that when students came to the library with their First-Year Seminar class, I would be focusing on teaching them how to tell if a source is reliable, how to formulate keywords for their research topic, and how to select an appropriate database for their research. I also explained how the required information literacy assignment they were to come up with would help the students feel more engaged when they came to the library, and I told them how I planned to tailor the activities to their assignment. The activities would ensure the students met the information literacy learning goals I had identified, but it would also allow them to work on researching for their specific assignment. The workshop was a huge success for me, and I was able to successfully schedule a library session for each section First-Year Seminar.

Collaborating with Student Life on a Co-Curriculum

The new First-Year Seminar course was also supposed to make certain Student Life sponsored events required for first-year students. In my role as the First-Year Experience Librarian, I have regular check-ins with the Senior Director for Leadership and Engagement. She stressed that this co-curriculum was important to helping establish that sense of belonging first-year students need. The intention of the program was for Student Life to identify learning goals for these events, and then, for other offices on campus to help Student Life host events that would meet these goals.


Every fall the library hosts an Annual Open House. This event is open to all students but is designed to help first-year students learn and get excited about the library. As the First-Year Experience Librarian, I was put in-charge of this event. I wanted to better integrate this event with First-Year Seminar and Student Life, so that more students would attend the event. My hope was that if most first-year students came to the open house, then anything we taught during that event could be left out of the one-shot instruction sessions. This would then leave more time during these sessions for activities to support the learning goals and for students to have time to find sources on their topic.


Student Life built a set of learning goals they wanted first-year students to achieve by attending certain events throughout their first semester at Susquehanna. The Senior Director of Leadership and Engagement worked with the faculty First-Year Seminar Coordinator to make it required that all first-year students had to attend at least seven out of ten events, which were called “FYEssentials.” Within the sample syllabus, first-year seminar faculty were told that no less than 10% of the final grades for first-year seminar must be based on whether the student attended the required number of FYEssentials events. This meant that any campus event that counted as an FYEssential event was sure to get a large number of first-year students in attendance. Thanks to my great partnership with the Senior Director of Leadership and Engagement, before the applications opened for this series of events, she ensured that the Library Open House would be included in the FYEssentials events. I still did the leg work of filling out the application and aligning our event with some of the Student Life learning goals. I felt our event mostly aligned with their leadership category of goals as these focused on making informed decisions and communicating effectively. One cannot communicate and make informed decisions in the age of information without knowing how to use one’s library. My application was immediately approved, and our Library Open House was used as an example for anyone else wanting to submit an application. While not all first-year students have to attend the Library Open House, it is likely that many will choose to do so, since it counts as an FYEssential event, for which they are required to attend seven.


As the fall 2022 semester progresses, it remains to be seen how all these changes will affect library use among our first-year students. I am hopeful that all my work to collaborate with the faculty and with Student Life will lead to 1) stronger foundational research skills, 2) increased use of library resources, and 3) more confidence in students to ask for help from a librarian. In order to measure the outcomes of these changes, I plan to study the results of our Project Outcome surveys as well as the results of the exit survey we use for our Open House event. I also plan to reach out to all faculty who taught First-Year Seminar to get a sense of how effective they thought the library sessions were on helping their students turnout quality research assignments. Overall, I am confident there must be at least some improvement from these changes.


Association for College and Research Libraries. (2016). Framework for information literacy for higher education.

Central Curriculum Committee. (2022 January). Central curriculum handbook.

Central Curriculum Committee. (2022 July).

Central curriculum handbook.Duperon, M. (2022). FYSE 101 template syllabus.

National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition, University of South Carolina. (2022, September 16). About us. National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition. https://sc.edu/about/offices_and_divisions/national_resource_center/about/index.php

Ramsaran, D. (2021). Position description for faculty first-year seminar coordinator.

About the Author

Amanda Boyer is the First-Year Experience Librarian at Susquehanna University where she has been working since Fall 2021. She earned her M.L.I.S. from Kent State University in 2020, and in addition to supporting first-year students, she has research interests in supporting international students, transfer students, first-gen students, commuter students, and neurodiverse students. Her passion projects at work currently include creating sensory-friendly study rooms, starting a free pantry for current students, and organizing a social justice book club. Besides working at the library, she is the faculty advisor for the Commuter Student Organization, and she collaborates with multiple offices and groups across campus to improve the student experience. She is an active member of the Pennsylvania Library Association in addition to ALA and ACRL. Her previous work has been published in the Journal of New Librarianship.

Amanda can be reached at boyeram@susqu.edu


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