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The LibRAT Program: Peer Reference and Basic IL Instruction

The LibRAT Program at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

The LibRAT Program at Cal Poly was first piloted in 2009-2010.  The LibRATs were stationed in Residence Halls to provide peer reference.  As they did not receive enough questions to justify this "outpost" effort, beginning in Winter 2010 they were brought back to Kennedy Library to staff the Research Help Desk.  In Spring 2011 they also began leading basic information literacy instruction sessions to lower division GE courses in English and Communications.

In fall 2011, LibRATs staffed the Research Help Desk 57 out of 67 hours per week, Local Chat reference 32 out of 52 hours per week, and led 40 out of 59 GE instruction sessions that reached over 1,200 students.

In fall 2012, LibRATS continued to staff the Desk and Chat, and led 72 out of 94 sessions that reached 2.968 students.

In fall 2013, Librats still staffed the Desk and Chat, and led 35 out of 82 sessions that reached 1,800 students.  The drop in sessions for this quarter reflected the fact that a dedicated room for instruction was unavailable due to technological enhancements, and so all outreach to promote the program ceased in August. 

In fall 2014, LibRATS continued on their stellar path, teaching 38 out of 89 sessions.  Perhaps most importantly, as a token of the succes of the program, a new librarian postion (Foundational Experiences Librarian) was created and filled, and this librarian now coordinates the teaching aspect of the LibRATs activities.  This librarian, Kaila Bussert, is designing new interactive modules and training to make their teaching even more versatile and effective.

If you want to see the ideas driving the original program, and evidence for its implementation and success, click on the link to the electronic preprint of a forthcoming article "They CAN and They Should: Undergraduates Providing Peer Reference & Instruction" in College & Research Libraries.  [Pre-print October 29]

A contributed paper for the ACRL 2013 conference, focusing on LibRAT instruction can be found here.

If the name fits, why not?

If you are contemplating a peer reference and/or instruction initiative in your library, and would like to use the LibRAT (Library Assistance Reference Technician) appellation for your students, the Cal Poly librarians, administrators, and LibRATs, far from having any objection, would welcome and encourage it.  If you have any questions about the LibRAT program, please contact Brett Bodemer - all info in the box to the right.

LibRAT Teaching

At the Desk





A student in the web design team at Kennedy Library, Sterling Rose, created the LibRAT image after discussions with several people involved with the project.   We used it for shirts, cups, bags, and promotional items.

We advertised heavily in the Residence halls with posters and electronic mentions in the Residence Hall weekly messages.

When we moved the LibRATs to the Research Help Desk, we received further help from the graphic design students at Kennedy Library, and included a QR code that would lead students to a link for help.  We also posted some versions INSIDE the library (up in the stacks) to direct students who might be in need of help.

We still include messages to the Residence Halls, and small flyers.  Our Basic Tips Handout that we provide in each GE session also has a QR code for the url that gives desk and chat hours and the box for chat.

Also, in instructional sessions the LibRATs mention the various ways to receive Research Help, including the Desk and Chat.

By Thanksgiving 2011 we had recorded 981 transactions, already representing a 29% increase over all of fall 2010.   Chat transactions were slightly higher  than the previous fall, even though we covered it 10 fewer hours per week.

LibRAT Icon

LibRATs At the Desk



Promo Samples

In 2009-10, our library advancement team solicited a generous donation to "Name a LibRAT" that funded one LibRAT for an entire year.

Below are some of our promotional flyers aimed at Residence Halls and other locations. 

From the Annual Publication

This interview was conducted by Karen Lauritsen, Communications and Public Programs Coordinator at Kennedy Library, and was printed along with the accompanying photo in the Kennedy Library Annual Publication, 2011-2012.

LibRAT Goes Librarian

RAT Goes Librarian

In last year’s annual publication you met Mary Stirchak (CLA, ‘11). She was a first generation LibRAT (Library Research Assistance Technician), an experience that had quite an influence in her life.

Accepted at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Mary is now pursuing her Master in Library and Information Studies (MLIS). In addition, Mary is the recipient of the Marjorie S. Mardellis Fellowship at UCLA.

We exchanged emails about her time at Kennedy Library and the time ahead:

How did you become a LibRAT?

I happened upon the LibRAT position by chance. I had been looking for a part-time job when I saw that Kennedy Library was hiring. I hadn’t really thought about working for the library until that moment, but it seemed like something I would really enjoy. I was lucky enough to get the job and I immediately fell in love with the position. It was so satisfying to be able to use a skill set that I had to help other people achieve what they needed to do.

After a while it dawned on me that I could potentially make this sort of thing my career. That’s when I started looking into the library science field and made the decision to pursue my MLIS.

In last year’s Annual Publication, you mentioned how you find reward in helping people.

My favorite part of helping people with their research was seeing them reach that “a-ha!” moment when everything suddenly clicks.

A lot of people don’t realize how many wonderful resources are available to them and sometimes it just takes another person to show them what’s out there. I love watching people realize that there is a way to find information about anything they want to know.

What are your career aspirations?

As of right now, my goal is to end up working for an academic library in some capacity. I absolutely loved the work environment at Kennedy Library and I think I would really enjoy working in a similar environment after I finish my MLIS. I don’t want to fully decide yet, though — I’ve heard of some really fascinating positions in the library science field that are a little off the beaten path, and I don’t want to limit myself to one area before I’ve explored all of my options.

How do you envision the library of your future?

I think that in the future the basic purpose of libraries will remain the same. They will always be places where people can access information, learn things and collaborate with other people. I feel like people will always need this kind of space in one form or another.

As technology evolves, libraries might focus less on the printed page and more on offering access to digital resources, but I know that libraries will always find ways to remain relevant.

This interview was conducted by Karen Lauritsen, Communications and Public Programs Coordinator, and was printed in the Kennedy Library Annual Publication, 2011-2012.

From the Kennedy Library Annual Publication

First Generation LibRAT on UCLA Campus

LibRAT Suzy Teaching

Reference/Teaching Synergy

Because the LibRATs offer instruction, they can also tout the services they provice at the Research Help Desk.  Handouts all include a QR code and information about reference services, and the evaluations offerd at the end of sessions ask students where they can find help.  Although it is impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of the nearly 30% rise in desk transactions in fall 2011, this bundling of instruction and reference with student providers seems strongly implicated.

LibRATs 2015-16

Meet the LibRATs 2014