CARL Conference: The LibRAT Program: The Power of Peer Reference and Instruction

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Brett Bodemer, General Education Instruction and Reference Coordinator, Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian
California Polytechnic State University

In the face of budget cuts, retirements, and diminished staffing, how can you expand and improve your reference and instruction services to students? Kennedy Library at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has managed to do exactly this by leveraging the dynamics of peer-to-peer learning. The LibRAT (Library Reference Assistance Technician) Program originally began as a Pilot to post undergraduates in residence halls to provide on-site research assistance.

However, they soon filled staffing needs at the Research Help Desk in Kennedy Library, and in spring of 2011 began leading instructional sessions for our Information Literacy Instruction Program aimed at lower division GE classes. As the online evaluations of their sessions proved comparable, and often superior, to librarian-led sessions, we soon expanded their teaching role. In fall of 2011, they provided more than 2/3 of nearly 60 sessions - and still beat the librarian scores. The Research Help Desk is now staffed by LibRATs and one half-time librarian, and in this academic year is on track to record more transactions than last year. This program should be replicable in other environments where budgets and staffing are in tight supply.

This session will examine the pedagogical theory behind the program, give a brief history of its local unfolding, and then provide the nuts and bolts of strategies for hiring, training, and assessing student-led instruction and student reference provision. It will also offer some speculation as to why such programs might be even more successful as "Discovery" tools become more prevalent.