Introducing students to Cornell University Library’s wealth of resources for learning and research, librarians have been vital to the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) advising seminars program, which pairs students with faculty advisors in the college and connects them with campus resources essential to their well-being and academic success.
At the start of fall 2021, library staff reached a milestone by completing live, virtual sessions for an expanded 103 seminar sections with 10 or 11 students in each, totaling 1,081 first-year A&S students (not including biology majors who have a different advising structure), the largest cohort to date.
“We have a gigantic first-year class, and it’s an extraordinary amount of commitment and time for librarians to meet with our students in small groups,” said Ray Kim, A&S director of advising.
Kim added: “We’re a research university and the library is central to our students being able to conduct research.”
The library sessions are conducted by a team from Olin and Uris Libraries that’s spearheaded by Reanna Esmail, lead librarian for instruction who also oversees Olin Library’s information literacy program and serves as the library liaison to the Latina/o Studies Program and the Asian American Studies Program (A&S).
Esmail explained that the sessions are meant to make it easier for students to find their way through the library’s myriad offerings—from using the online catalog for browsing the library’s expansive collections, to learning about the different ways to get 24/7 research help from librarians.
She also added that librarians teach students the skills to identify reputable online sources of information, while making them aware of how algorithms determine what’s displayed and filtered out by internet search engines.
Making students feel at home and at ease is another important goal, Esmail emphasized.
“For some students coming to Cornell, this might be their first interaction with an academic library, and if they’re international students this might also be their first time using the American library system,” she said.
The sessions conducted by the library for the A&S advising seminars have proven to be effective in engaging students and making them feel connected to the library, according to Bonnie Comella, associate vice provost for undergraduate education and former A&S advising director who helped start the advising seminars as a pilot program in 2017.
“Seventy-six percent of students who responded to a survey in the fall of 2019 said that the library sessions made them feel more comfortable returning to the library to utilize the resources,” she said.
One student, for example, wrote in the survey: “I was introduced to some tools we can use for research projects. I also was made aware that the staff at the library are very excited to help any and all students with their research, which is quite comforting.”
“I felt as though I could walk in there and ask anyone for help without feeling embarrassed about it,” another student wrote.
Ray Kim, who was appointed director of A&S advising in January 2021, said that he looks forward to building on the success of the advising seminar program and learning from the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re always looking to improve, and it’s comforting to know that we can rely on the library to evolve with us,” he said. “The librarians are a wonderful community who love their work and love sharing their work with students.”
Jose Beduya is a writer for Cornell University Library.