Reinventing the Academic Library: Concierge Librarians

[The following program proposal is part of an ongoing series on Reinventing the Academic Library. It is intended as an example of the kinds of things librarians supporting a research-intensive university can do.]


Librarians Provide Personal Service to Improve Freshmen Retention

Upon acceptance each freshmen is assigned their own concierge librarian. Within their first weeks on campus, a student meets with his or her librarian to review how students can use the university’s resources and systems (in and beyond the library) to succeed. They review course syllabi and development approaches to excel.

The librarian walks students through the often arcane mix of bursars and registrars and course management; cutting through the complexity of the university.

Further Talking Points

Librarians and library staff can help retain students, and bridge academic gaps in students moving from high school to college. Where most freshmen retention initiatives are school or departmental based, the library can reach across the entire university. Imagine a class on “Hacking the University.” Students work in small teams or one-on-one with librarians to understand ALL the information systems they are likely to encounter – from bursar to enrollment to dining. Not only can librarians prepare incoming students for the onslaught of web sites they face, but they can provide computing services with direct feedback to improve the student experience.

By building an early relationship with students outside of classes, librarians can become trusted sources of information. Librarians can also work to help diagnose learning issues and coordinate with tutoring services in the learning commons.

Once this relationship has been built, librarians become dependable resources for students in their everyday work. This allows librarians to introduce students to norms and advances in scholarly communications. Rather than a class on peer-review, or how Wikipedia is evil (it’s not), librarians can teach students about reliability and searching strategies (including when Wikipedia makes sense, and when what at first appears to be peer-review isn’t always a gold standard).

9 Replies to “Reinventing the Academic Library: Concierge Librarians”

  1. Hmm, not sure I know anything about the Dinning program, let alone some of the other systems on college like enrollment. How about walking them through Library Resources… like a librarian! Let the academic advisers and Student Life coaches handle the other aspects. Also, along with the cognitive overload of newbies to campus and college, save the library instruction for later (closer to when they need it). Otherwise, for many it just becomes noise.

    1. The question becomes when they need to use library resources how will they 1. Know that what they need are library resources, and 2. Know you as Someone they can trust and has already proven helpful in the past? If we continue to isolate ourselves in the library and somehow believe that those outside the library (students, faculty, administration) can discern which resource or system belongs to whom we will be more and more isolated and worse, more and more distant from the every day lives and students. After all, we are there to meet the knowledge needs of students right?

  2. Most of the librarians that I know are doing this kind of teaching. And many schools have personal librarian programs. As a director, I don’t want my librarians doing much of the work you describe here, because there are people on campus doing it. I’m not sure much of what you say here is new and the parts that are don’t seem well thought out, at least in my experience at my last four colleges.

    1. I appreciate your experience and comments. You are absolutely right this is not a new idea. It is one that I think folks should consider. For example I don’t see librarians replacing IT help desks, or any help desk. It is more of giving incoming freshmen an integrated view of the systems they’ll be encountering, and in so doing start seeing librarians as sources of help.

      What ways do you introduce librarians to new students and start those relationships? Also, do you feel that librarians should be part of freshmen retention and if so in what ways?

  3. Dave,

    I’m really struggling to see how this description doesn’t demonstrate exactly what you warn against:

    “The other problem is the collocation of services without a radically different service model leads to a diffuse definition of what a library is. We can lose the support of our communities as they struggle to figure out our unique value. Worse still, by adopting new services and offerings based solely on the demands of a community, we can easily fall into a “customer perspective” where we scramble to meet the desires of a community regardless of how they align with core values such as openness, privacy, intellectual freedom, and such. Libraries go from safe, principled spaces of learning to simple gateways to subsidized services…easily disrupted, and easily replaced or discarded.”


    “We are again facing the greedy librarian problem, but now it is in the form of a librarian as social worker, a librarian as maker, a librarian as business expert. If it is offered under the egis of the library, than a librarian must master the content first, then offer the program. This is bad. Bad not in that librarians can become experts in things other than librarianship, but bad in that they may feel that librarianship is expertise in all other areas.”


    Looking forward to your thoughts!
    Lisa Hinchliffe

    1. Sure, use my words against me 🙂 This is a great question, and a great caution. I see the answer more as a matter of degree than principle. In my opinion I wouldn’t see librarians becoming the university help desks for all the systems, more like a pathfinder for what systems they are going to encounter, and how to get help. In essence the concierge librarian acts as a bridge, weaving together the support systems for the individual systems. So this is what a bursar does, and this is who to go to for help. In much the ways that librarians link students and faculty to resources without being THE expert in that area, we can provide a context for the student.

      Your question also raises another opportunity I would add to this mini-proposal. Librarians gathering folks responsible for these information systems together and linking them. Just as we help faculty develop courses, or at least assist in the assignment delivery, we can help network these systems working with IT, and the registrar and so on.

      My main point is that librarians need to become trusted resources for information seeking writ large early in a new students academic life. VERY interested in other ideas to achieve this.

      Also, if I have given folks a shove down a slippery slope, I appreciate that feedback as well.

  4. It is true that many libraries have experimented around this idea, e.g., personal librarians, class librarians, but I think some of the comments here miss the bigger possibilities (in part because the vision Dave presents is somewhat limited and not as grounded as it could be in specific examples). For example, I have been involved on 2 campuses where the library was an integral part in planning providing a range of information services to students, in conjunction with IT, Student Affairs, and other providers of information and assistance to students. This is not teaching, per se, nor is it seeking to replace another campus service, but is founded, rather, in the idea of librarians bringing their expertise in the design, delivery, and assessment of information services designed to meet student needs to a broader campus audience. That, I think, is a very worthwhile path to pursue in the future, but it is very different than the idea of the personal librarian.

    Likewise, this would be a different way of looking at librarian involvement in first-year programs, transfer programs, or other academic support services aimed at higher-need student populations – in each case allowing the library to contribute more clearly and strategically to campus-level concerns about retention, academic success, and persistence to graduation.

    In no case would I ever use the phrase “concierge,” mind you, and I agree with others that the post would be stronger if it included a look at existing programs that might serve as exemplars of the sort of work Dave proposes may be important for our future (I have called these “lighthouse” services in the past). I also think that the fact that there do exist some exemplars currently does not mean that it isn’t important to clearly identify those programs as doing something central and essential to the future of library services as opposed to an “interesting add-on,” and that’s another idea I take from the post (and the earlier reminder that there are some things that we currently do that we may wish to choose to de-emphasize in order to allocate resources to “added” services that, while perhaps somewhat far afield from our traditional view of our work, may be essential to keeping the library at the heart of campus priorities).

  5. This is why I love formative ideas with smart people. I’m taking a few things away (so far):

    1. librarians focusing on tying together information services and systems within the organization
    2. focusing efforts on high-needs communities (transfers and folks who might miss university orientation activities, new students identified as having a difficult time with the high school to college gap).
    3. The term concierge service does have connotations of customer/provider divide that we are trying to break down in higher education.

    I’m still VERY interested in how we can become part of students information lives early and be seen as trusted sources.

  6. Lots of answers from practice, but here are some (focused on early days of campus engagement):

    1) Bridge Programs
    2) Orientation Programs (both aimed at students and at parents)
    3) “Class” Librarian Programs
    4) First-Year-Experience Programs
    5) General Education Programs (may or may not be FYE connected)
    6) Learning Communities (may or may not be FYE connected)
    7) Student Support Programs (Study Skills, Financial Fitness, Career Services) (also may be FYE connected) (may also now be connected with broader approaches to use of learner analytics)
    8) Residence Hall Education Programs
    9) Student Information Services, e.g., KU Info, DePaul Central (both of which have moved in and out of the library’s organizational orbit during their history)
    10) Course-Integrated ILI in “Entry” Courses in the Major (may be more common in professional schools)

    Some or all of these may be applicable to transfer students, but there is also another interesting tack that we have been working on and that is coordinating engagement with librarians at our major feeder schools (which, for DePaul, tends to be in-state community colleges); again, taken in conjunction with a broader university effort to improve the academic success of transfer students.

    Many of these approaches depend on instruction (in person or Web based), and many depend on engagement with faculty, but others look at other aspects of instruction that may be related to technology, to digital citizenship, or to other information skills that are part of complementary programs on campus but can benefit from library involvement. Others of these depend on information services and the librarian’s ability to facilitate referrals to campus resources and experts (something that we are uniquely well positioned to do). Others depend on a broader awareness of campus-level priorities and programs and engaging a wider array of stakeholders in finding creative ways in which the library can contribute.

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