Asking for help can be hard, especially when you’re not sure what kind of help you need.
It’s a problem that Anu Vedantham, director of learning and teaching services for the FAS Libraries, has seen countless students try to solve on their own. That’s why she decided to launch First-Year Librarians in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
“We meet with students every day, but we wait for them to ask us questions,” Vedantham said. “Often we hear in their junior year: ‘I wish I had known this service was available to me.’ The First-Year Librarian will be able to introduce them to services early in their time at Harvard.”
The program is being piloted with 17 librarians, each of whom will connect monthly with 10 first-year students.
“There are already lots of people here who care about you, but one of the things we want you to do is get to know them,” said Kerry Carwile Masteller, who works as a reference and digital-program librarian at Loeb Music Library.
Last week at Widener about half the cohort of participating students connected with their librarians. The meetings happened as President Larry Bacow, College Dean Rakesh Khurana, and Sarah E. Thomas, vice president for the Harvard Library, greeted students taking part in First-Year Retreat and Experience.
Thomas recalled that the library at her Western Massachusetts high school was largely made up of books donated by teachers. When she was hired by Harvard as a 21-year-old to file cards in the catalog in her role as a “searcher and filer,” its eight million titles were daunting.
Ayana Gray could relate. The first-year said she was excited by the chance to connect with a personal librarian because the library at her Montana high school consisted mostly of fiction.
“It was good for reading, but not information,” said Gray. “I feel like my librarian can open a huge gateway of resources to me. Otherwise, I’d be so overwhelmed.”
Reed Lowrie, manager of reference and information services in FAS Libraries, said he hopes the program plays a community-building role.
“Most of my interactions with students are transactional, and that’s it,” he said. “I’m hoping this will give an opportunity to have more in-depth relationships. I’m also curious to know how students think about research and information. Our profession has completely changed. Students used to have to use the library; now they can use Google, or use the library but never step inside. Making more of a connection is definitely part of the appeal.”
At Widener, librarians met with first-years, watching as the students opened books given to them by a faculty member or alumnus. Among the titles: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Americanah,” Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” and Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.”
Gene Nartey, a first-year from Leominster, Mass., received E.E. Cummings’ “The Enormous Room” with a note from Virginie Greene, a French professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures:
“The poet E.E. spent three months in a French prisoner camp in 1917 because he expressed anti-war opinions in letters to friends. He wrote an account of his experience in prose, and that was his first published book. This is not the greatest book I have read, but a pretty curious and intriguing one.”
Matthew Ciurleo, who received Charles C. Mann’s “1491” from Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of History Daniel Smail, is from Commack, N.Y., where he said the public library was closed for renovations three of his four years of high school.
“I ended up using the National Archives website a lot,” he said. “I’m very interested in history and nonfiction, so I’m looking forward to having helping hands.”