“Is this the second floor?” A man asked the three LibRATs on shift. He stopped in front of the research help desk looking confused before one of them asked if he needed help. “Where can I find this,” he said, pointing to a piece of paper with something scribbled down. Megan Caird, a LibRAT of three years, quickly answered his question. 5 minutes later, another woman came up to the desk, phone in hand, looking for a specific room from the number she had on her phone. Again, Megan helped her in less than 10 seconds.
“A lot of what we do is answering general questions about where things are in the library,” said Samir Trehan, a 4th year LibRAT, also sitting at the desk. “Because we work in here and go through a bunch of training when we get hired, we all know the library really well,” he said.
But answering directional questions like that is not why Samir, Megan, and many other LibRATs applied to work at the research help desk in the first place. “I applied because I wanted to work in the library,” said Dakota Ransom. “I didn’t even know what LibRATs were and it wasn’t until I got the position that I realized exactly what my job would be. Now, I nerd-out when I give research sessions to freshmen.”
So what is a Cal Poly LibRAT?
LibRATs are Library Research Assistant Technicians that staff a majority of the hours at the Research Help Desk in the library. They are there to help anyone get the information they need in the library, or online. From finding databases to troubleshooting the library website, they are the one-stop resource for all things research. 2009 marked the beginning of what was basically a big experiment: the first LibRATs were outposted to residence halls as a resource for freshman struggling to get a handle on college. No one knew if the program would take off or completely fail, but nevertheless, the first LibRATs worked diligently to assist as many of their peers as possible.
Cal Poly soon realized that these student employees would be a much better resource if they were more accessible to all students, as it became evident that students from all classes and levels need research literacy. So, in 2011 the LibRATs were brought back to the library Research Help Desk. What began as an experiment 10 years ago has turned into a very successful, relevant and well-used resource on campus today.
What do LibRATs do, and how do we know it works?
When Dakota Ransom said that she “nerds-out” over research sessions she was referring to the instructional sessions hosted by the library aimed to educate students in lower-level GE classes in research literacy. After initially being unsure about how the program would go, LibRats now teach around half of all the research sessions.
You might find upperclassmen LibRATs helping someone with a research question at the desk like Megan and Samir were today, or contributing to training sessions for new LibRATs. “I haven’t had to do one yet,” Samir said, “but I know it is a great opportunity for me to pass on what I’ve learned in our extensive training.”
And here is the proof: last year, 15 LibRATs answered 1,844 questions coming from students, faculty, and community members within San Luis Obispo and even all over the United States. 730 of these were basic research questions, 427 were directional questions within the library, and 356 were tech support questions. On top of this, they taught almost half of all research sessions to freshman and transfer students. That’s a lot of peer-to-peer learning.
This trend of making students resources to one other has been proven to be effective and rewarding, and proof of that is how often the research help desk is used. Kennedy Library is dedicated to pushing its students to be the most fluent they can be, in science, math, engineering, liberal arts, history, and yes, even research. Come check out the LibRATs on the second floor of the library to see what they are all about.