Supporting students

When I arrived at the Meyricke Library in June 2016, one of my jobs involved returning books to a small subsection of the Lower Library. This consisted at the time of one-and-a-half shelves of books on welfare topics from study skills to student life. I noticed that the collection was very small, and having recently been a student myself, I kept wondering where the resources were on issues my friends and I had faced during our time at university. What help was there for Jesus College students struggling with stress during Finals, or unsure of the next steps after exploring sexual relationships for the first time? I decided to expand and promote a Student Support collection for my trainee project, to reflect students’ ever-changing welfare needs.

I first spoke to college staff who deal with welfare issues, from the Chaplain to the College Nurse, asking what issues students generally come to them with, and whether they currently recommend any particular books or resources to students. I also consulted the Counselling Service’s list of suggested texts and asked on social media. This allowed me to compile a provisional list of books mentioned by several sources. I wanted to ensure that everything I purchased was approved by more than one person as an indicator of quality and usefulness.

When it came to purchasing, I was fortunate enough to be awarded a £500 grant by the Jesus College Development Fund for collection expansion and development. This was my entire budget, but my provisional booklist came to over £1000, so significant cutbacks had to be made. Deciding what to include and exclude threw up some very complicated ethical questions and I was effectively forced to ask myself who and what was worthy of inclusion, while wanting everyone to be able to access the collection and find resources useful to their personal needs. This taught me a lot about my own inherent biases and instinctive decisions on which purchases were more or less important. I believe that constantly reflecting on one’s own practice and beliefs is key to informed librarianship, especially in terms of collection development.

Student Support collection

The Student Support collection in the Lower Library (© Jesus College, Oxford)

Next, I had to work out how best to shelve the new collection. When I arrived, it was available to borrow on an honesty system, so students did not need to check books on sensitive subjects out and nobody could see what they were borrowing. I decided to keep this system as I wanted to protect students’ privacy and save them embarrassment, feeling that this outweighed the fact that some students were not returning books. I also kept the collection in its initial location, but moved the books on writing skills to the English Literature subsection on the first floor in order to create more space. I considered moving the entire collection to the upper floor of the Periodicals Room, a quiet space removed from the main reading rooms, but felt that as the space was so little used, it would be obvious why people were going there, breaching the privacy I was so keen to ensure.

When moving writing skills books, I had to reclassify them in accordance with their new location, and this led to me drawing up a new classification for the Student Support collection. The Meyricke Library uses its own classification system where letters of the alphabet represent different subjects, e.g. P for Politics. I therefore decided on SS for Student Support, and created 9 subcategories from SS1 to SS9. Whilst these did overlap with each other – SS5 was Mental Health and SS6 was Grief and Trauma, which obviously do play into each other – I felt that broader categories better reflected the nuances of different welfare issues and allowed for refinement in future, as student support is a constantly changing field.

I then had to promote the collection, as it was underused and little known about in college. I spoke to both JCR and MCR Welfare reps and spoke on the collection at a Staff Liaison Committee meeting, encouraging staff to mention it to students needing support. The incoming MCR Welfare Officer has already donated books from his personal collection and is looking into getting a block grant for further collection development. I also updated the signage around the collection.

I have subsequently seen the collection in use, as books have been left on the returns trolley, so I feel it has been successful. I would encourage any college library to create their own Student Support collection by taking a balanced approach and examining their own beliefs on students’ needs compared to the feedback they receive from students themselves.

Harry Wright (Graduate Library Trainee, 2016–17)

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