Library Research Scholars Program: Encouraging Undergraduate Research at SJSU
Published: August 26, 2022 by Andrew Chae
For many people, doing research can often seem like a daunting task. This is particularly true for undergraduate students who are in the early stages of learning the myriad skills necessary to carry out a research project. In addition to being unsure of how to conduct research, students at this stage of their academic journeys may not be given any opportunities to do research on topics that truly interest them. This can lead many students to view research solely as an obstacle that they must overcome.
The Library Research Scholars Program (LRSP) at SJSU aims to provide a completely different research experience. In LRSP, three undergraduate students are selected to carry out a research project; the students choose their own topics and develop their own research questions. The students are each assigned to a librarian mentor who provides guidance and support. Each of the students are paid as student workers for the hours they put into their projects. This is made possible through the generous support of donors who believe in the mission of the library and the goals of LRSP. An LRSP cohort lasts for three semesters (previous cohorts were two semesters). Upon completion of their research projects, students are encouraged to enter their works into SJSU’s Student Research Competition. In addition, their projects are placed into SJSU’s online repository ScholarWorks.
A defining characteristic of LRSP is the amount and type of support given to the students. A core component of this is the regular group meetings which usually consist of just the three librarian mentors and three scholars. In some meetings there are guest speakers; in the current cohort, this has included other SJSU librarians and iSchool professors Lili Luo, Darra Hofman, and Deborah Hicks. During the group meetings, the librarian mentors or guest speakers cover important topics related to research. This includes research methods, plagiarism, qualitative coding, the information cycle, and more.
In addition to the regular group meetings, each student meets with their librarian mentor on a weekly basis. During these sessions, the students give updates on their projects and ask questions. The librarian mentors give guidance that goes beyond the information covered in the group meetings. In my case, the student I am mentoring is researching autobiographical graphic novels and how they are used to support individuals with marginalized identities. As a part of her project, she is hoping to interview authors. As such, we have gone through a book on how to conduct interview research. We have searched for different relevant autobiographical novels and authors to potentially contact. We have also analyzed a wide variety of scholarly literature related to her topic. The one-on-one setting makes it so that each of these things can be done in a way that would be difficult to achieve in a typical university classroom environment.
Serving as a mentor in LRSP has been a rewarding experience filled with a number of challenges. One of these was our initial task to select the three scholars. Prior to LRSP, I had never really considered the challenges that hiring committees or similar groups face. It was incredibly difficult to choose only three students out of more than sixty applicants. My two fellow librarian mentors and I reviewed their resumes and transcripts; we also looked at their responses to questions such as why they wanted to do the program and what their research interests were. A couple of the key factors we considered were the applicants’ potential for growth and how their personalities would mesh with ours. This allowed us to look beyond just their previous accomplishments and approach the selection process in a more holistic manner.
A second challenge, particularly for myself, has been seeing my current limitations with what I know about how to do research. When I was in the iSchool’s MLIS program, INFO 285 was certainly a valuable course. However, in being a mentor for LRSP, it became obvious to me that there was still much that I had not yet learned about. This included things like how to do interviews and the various ways to do qualitative coding. While I have had moments of self-doubt, I have come to realize that my gaps in knowledge are not a deficiency to dwell upon; rather, they represent an opportunity to learn. As such, I have reminded myself to embrace a growth mindset. Every moment I have to offer guidance and support in LRSP is an opportunity for me to learn more about research, and this can only strengthen my skills and abilities as a librarian.
LRSP represents an extraordinary opportunity for both students and librarians. At SJSU, the program is still young as there have only been a few cohorts since the program began in 2019. If you are in the iSchool and reading this blog, perhaps you too can embark on implementing a similar program in your future workplace. In doing so, you will be providing a rewarding experience for students that can further prove the value of librarians at your institution.