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Seven Years and Counting: Yale’s Personal Librarian Program

The Fall 2013 semester marked the seventh year of the Yale Library’s Personal Librarian Program for undergraduates. Based on a similar program at the Yale Medical School, the Personal Librarian Program matches every student entering Yale College with a research librarian.

The program is designed to help new students become comfortable using a large academic research library. Yale’s library system, comprehensive as it is, can be intimidating to freshmen, most of whom are experiencing a library of this size for the first time. “Our goal is to ensure that every student understands the riches of the library collections available to them,” explains University Librarian, Susan Gibbons, “and we recognize that such a vast exploration requires a knowledgeable guide from the start.” Each Personal Librarian acts as a research advisor, answering questions about library collections and services. As the semester progresses and research papers become due, Personal Librarians offer guidance on everything from the identification and use of primary sources, to the concept of peer review in scholarly journals, to the preparation of bibliographies.

By the end of their sophomore year, students will have learned the skills necessary to make effective use of Yale’s library collections, and by extension, to produce stronger work. Recognizing how important this service is, last spring Yale College’s Class of 1977 Class Council came forward and generously committed to providing ongoing financial support for the Personal Librarian Program.

Many other universities and colleges, including Duke and the University of Toronto, have adopted the Personal Librarian model. Earlier this year Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, introduced a Personal Librarian Program to its incoming first-year students, the first time the model has been adopted outside North America.