By Pamela Martin
As the reference coordinator and undergraduate services librarian, I believe WSU’s reference assistants play a vital role in the WSU Libraries. The Reference Assistant Program is an investment in students; our goal is to empower these student employees to develop fundamental research and critical inquiry skills.
Reference assistants provide support to their fellow students in need of reference help, covering both the physical reference desk and online reference services via instant messaging. These positions require innate curiosity and intensive training, as students may answer anything from “Where is this book?” to ”How can I narrow down my topic?” or ”Can I trust this source?” Reference assistants usually require at least one semester of training to confidently staff reference desk or online chat shifts on their own, though we meet weekly to offer additional training or discuss new challenges as they arise every semester. Reference assistants, as part of the Research Services team, also collaborate with librarians on behind-the-scenes projects, such as collections tasks, data analysis organization, and library exhibit preparation.
Most importantly, reference assistants are approachable to students and reflect the student body. They understand both students’ research needs and their mindsets. As they learn more about the libraries’ offerings, reference assistants serve as unofficial library ambassadors in their courses, not only using library resources more effectively in their own class projects, but also pointing out helpful library services to their peers and even to professors. Crisa Guyangco, a current reference assistant, says that fellow classmates often ask her for help when they discover she works at the library; she’s usually able to introduce them to helpful library resources for their assignments and class projects.
Reference assistants also represent essential student voices in the Research Services Department. They often present our librarians with new student-centered viewpoints or opportunities that we may not have yet recognized. They help us test messaging on signage and library websites and brainstorm ideas for library exhibits and greater student support. Reference assistants offer their fellow students connection and understanding through reference work; they provide librarians with inspiration and possibilities.