Grad Student Voices

This week’s post is written by Mitch Fraas, newly-minted PhD in History.  Congratulations, Mitch!
Photo:  Duke Commencement, 1949.  Duke University Archives.

The end of the semester also marks the conclusion of the first year of the Duke Library’s Graduate and Professional Student Advisory Board (GPSAB). Inaugurated in October, GPSAB serves a function similar to the Library’s First Year Advisory Board and Undergraduate Student Advisory Board, providing a place for students and librarians to think together about the Library and how best it can meet student needs. This year’s GPSAB members included masters and doctoral students from nine different graduate departments including Economics, History, Art History, English, Literature, Classics, Chemistry, Music, and Slavic Studies. The board met once a month with a team of library staff to address a wide variety of agenda items proposed by the graduate student members.

As a graduate student in the history department and frequent user of library resources, I was excited to be a member of the board and be part of the conversation about the role of the library in the graduate student experience. Over the course of the year, students on the board brought a wide range of thoughts, questions, and suggestions to the table. Among these, we all seemed to feel strongly that new incoming graduate students needed to be introduced to the library and its resources from day one. I think all of us expressed a sense that we had only slowly over our time at Duke come to realize all that librarians and the library could bring to our research. As a result, members of GPSAB are now working to integrate library subject specialists and discipline specific library resources more directly into new student orientation at the departmental level. Likewise, several members of the board emphasized the need for more graduate student training and hands-on experience in areas of new digital scholarship. Duke is home to so many great digital projects and resources, many hosted within the library itself, that we felt the library could play more of a lead role in helping students find, use, and/or create these tools. To this end, the library staff on the board were incredibly supportive, soliciting our feedback on a new position in the library for digital projects as well as keeping us up to date on digital resources and acquisitions.

Through our monthly conversations with the library staff on the board, it became clear how much the library values and needs input from graduate students on their needs. This was a somewhat eye-opening experience for me thinking back to all the times I’d been frustrated by a missing book or wished something about the catalog interface had been different but hadn’t bothered to get in touch with librarians to let them know. I think those of us on the board are now spreading the word within our departments about the importance of active communication between students and librarians. It’s my sense and I think the sense of many on the board, that the library will be an ever more important role in graduate student research and academic life in the coming years as new information technologies and digital resources transform the landscape of universities and scholarship in increasingly profound ways.
It’s exciting to see the library take steps, like the creation of the GPSAB, towards including us in conversation and planning around what this transformation will look like. I’ll be graduating this year but I know I will hear more and more about the work of GPSAB in the future.

The Graduate and Professional Student Advisory Board is interested in hearing from prospective new members for the coming academic year 2011-12. Look for a call for member applications in the fall.