September 21, 2018  

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University Libraries' Research Services Unit a Valuable Resource for Students, Faculty

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Tisha Zelner, left, associate professor of library science and head of Public Services for University Libraries at Southern Miss, assists Megan Childs, a senior biological sciences major, in searching for resoures she needs for a class research project (University Communications photo by David Tisdale).

From providing guidance for University of Southern Mississippi (USM) students working on class projects or papers, or helping faculty members identify resources to enhance their courses, a team of skilled and dedicated faculty and staff in the Research Services (RS) Unit of University Libraries’ Public Services Department is ready to assist.    

Tisha Zelner, associate professor of library science and head of Public Services for University Libraries, says the Research Services (RS) Unit in Public Services is a team of faculty, full-time staff, part-time staff, and student assistants providing research, instructional, outreach, and collection development services. The staff and student assistants provide basic reference and directional assistance to library users, and the faculty librarians provide more complex research assistance, teach classes and workshops, organize outreach programming, and contribute to collection development.

The Public Services Department encompasses all aspects of user services, including research assistance; information literacy instruction; outreach; interlibrary loan and document delivery; circulation; course reserves; stacks maintenance; and building use and security.

The most traditional function of the Research Services Unit, Zelner said, is what is commonly known as reference assistance. “This is the familiar scenario where a patron walks into the library and visits a service desk to receive assistance finding information in articles, books, or other resources,” she said. “This same service is also available by telephone, live chat, text message, or email, and is the most frequent form of interaction between Research Services and the university community.”

But a more personalized, and potentially more in-depth, version of reference assistance for USM students and faculty is available through Research Consultation. Students, faculty, and staff can schedule a one-on-one or small group appointment with a librarian using the consultation request form available at http://www.lib.usm.edu/services/forms/consultation.html. By sharing information about the assignment or project with the librarian in advance, the librarian has an opportunity to offer customized assistance designed to successfully address the task at hand.

“Because the librarian has an opportunity to conduct some preliminary research to prepare for the consultation, this type of interaction can be more beneficial than the walk-up service,” Zelner said. 

The other core function of the Research Services Unit is teaching. The research services librarians are available to provide guest lectures for any class taught at Southern Miss, whether it be face-to-face or online.

“These classes can range from a tour of the library or general overview of library resources and services to an in-depth lesson on effective search techniques applied to a specific database or research topic,” Zelner said.

USM librarians also offer course-integrated instruction, as well as seminars and workshops on a variety of topics. Most of these learning opportunities are available on demand, in addition to their scheduled times. The Libraries website at http://www.lib.usm.edu/services/instruction_and_workshops/ provides a list of workshop topics and registration forms with upcoming dates and times.

USM faculty members are encouraged to suggest improvements to existing subject guides, and propose creation of course-specific guides for courses that have a significant library research component. As for students, Zelner hopes they seek her staff’s assistance at the start of any new research project to help them use their time efficiently.

“Students will have more time to read their sources and write their papers if they conduct their library research more effectively,” Zelner said. “Then, they can build on their library research skills as they progress through their academic career, and so what may have been a challenge in the beginning they have overcome by the time they graduate and enter the workforce.”

Megan Childs, a senior biological sciences major from Purvis, Miss., is a frequent visitor to Cook Library. She praised its staff for its assistance to her with class assignments, and the facility’s warm, welcoming atmosphere.

“They’re always willing to help me out and so friendly,” Childs said. “Even though I’m a science major, there is a significant amount of writing and papers required.  Having the library’s writing corner available is very helpful when it comes time to writing a lab report, and the rooms you can reserve provide a great environment for group study.”

For Zelner and her colleagues, that’s music to their ears. “Librarianship is a service profession, and anyone working in Research Services tends to choose that career path, at least in part, because they enjoy helping people,” she said.

For more information about research and other services provided through University Libraries, visit http://www.lib.usm.edu/services/; or contact Zelner at tisha.zelner@usm.edu.