Academic libraries were represented in the recent National SAP Roundtable with presentations from the CAUL EMC Students as Partners Project group along with case study presentations from the University of Newcastle Library.
The 2021 National Students as Partners Roundtable was hosted recently by the 21C Student Curriculum Partners at Western Sydney University. Over three days from 23th – 25th November, students and staff from around Australia and the world convened online through Teams and Zoom to share ideas, discuss issues and network with each other. This year, the theme of “the Partnership Paradox” provided a great opportunity to not only celebrate the partnerships but also look at partnership practice through a more critical lens through case studies, problem solving ‘hackathons’ and discussions around research.
I was fortunate to attend Day One, which showcased thirty-seven case studies from around Australia and globally, with nine countries represented. The case studies were presented in six zoom rooms running simultaneously over the course of the day. Meeting the challenge of starting at 7 am to attend the first session (due to being on AWST) was totally worth it, as I found the mix of case studies I attended to be informative and thought provoking. It was great to see the academic library sector reasonably well represented, with a presentation from the CAUL EMC Students as Partners (SaP) Project group, and a further three case studies from the University of Newcastle Library, presented by Imogen Harris-McNeil.
Presentation on CAUL’s EMC SAP Project
Fiona Salisbury, University Librarian, La Trobe University started the presentation by describing the project team as a group of library staff from across ten Australian universities, brought together through an open call-out from the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) to support a nationally led project. She explained the aim of the project as being to explore what students as partners means for academic libraries and how library staff can conceptualise the approach. Fiona then highlighted the potential of the Library, traditionally considered the ‘heart of the university’, to support students towards their success through SAP programs, and suggested that although students as partners is increasingly recognised as a key approach to drive meaningful relationships and engagement with students, the library has been largely overlooked.
Dr Mollie Dollinger, Equity-First, Students as Partners Lecturer at Deakin University, then highlighted some of the preliminary results from the national survey which was completed by 200 library staff and 22 University Librarians during October 2021 as part of the project. Mollie reported that most of the SAP programs mentioned by participants in the survey are in the learning and teaching, and peer mentoring areas, while the lowest was in governance, resource design and collection renewal. The survey also revealed that Library staff in general have a superficial understanding of SAP in libraries, suggesting that library staff, as much as faculty staff, need support in this area. While the survey results are yet to be analysed in more depth, the initial findings indicate that there is a challenge ahead in addressing how relationships between librarians and students can better adopt key principles of student partnership.
The presentation then looked at two examples of SAP projects piloted by participating insitutions. Susan Vickery, Associate University Librarian, Access & Advisory Services at Macquarie University, spoke about their program of employing students to assist with evaluating LibGuides. They employed students specifically for the project, who then joined weekly team meetings, did a small bench marking activity, and were significantly involved in designing the UX experience. Wendy Ratciffe, Coordinator Client Experience, Co-Curricular Services at La Trobe University, then spoke about the Bendigo’s campus SAP project to make the campus library a culturally safe space for indigenous students. Four indigenous students were enlisted to engage in a series of exercises which culminated in a design thinking workshop facilitated by Kristy Newton (UOW). Student ideas and input about visibility, inclusivity and reciprocity, as well as the design and arrangement of furniture, colours and use of indigenous language, will directly shape the development of the campus library spaces.
Case study presentations from the University of Newcastle Library
Imogen Harris McNeill, Coordinator, Student Employment and Partnerships, at the University of Newcastle Library (and also a member of the CAUL EMC SaP group) presented three case studies at the Roundtable event. One focussed on the SAP framework that Uni Newcastle Library has developed, while the other two shared experiences from their SAP programs around governance and library spaces.
Despite Imogen’s description of the governance SAP project as “the boring administrative side of things”, the Uni of Newcastle Library’s program of engaging students in decision-making and governance in the University Library was actually very interesting. The program addressed the ‘included and empowered’ pillar, one of three underpinning the Library of Newcastle Library’s SAP framework, that involves valuing student representation in decision-making and Library governance processes and seeking to work directly with students as co-creators and co-designers of Library services, spaces and activities. Imogen described how, rather than endorsing a single stand-alone student advisory group, the Library actively brought students into Library committees, projects, working groups and communities of practice to work alongside Library staff. These students are integral members of each group with their voices influencing outcomes for the Library and student cohorts as they collaborate with library staff to identify opportunities for improvement, develop options, solve problems, or implement solutions.
One of the challenges highlighted was the fact that, despite engaging in governing and decision making being regarded as one of the most empowering forms of partnership and engagement, it can be difficult to interest students in these roles. Leveraging the library’s current pool of casual assistants and using existing employment mechanisms, as well as promoting the benefits of further professional experience for the casual staff, were some of the methods used. It was interesting to hear the challenges from the student perspective as well, such as the difficulty of wearing two hats (student and staff) and thus in defining their role and purpose in each particlar group or discussion.
The Roundtable presentations provoked a lot of interesting conversation and critical questioning among the participants and provided a wonderful opportunity to share and learn from one another. I found the case studies really useful in showing what is currently being done, highlighting important resources, and sharing challenges and experiences. While there are some great SAP projects happening in academic libraries, there is clearly potential for more to be done, and scope to build support for Library staff to encourage the development of meaningful SAP programs. Finally, it was great to see a lot of student engagement in the event, not only in the presentations themeslves, but also in the Teams chat, and on the organisational side of things as well.