When the walls disappear

There’s a point in a student’s education when the library takes a new form. That point is usually grad school.
Author: Matthew Cook
Looking up at bookshelves that fade into to clouds and sky

What is a library? It depends on who you ask. A college student’s idea of what a library is will likely be formed by how they use their institution’s library. If Rochester students are any indication, then a student’s answer will also give you a pretty good sense of what degree they are pursuing.

Take Eric Loy, a PhD candidate in English, for example. As an undergraduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, his perception of the library was brick-deep. To him, it was mostly a building. It was a place where he studied, found books, and maybe searched databases for papers he was writing.

“That changed dramatically as a graduate student,” says Loy, who previously earned an MA at Creighton University.

All post-graduate work considered, he now sees the library as a collection of people he can collaborate with or reach out to for help. At Rochester, that has included the digital scholarship team for his dissertation projects and work for the William Blake Archive. He’s also been helped by and librarians Stephanie Frontz (art, dance, and visual and culture studies) and Andrea Reithmayr (research and collections) for classes he’s teaching.

Ellise Moon ʼ20 (MA), president of the Graduate Student Association for Arts, Sciences & Engineering, also experienced an evolution in her perception of the library. During her undergraduate years, the library was “maybe a space to go check out a book.” Not anymore. Now it’s where she goes to find linguistics librarian Stephanie Barrett.

Moon, currently a PhD student in linguistics and philosophy, reaches out to Barrett when she needs to find specific data.

“She’ll point me to it, but also say, ‘Here’s how I searched for that,’ or ‘Here’s a good resource,” Moon says. “She’s teaching me how to search better.”

Learning how to research might as well be part of the curriculum for Laurie Leo ʼ94S (MBA), a doctoral student at the Warner School of Education. By day, Leo is vice president and chief financial officer at Roberts Wesleyan College. Because her academic background is mostly related to finance, stepping into the human development program was like entering a country where she didn’t know the language and didn’t know how to get where she needed to go. She needed a guide, and she found one in social science librarian Eileen Daly-Boas.

Even though Leo was starving for assistance, she didn’t want to be spoon-fed information.

“I really wanted to learn how to research,” says Leo, who recalled the adage about the value of teaching someone how to fish versus giving them one. She explained that she wanted to do the fishing—even though Daly-Boas was happy to provide fish. “The ability to find literature is just so critical when you're doing research at this level.”

Every graduate student faces an imposing academic mountain, at the top of which their advanced degree waits. But every graduate student also has a librarian in their field, ready to help them make their ascent. 

“I know that when I finish this degree, there’s a handful of people who will make me think, ‘Wow—I could not have climbed this mountain without them,” Leo says. “Eileen is at the top of that list.”

Beyond the people

Yes—Rochester libraries are much more than their spaces. But there are spaces, materials, and events designed specifically for graduate students.

Martin E. Messinger Graduate Study Rooms

Rush Rhees Library’s second floor is home to two graduate student spaces, located at both ends of the Messinger Periodical Reading Room. Each room offers an exclusive retreat for students to study or take a break from the post-grad grind. Like the room they’re nested within, the graduate study rooms were named in recognition of the commitment and generosity of Life Trustee Martin E. Messinger ʼ49.

Koller-Collins Center for English Studies

Rossell Hope Robbins holds a non-circulating reference collection for literary, digital humanities, and critical theory. While the books are available to anyone who needs them, the collection was originally built specifically for graduate students’ study of literature. The center’s beneficiary Mabel Harkness named the space in honor of faculty members Katherine Koller and Rowland Collins.

Career-focused Workshops

Next week, the River Campus Libraries is launching a pilot series of workshops for graduate students across the University with synchronous and asynchronous content.

Famous, Not Infamous: Establishing an Online Identity

  • When: February 5
  • What: Learn how to establish and effectively manage an online identity to ensure you’re being noticed—and for the right reasons.

Hired!—Navigating the Virtual Job Search Tools & Strategies

  • When: March 5
  • What: Create targeted lists of potential employers and discover the ways to find details about them. Also, gain strategies for searching and using social media, virtual networking, and more.

Publish Don’t Perish—Traversing the Publishing Landscape

  • When: April 9
  • What: Get tips and tricks on how to find the best outlet for your work. Gain the tools to navigate the publishing process with confidence. ∎

For more information on the libraries’ graduate student services or any of the workshops mentioned, contact Lauren Di Monte, associate dean, Learning, Research, and Digital Strategies, at ldimonte@library.rochester.eduEnjoy reading about the University of Rochester Libraries? Subscribe to Tower Talk.