Slide show: Yale Library student advisory group shapes library’s pandemic services

  • Group photo of students in a courtyard with stone and brick building in the background
    Student Library Advisory Committee with University Librarian Barbara Rockenbach
  • Aerial view of a group of students and staff seated in circle of chairs
    SLAC at October 2021 meeting.
  • two women sitting and a woman standing having a conversation
  • Three smiling students, two seated and one standing, talk with library building in the background
  • Side view of two dark haired women students collaborating in front of an easel
  • Close view of two women students with name tags working together at an easel
December 23, 2021

When Barbara Rockenbach, the Stephen F. Gates ’68 University Librarian, joined Yale University Library in July 2020, one of her first innovations was to establish a new Student Library Advisory Committee (SLAC).

“While Yale Library has consistently sought and incorporated students’ perspectives, I knew that having a more formal channel for real-time student input would be critical for supporting students during the pandemic when our operating environment—and their needs—were evolving so quickly,” Rockenbach says.

Since its first meeting on Zoom in September 2020, SLAC has weighed in on a wide range of issues including library services, security, and communications. Input from the group led the library to expand evening and weekend hours and extend a mail-to-address service initially introduced as a temporary pandemic response.

Participating in the committee “gives students a sense of ownership on the enhancements of library service and future of libraries,” says SLAC member Tian Lu Xue, a graduate student in statistics and data science.

Eve Houghton, a graduate student in English language and literature, in her second year on SLAC, finds the group rewarding on multiple levels. “I love our work on this committee because it ranges widely—from granular and specific questions about how library policies affect students, to broader discussions about the meaning and purpose of libraries and the sometimes contested histories that have shaped our collections,” she says.

The image gallery above shows SLAC members with library staff at the October 2021 SLAC meeting, in Sterling Memorial Library’s Selin Courtyard.

In 2021, the group’s membership was expanded to represent a wider range of academic disciplines and schools, and meetings moved from Zoom to in-person. At the first in-person meeting in Sterling Memorial Library’s Selin Courtyard, in October 2021, SLAC members brainstormed answers to the questions “What do library collections mean to you?”

The students worked in pairs, jotting down notes on large scratch pads. Answers like “knowledge of past” and “resource for research,” and “sphere with many subspheres” prompted a follow-up discussion about how the library develops, preserves, and makes available its collections.

For Rockenbach and her library colleagues, the discussion provided valuable insights into how students do—or don’t—discover library resources.  “Yale Library collections are so vast and varied, it can be difficult for students to find their way into them,” Rockenbach says. “I am grateful to the students for sharing experiences that will help us make this discovery process more intuitive and accessible, and I look forward to our continued work together.”

Read more about SLAC’s membership and charge.

—By Tricia Carey

—Photos by Bob Handelman