Harvard College Library News: News from around the libraries

Open Session Focuses on Research, Teaching and Learning


Associate Librarian Susan Fliss, left, addresses staff during an open session that focused on the work of Research, Teaching and Learning.


May 17, 2011 – Susan Fliss, Associate Librarian for Research, Teaching, and Learning recently updated staff on the work of Research, Teaching and Learning (RTL) units at an open session sponsored by the Harvard College Library (HCL) Joint Council. The session was one of several meetings designed to give staff a chance to learn about and discuss the library’s ongoing planning efforts.

“The work of RTL involves all the staff members who interact with our patrons, including staff who create the catalog, maintain the collections and so on – so we’re able to support our users in their learning and creation of scholarship,” Fliss said. “Last year, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Michael Smith identified that making Harvard an institution of teaching excellence as well as research excellence was among his priorities for the next several years. I would add that Harvard’s libraries have exceptional staff, and we can provide the support the Dean needs to make that goal a reality.”

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Among the efforts highlighted by Fliss was the forthcoming report of the RTL Council. Convened last fall, the Council is made up of the heads of the Cabot Science, Fine Arts, Harvard-Yenching, Houghton, and Loeb Music libraries, as well as the heads of Maps, Media, Data and Government Information, Reference Services and Learning Technology and Services for Academic Programs. The Council is charged with identifying the library-related research, teaching and learning needs of academic units throughout the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

“We want to make sure that all the libraries’ research, teaching and learning initiatives build upon each other,” Fliss said. “The goal of the Council is to recommend what elements should be part of such a programmatic approach, so we can support faculty and assist students through each stage of their academic career as they build their skills and expertise.”

To that end, Fliss said, RTL staff – from research librarians to curators to bibliographers – work closely with a host of academic stakeholders, including the FAS Academic Technology Group, staff at the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, General Education program, Writing Program and divisional deans, to identify the teaching and learning priorities of academic departments across FAS, and how library resources and staff can help meet those needs.

Perhaps most immediate among those needs is answering questions from patrons, whether asked in-person, or via telephone, email, or through old-fashioned letters. In the last year, Fliss said, librarians fielded nearly 75,000 questions across HCL libraries. To make it easier for patrons to find answers for many of the most commonly asked questions, the libraries last year launched a new service, called LibAnswers, to collect those questions – and answers penned by librarians – into a searchable online tool.

In the past year, Fliss added, librarians, bibliographers and curators have led between 450 and 500 classes in the libraries in collaboration with faculty members teaching a variety of courses, including several courses in the new General Education program.

“Our focus, most recently, has been on developing ways to integrate the research process into students’ course work,” Fliss said. “We are trying to work with faculty members before students begin working on an assignment, so we can help them as they begin thinking about how to identify resources in the libraries, and how they might use them.”

Professor Caroline Light’s undergraduate Gen Ed course, “Sex and the Citizen: Race, Gender and Belonging in the United States,” offers one example of how librarians work closely with students. To illustrate the history of women at Harvard, the course included a detailed tour of Widener Library, led by research librarians Fred Burchsted and Pam Matz, as well as Wallace Dailey, curator of the Theodore Roosevelt Collection.

As part of an upcoming graduate-level course, music reference librarians Liza Vick and Kerry Masteller are partnering with Professor Alex Rehding as part of his course “Chinese Music in the European Enlightenment” to create research assignments for students which will be used to create an physical and virtual exhibition based on their research.

To help first-year students build a strong foundation for conducting research in Harvard’s libraries, Sue Gilroy, Librarian for Undergraduate Programs for Writing, in collaboration with Enrique Diaz, Designer/Multimedia Specialist in HCL Communications, developed “Tools of the Trade: A Library Starter Kit for Harvard Freshmen,” an online toolkit containing everything from tips on conducting research to creating bibliographies.

“Harvard’s libraries can be a maze for anyone – even an experienced researcher – so just imagine what first-year students think,” Fliss said. “This resource provides students with one-stop-shopping for a wide array of information, and is available on both the library and Writing Program sites, and faculty will often include it in their syllabi.”

Other RTL efforts include creating teaching and learning spaces within the libraries, like the Multimedia Lab and Collaborative Learning Space, both located in Lamont. Created last year when the Academic Technology Group’s multimedia workstations were relocated from the basement of the Science Center, the Multimedia Lab has helped approximately 400 students in eight classes to create multimedia projects ranging from adding images to papers to creating video presentations, Fliss said. The Collaborative Learning Space, meanwhile, can be used by library staff for teaching or training, and is open to students when not in use. Tables and chairs in the room can be moved or grouped together, allowing students to work together in a variety of ways. Fliss also outlined an upcoming effort to redesign the Larsen Room in Lamont using ethnographic research methods to gather input on what features students and staff want included in the room. 

To ensure students, faculty and even parents are aware of RTL’s efforts, the unit conducts numerous outreach efforts throughout the year, including orientations for new faculty, undergraduates and graduate students, as well as tours and other events for parents, Fliss said.

Following her comments, Fliss opened the floor to questions.