Discussion Group: Library Lifelines

This discussion group was led by Diana Comer (dean) and Louise Motta (librarian) from the Dorothy Salter Library at Salter College.

Louise describes herself as a non-traditional librarian (3rd or 4th career) serving mostly non-traditional students in a non-traditional library.

She described this project as a “Field of Dreams.” They started the library with a vision to turn a small for-profit post-secondary career school into a two-year degree granting college with a small academic library. Not everyone could see the dream. A few librarians did: Terry Plum (Simmons College), Jerry Miller(Simmons College), Carolyn Noah (CMRLS) and Margaret Cardello (CMRLS).

They built a traditional library. They had a space, tables, shelving, books, databases. But students didn’t come.

They did a survey. Students said they wanted more hours, more workshops, open Saturdays, more librarians, more books, more computers, a copy machine. They did all these things, but students still weren’t there.

Louise said they did their own little ethnographic study in their own library. They looked at what students were doing. “Personal life takes precedence.”

First step – Lose the jargon, e.g., “you can check our OPAC”.

Students always wanted to take something with them. Wanted book, journal article, printout. They don’t really have a library Web site, just a page that handles regional databases and the library’s catalog on MassCat.

Non-traditional student

  • Students that did not begin college right out of high school.
  • Mostly single moms and dads
  • Unemployed and underemployed adults
  • People starting new careers
  • Skill and competency updates
  • Most never had a traditional college experience and even a traditional high school experience.
  • Some have physical and emotional disabilities.
  • All are commuters.

30% do not have Internet access anywhere except for school or library. They have challenges with time management, money, childcare, relationships, divorce, bereavement, elderly parents, Adult Attention Deficit Disorder.

Lifesaver Collection

The library marketed itself as a place to look for answers. Having your life issues put in order helps you put your educational issues into order. Students like using the Life Saver Book Review form. After reading the book, students can answer a few questions on the form asking what they thought about the book. They then leave the form inside the book. When other students look at the books, they go through the book to see what other people think about it.

The Lifesaver collection is a separate collection in the building, right by the door.



  • Students began to use the collection
  • Also would look around the library to see what else it provides
  • Students wanted to know something that involved them personally when they were doing a paper

While students are there for assistance with their life issues, they discover other things that the library can offer them. Database use increased substantially during the first year of the project.

What we learned

  • Many students are afraid to ask. “I don’t want to bother you.” Louise finds she’ll walk around a lot more and talk around a lot more.
  • Problem isn’t lack of information, it’s too much information. They don’t know where to begin.
  • Avoid the jargon.
  • Started to do “point of use resources.” For example, direct them to one-page handouts on how to cite print journals, how do I develop a topic for research.
  • One-page handouts for these “point of use resources” are better than an entire book or Web site.


Also did Lifelines for faculty. Because they were having success with students, they were hitting glitch areas. Faculty would send all students down at once.

Diana – “we need to recognize the same personal issues are affecting our faculty.”

Modeling library use – it has been many years since faculty did research, and the model has changed. Agreed on a methodology to use. They all agreed to use MLA citation format.

Created a faculty corner with comfy chairs and a collection of resources. Tried to make it as welcoming for them as it was for students.

Offered to have librarian go out to classes to talk to students about what they need to do to research for their paper. Set up the dynamic of everyone looking at the librarian as a colleague of faculty.

The library also wanted to encourage literacy. They put out donated free books on a book cart. Started donations with faculty.

Responding to a question from the audience, Diane and Louisa offered suggestions for how a public library can implement such a program. Don’t survey. Look at who is coming through the door. What is happening? What are they doing? Go to things going on in the community to find people who might like to come in. Become a “library without walls.” Go to functions just to have a good time and then you mention you’re a librarian and find out what they would like to have.

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