Penfield Library began hiring and training students as Peer Reference Assistants at the Research Help Desk, beginning in September 2019. The PRAs provide a welcoming and knowledgeable student face to the often complex process of conducting library research.

PRAs are well-informed about Penfield’s many resources and services, and are trained to work alongside librarians in assisting their fellow students with research questions and challenges.

Individual PRAs come from different majors and have completed a variety of coursework and projects aligning with their interests. When students visit the Research Help Desk (currently via Zoom) they are greeted by a peer who is dealing with the same challenges they are -- coursework, projects, social life and (right now) pandemic challenges -- and can relate to the struggle of being a student during this unique time in history. Feedback received by the library reveals that students like working with their peers in this role and appreciate the extra level of support.

"It's nice being here to help people get resources, particularly during this time when (many) can't come in," said Aron Rezene, a PRA and a dual major in physics and mathematics. "It's a good feeling. Students should be reaching out to the library for help because we're here."

In addition to providing research assistance, PRAs also work on projects that enhance the library’s services and collections, increasing their relevance to students and the larger SUNY Oswego community.

Past projects have included a library display for National Poetry month, an FAQ to address common library questions from a student perspective and development of Penfield’s poetry collection to make it more inclusive and diverse. Peer Reference Assistants have also been working behind the scenes to help develop the library’s virtual offerings during this time, including upcoming virtual game nights and a vision board workshop.

Students who work as Peer Reference Assistants at Penfield Library gain valuable skills as researchers, develop their communication and diplomacy skills, and grow as listeners and community members -- all of which are important post-graduation skills they can carry into their chosen professions. And librarians gain the expertise and perspective of current students in providing better access to Penfield Library’s excellent programs and services -- providing a win for everyone involved. 

Virtual meet-and-greet sessions will be held in the next few weeks for Oz community members to meet the current PRAs. All are welcome to stop in, say hello, and ask questions. Or drop in to the virtual Research Help Desk during regularly scheduled hours. Federal Work Study students interested in becoming Peer Reference Assistants are also encouraged to keep an eye out for postings on the job board as they become available.