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Drexel Libraries’ First Research Co-op Shares Lessons Learned During SPARK! Session

May 23, 2022

The Drexel University Libraries has always supported the University’s co-op program, providing career and co-op library guides to help Drexel students as they search for co-op job placements (as well as post-graduate positions), and more recently by offering co-op opportunities to help students gain valuable work experience and add to their learning skills.

One of the Libraries’ newest co-op students was Angela Graff, a pre-junior majoring in Global Studies, who was hired as an undergraduate research co-op to support the Dean of Libraries, Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD, with a long-term research project focusing on how to identify and disseminate research results on the relationship of built, informal learning environments and learning.

Angela was hired for the fall/winter 2021/22 co-op cycle and continued her work with Dean Nitecki through the spring term 2022 as a student worker.

Angela presented an overview of her experiences during a Libraries SPARK! event held on May 11, 2022. SPARK! is an internal event series designed to offer Libraries staff an opportunity to share knowledge and inspiration about innovations in the field, current projects, and other initiatives that provoke engagement and discussion among staff.

The following interview was adapted from the event.

Q: What were your initial goals for the research co-op?

Angela Graff (AG): My first goal was to understand how to engage in the initial steps of research– how to find what research already exists. Another goal I had was to enhance my communication skills, specifically my oral presentation skills and my technical writing skills.

Another goal was to seek and implement feedback on my work. Specifically, I wanted to learn how to interact with my work supervisor and accept feedback from a supervisor. I had previously only received feedback from teachers and professors, and I wanted to get feedback from someone I was working under and to use that feedback to become more productive as a result.

My last goal was to improve my collaborative work with others and improve my ability to work with others. Most of the work I’d done so far in my college career was individual work, and I wanted experience working with different people and personalities, which is essential if I want to enter the professional realm and even graduate school.


Q: Part of this co-op included being a “mystery shopper” to analyze Libraries services. Tell us about that assignment.  

AG: The first service I used as a “mystery shopper” was the Chat feature [on the Libraries website]. The chat feature connected me with a librarian who provided me with some useful information such as which resources to access. It was very general information and wasn’t specialized to the topic I wanted to explore.

Next, I explored DragonSearch, which was very helpful… and I explored the Libraries’ Libguides, which I thought were very helpful. They provided links to useful resources from the Libraries and other universities, for example the guide on how to create a literature review... which I used to create my own literature review.

The most helpful service I experienced as a mystery shopper was the consultation with a research specialist. They provided me with some useful search strategies and keeping track of search terms in an Excel spreadsheet and finding synonyms that might suffice to help me find relevant research.


Q: What were some of your research findings?

AG: One thing we found was that the use of academic libraries leads to improved student success, including improved retention rates, improved GPA, and improved graduation rates. For example, one of the studies we reviewed found that usage of library services had a significant relationship with GPA and a slightly significant relationship to retention and graduation rates.

However, although these studies exist, there is a minimal number of studies that demonstrate a relationship between the specific affordances of library spaces and student outcomes. For example, there really are no studies demonstrating that lighting in study spaces leads to improved graduation rates. These studies tend to have a broad focus on library services and student outcomes.

We also looked at studies on the workplace. What we found was a positive relationship between organization and personal factors, such as having a self-directed learning orientation or having encouragement from supervisors to engage in informal learning and the informal learning of other employees. These studies are focusing on the intangible factors that cannot be measured through surveys. There aren’t a lot of studies focusing on the tangible, specifically how workplace design impacts informal learning.


Q: What did you learn from this co-op experience?

AG: For one, I learned information literacy skills and how to apply them. Coming into this project, I started by familiarizing myself with the topic of informal learning environments. From this research I was able to better understand a topic that I had no prior knowledge of—I realized that I’ve been in informal learning environments, but I didn’t know at that time that I was in them, such study environments in the Drexel Libraries… [I also learned] about structuring searches, such as using Boolean logic and identifying sources beyond Google, such as Google Scholar, EBSCOHost and others.

I also learned how to ask for and then apply feedback from experienced individuals. For example, I created a library guide on informal learning environments, and asked the advisory board [supporting this research project] for feedback during our monthly meetings. One of the architects in the advisory group suggested adding more visuals to the guide to make it more visually appealing, and then a faculty member suggested making the information easier to understand for people without prior knowledge of the topic.

Another thing I learned from this experience was being concise, balancing text and visuals, writing to an audience, which culminated in my improving my technical writing skills. I also learned how to plan and conduct a focus group interview, which is important.


Q: What was your favorite part of this co-op experience?

AG: The co-op allowed me to gain very transferable skills that I can use in a professional or academic setting, such as technical writing skills, oral presentation skills, information literacy skills, research techniques, and accepting and implementing feedback from others.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable experience due to the work environment and the help from other Libraries staff. They treated me like an employee—not just a student—which was very valuable to me.


Q: Finally, if you could give advice to someone doing a research co-op in the future, what would you say?

AG: I would say if you are going to do a research co-op, it’s more of an unstructured co-op. You need to hold yourself accountable and create your own lists of tasks each day. Some co-op [managers] will give you a list of tasks each day and they will hold you to those lists of tasks. With research co-ops, it’s up to you to be organized and to hold yourself accountable and set your own goals and the progress you want to make in the co-op. You must have self-discipline going into it. I think this was very helpful job experience—you need to be independent in the professional world, and that was really important for me.