Reflecting on “Exploring common ground: US Writing Center/Library Collaboration” by Mardi Mahaffy


This semester, a new collaboration has been occurring at Tech: Student Research Consultants from the library have been “switching places” with Multiliteracies Center coaches. In an effort to expand the reach of both services, representatives of each have established office hours in the other’s location. This is not a new notion, however. In 2008, Mardi Mahaffy published an analysis of this sort of partnership at New Mexico State University (NMSU), “Exploring common ground: US Writing Center/Library Collaboration.”

Mahaffy begins by establishing a connection between the writing center and the library. He claims that both function as navigational assistants for students, in that they provide guidance through courses. Moreover, both services aim to improve aspects of students that aren’t necessarily focused on in specific courses (becoming a better writer, learning to navigate research). Another correlation is found in the urgency of usage – many students utilize both services when they are struggling or working under pressure.

Bringing the writing center coaches and librarians closer together helps establish a link between research and writing, Mahaffy claims. Students often think of research as the “before-writing” stage; they pigeonhole each component rather than seeing the paper-writing process as a continuous flow. Hence, creating a central area that contains both research and writing help allows coaches to guide students through the entire fluid development of their work in a way that brings greater understanding and enrichment to the student. However, this advantage is partially mitigated by the possible drawbacks – Mahaffy cites limited space, difficulty of expansion, and instability of collaboration as some challenges faced at NMSU.

Two different approaches were attempted at NMSU: placing a research librarian in the writing center, and conducting writing center hours at the library.

Although the librarian-on-duty was advertised in writing classes and his/her hours were adjusted to fit better with demand, there was still less than two consultations per week. Both walk-in and scheduled appointments were available, but neither fared better than the other. The majority of all questions directed to the librarian regarded citations, although the occasional student requested complex research assistance. Despite the lack of usage, Mahaffy still believes this collaboration had a positive impact. Particularly, he focuses on the relationships built between the librarian and the writing center coaches.

Creating a satellite writing center in the library had a much more visibly effective impact, after a slow growth period. Hours of availability were determined by trial-and-error, so the second semester of service had greater usage than the first semester. Additionally, interest built up as the service was advertised and spread through word of mouth. The satellite center averaged six to ten consultations per week, with varied student requests. The difficulty with this approach was the lack of structure; coaches accustomed to appointments struggled to adjust to walk-in timing.

Students who utilized either new approach tended to follow the procedure at their typical service center. For example, students who typically made appointments at the writing center tended to spend large amounts of time working with the research librarian. On the other hand, students at the library felt like they should limit their time with the writing center coaches.

 

Overall, this collaboration was at the very least effective in spreading awareness of each center’s services. Additionally, a select group of students gained a more integrated approach to writing.

Although our trade-off program has yet to truly take off, Mahaffy’s article indicates that – given time – writing center coaches positioned in the library may become invaluable.

– Georgia Hurchalla, 11/13/2015

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