USF Librarian Susan Ariew joined the University of South Florida (USF) in 2005, and
since then she’s worked to facilitate relationships with research-engaged students
and faculty in the College of Education.
When she’s not immersed in the literature herself, Ariew’s responsibilities include assisting pre-service teachers, consulting with graduate students who need help navigating their dissertation research and meeting with faculty to discuss ways in which they can succeed in their roles as researchers, instructors and scholars.
Ariew’s previous experience as an English teacher at both the middle and high school levels has enabled her to better serve those who are actively looking to improve the teaching profession. We interviewed Ariew to learn more about her role at the university and the resources and support she provides to the College of Education’s students.
Ariew’s answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: What roles and responsibilities do you take on as an academic librarian for education
and philosophy and religious studies at USF?
Ariew: One of the things librarians have traditionally done and continue to do is work with the library collection to meet the needs of the faculty and the students. My role includes helping to support USF programs, helping with a particular course that needs resources and helping individual faculty and student conduct research.
The other thing I do that’s very traditional is I try to help people with research in terms of their research strategies. I do consultations with faculty, graduate students and even undergraduate students in all levels to help them as they’re setting up their research questions and setting up a search plan, which includes strategizing in terms of the search terms they’re going to use, and which databases are going to be most effective in terms of finding articles, research and scholarly materials. That could also tie into collections. If there’s something that we discover that they really need, I work on figuring out how they could get it.
The other thing I do is a lot of librarian-instructed courses, where I teach entire classes on how to work on a project, a research assignment, a literature review or anything similar. I’m embedded in a lot of classes, which means faculty put me into their Canvas courses, and I embed learning modules for students on the basics, like how to connect to USF’s servers remotely from off-campus, where the libraries’ subject guide is for education and how to request an interlibrary loan.
If I only have one session with students live and synchronously, I don’t like wasting it on the basics. What I really want to do is help them with complicated stuff, whether that is developing a strategy for finding the right information on their topic or evaluating their sources or helping them figure out all kinds of literacy questions. Beyond the basics, that’s when I like to interact with students the most.
Q: What makes you passionate about your role as a librarian at USF?
Ariew: I think what makes me most passionate is the wonderful people I get to work with. I like people who are educators, who care about teaching and learning, who care about students and their struggles in this world.
I think what really makes me happy is when someone comes to me and they’re really confused, and they’re worried and they’re upset and at the end of our work together, they have a better focus about how to do the work they need to do and they’re less stressed. It’s a very satisfying thing when you can do that for someone. Sometimes, I’ll say, ‘How do you feel about it now?’ at the end of a work session with them and then they’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah! It’s really looking better now. I think I could do this!’ A lot of graduate students get overwhelmed and that feeling of sort of drowning—it’s a terrible feeling. It’s a feeling that I like to help mitigate, and I’ve done that for a lot of students.
Q: What should graduate students in the College of Education know about your role?
What are some resources or support you provide that they may be unaware about?
Ariew: I think it’s important for graduate students to connect with a librarian so they could have somebody they can get help from and not worry about what they think of them. With graduate students, because I’m not their teacher, their mentor or advisor, I can be a neutral person. I’m there to help them find different ways to look at their research question and different strategies for finding information. Sometimes, it’s a matter of just looking at the terminology they’re using and whether that works for them.
Graduate students are never quite sure when to stop (researching) and how to evaluate whether they’ve got enough. Again, when there’s an information gap in one of the chapters for their dissertation, they need to feel that they have someone to go to talk about it. I want to be the person that facilitates everything that they’re doing but doesn’t necessarily disagree with what their professors are saying.
Q: How can undergraduate students in the College of Education benefit from the resources
you provide? What’s something they should know as they begin their academic journey
Ariew: Usually, undergraduate students benefit when they have assignments that they’re struggling with, and their professors tell them to come and talk to me. I do the same kind of work with them that I do with graduate students. So, I also try to leave the door open for them to come and see me.
"What we feel good about when we do this work with students is that they begin to realize the value of research, that research isn’t something that’s only for certain people in the university. It’s also for classroom teachers who are trying to solve everyday classroom problems."
For example, Dr. Sarah van Ingen and I have done a whole lot of work together with students, especially pre-service teachers. We have a wonderful project where they take a problem they’re facing in the classroom, and they turn that problem into a research question—we teach them how to do that. They then research the literature for interventions.
Now, the problem they choose to explore could be about a student with special needs, it could be an equity problem in the classroom, it could be something as simple as trying to get English as a Second Language (ESL) students who won't speak in class to talk more. We help them work with something they’re identifying as a real problem in their classroom, then we have them do research and find articles that answer their question. We then have them go back into the classroom to try out the interventions they find. So, we’re trying to close the loop between research and practice.
What we feel good about when we do this work with students is that they begin to realize the value of research, that research isn’t something that’s only for certain people in the university. It’s also for classroom teachers who are trying to solve everyday classroom problems.
Q: What made you want to become a librarian? How long have you been in this field
Ariew: Forever! I originally wanted to be an English teacher and a million years ago, I had a disastrous student teaching experience. It was a middle school, and those kids ate me for lunch. I lost a lot of confidence I had in wanting to be a teacher at that point and here I was, a graduating senior, having just finished up student teaching. It was horrible because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.
So, I continued my education and got a master’s degree in education, because I just wanted to do something for a while so I can have time to figure out my career path. While I was doing that, I was a library clerk at the University of Illinois and the classics librarian that I worked for encouraged me to apply for library school. I became a graduate student and got another master’s degree, so I have two!
I think having been a teacher makes me a better education librarian, because I know what teachers struggle with in the classroom, even though I taught a million years ago. But I have a teacher for a son and a teacher for a daughter-in-law—he’s married to an English teacher and boy, do we have a lot in common! I love talking to them, not just as family members, but as educators. Nowadays, they teach me about what’s going on in the classroom.
Q: In what ways do you feel like you’re making a difference in the field of education? What keeps you motivated?
Ariew: Just being able to help people with their research. We talked about the empowerment that research can give students. I like showing people the value research has in our lives and trying to help faculty succeed. It’s all about the people. The people in education are particularly fun to work with.
Looking for additional support in your research efforts? Contact Academic Librarian Susan Ariew at email@example.com to get help with projects related to education, philosophy and religious studies. Learn more at the USF Libraries website.