Training Research Consultants: A Guide for Academic Libraries

Training Research Consultants: A Guide for Academic Libraries

ACRL announces the publication of Training Research Consultants: A Guide for Academic Libraries, edited by Jennifer Torreano and Mary O’Kelly. The book is a collection of practices, perspectives, and tools from library leaders who have created and maintained successful research consulting programs, plus thoughtful explorations of the theories and motivations that inform peer learning.

Learn more about Training Research Consultants in this excerpt from the Introduction by Jennifer Torreano, licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA.

Research Consultants and Their Training

Research consultants build exploratory environments for students, encouraging creativity and the testing of new ideas. Consultants do this by demonstrating empathy for the challenge of developing a new skill, framing exploration as a part of learning, and encouraging bravery. These courageous conversations remind students that they are capable of success, no matter how challenging the tasks.

I believe that training for research consultants should use the same framework. For research consultants to be effective, they need to believe that they are capable of being effective. Working with students is a challenging task, and the quality of each consultation is affected by the consultants’ self-efficacy. We want our research consultants to be calm and nimble during consultations, trying new methods when faced with obstacles and sometimes rethinking their whole strategy, all without getting flustered. Consultants need to be able to show students that researching is rarely a linear process and challenges are to be expected. By focusing training on building the consultants’ self-efficacy — their belief in their own abilities [1] — we give them the resilience they need to support students and model successful approaches to learning.

My Context and Approach to Training

The training program that Mary O’Kelly and I designed together at Grand Valley State University takes a multipronged approach to research consultant training, using orientation, training sessions, mentor groups, peer observations, and supervisor evaluations to encourage consultants’ growth and learning. Each component of training is designed to address the four sources of self-efficacy described by Albert Bandura:[2]

  1. Mastery experiences—training must be challenging, yet ultimately successful for each consultant.
  2. Vicarious experiences—watching their peers succeed increases consultants’ belief in their own capabilities.
  3. Social persuasion—build in positive feedback after moments of success.
  4. Interpretation of stress—frame adrenaline as increased energy that improves consultant performance.

We designed the research consultant training program to be a rigorous growth experience with support built into every component. We build consultant confidence by including experienced consultants to model success, create a supportive community, and provide feedback during the critical phases of training. This method fosters self-efficacy before new consultants begin their work with students and as they experience inevitable challenges and victories along the way.

Training Design Depends on Context

The research consultant program at GVSU emphasizes building consultant confidence, and that is a reflection of my professional philosophy and our institutional culture. Other consultant programs lean on different theories and institutional needs, and their programs look very different. Every case study described in this book represents a program designed to best serve the needs of students at that particular institution. The variety of approaches is a testament to the creativity and student focus of each contributor.

How to Use This Book

This book is designed as a collection of perspectives and training materials that you can adapt for your own context. The book is organized in four parts:

  1. Introduction to theory and practice
  2. Library case studies
  3. Perspectives from campus partners
  4. Consultant perspectives

The theory section is made up of two chapters, the first focusing on using learning theories and the second describing the role of research consultants in encouraging student intellectual development. The next two sections—library case studies and perspectives from campus partners—make up most of the book. Each of these chapters includes information about program administration, hiring practices, training, and assessment. Perhaps most importantly, nearly all of these chapters include training materials as appendices. Creative Commons licenses are noted for each chapter so you can easily see how to use and modify materials for your own institutions. Finally, the book ends with two reflections from research consultants, reminding us of the impact of these programs on the consultants themselves.

Your library’s culture, structure, and student body will impact what works for you and your institutions. I encourage you to use this book as a source of inspiration, adapting ideas and training materials to best serve your own students. Peruse, gather ideas, and join this wonderful community.


[1] Albert Bandura, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control (New York: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1997).

[2] Albert Bandura, “Self-Efficacy,” in Encyclopedia of Human Behavior Vol. 4, ed. V. S. Ramachaudran (New York: Academic Press, 1994).