Many factors play into the decision of where a student will begin his or her college education, but beyond the rankings, campus tours and academic programs, it is the ease of which students acclimate to their new environment that may determine whether they stay beyond the first year. To provide new students with a direct link to the library and its corresponding research support, Kelvin Smith Library began the Personal Librarian (PL) program in fall 2012. The program set out to assign every CWRU first year student with a personal point of contact to call upon for library assistance.

Through special events, resource workshops, one-on-one meetings and more, the program enjoyed a successful first year with almost 90% of surveyed participants reporting they were satisfied with the program. Moving into its second year, KSL expanded the program to coordinate PL assignments with the university’s first year seminar (SAGES) courses, and partnered with the Undergraduate Studies Office to host additional events in the residence halls to provide even more in-depth support.

“After the success of our PL program and discussion with Associate Provost & University Librarian, Arnold Hirshon, we wanted to learn more about, and be on the forefront of, developing best practices in this emerging field by hosting a conference on the subject,” said Gail Reese, Associate Director for Public Engagement Services at KSL. “We assembled a team of our staff, campus partners and first year experience experts from other universities to plan the event and it just grew from there.”

Reese and Brian Gray, Team Leader for Research Services at KSL, co-led the planning committee to launch the “First National Personal Librarian and First Year Experience Library Conference,” held at KSL in April 2014. The inaugural event focused on all aspects of first year experience and the personalization of outreach and services for incoming students. The planning  team soon saw the significant interest in first year focused support from a library perspective.

“First year experience programs are new for most libraries and people are eager for information,” said Gray. “Many librarians who attended our conference did so to gain guidance in this area and to hear about successful programs from librarians who were excited to share what they have learned.”

‌The two-day event included an opening welcome by CWRU President, Barbara Snyder, a keynote address by Dr. Lee Thompson, CWRU Professor and Chair of Psychological Sciences, as well as three panel discussions, plenary luncheon speakers, poster sessions and over 30 breakout sessions. More than 150 librarians from more than 70 colleges and universities were in attendance from across the United States and Canada.

Over the course of the conference, participants were given the chance to network and discuss how to further support first year students. Breakout sessions were held in four areas — outreach, instruction, collaboration and assessment — that touched on a range of subjects from improving information literacy skills to building meaningful community partnerships. Featured presenters represented institutions of various sizes, residential and commuter campuses, and both rural and urban locations. This generated a multitude of ideas for engagement activities to suit many different academic environments.

A particularly popular session featured a panel of undergraduate students. Gray moderated as the students (two from CWRU and two from Cleveland State University) spoke openly about their academic library experiences. During the spirited Q&A session, the students made light of a serious issue: how to overcome their “fears” about asking for help in the library.

“The Q&A with the students was the absolute high point of the conference for me,” said Jenny Stout of Virginia Commonwealth University. “Hearing their point of view was absolutely invaluable since they are our main clients.”

Feedback from the conference showed not only that the content of the program was well received, but that attendees were impressed both with KSL and the Cleveland area.  

“This conference had the best vibe — almost like a homecoming experience,” said Beth Fuchs, Undergraduate Learning Librarian at the University of Kentucky. “I had conversations with so many creative, energetic, fun people. It was refreshing and invigorating.”

Visitors and KSL librarians alike benefited from the opportunity to interact and engage in conversations with others facing similar challenges, tasks and goals. KSL staff are now discussing how to incorporate what was learned at the conference to further improve the PL program for the first year students who will be arriving in the fall.  


The 2013 Orientation InfoFair was a day-long event for incoming first year students and their families. The event featured campus organizations relevant to new students including KSL’s Personal Librarian program. Library staff demonstrated services, gave tours of the building and got to know the many new faces of the class of 2017. New to this year’s InfoFair, stress-relief dogs and their owners from the University Hospitals PetPals program mingled with guests and provided additional entertainment.


KSL provided a series of events during the weekend including “The Library of Tomorrow is Today,” in which Jared Bendis (KSL Creative New Media Officer) presented the library’s high-tech classrooms and the Freedman Center for Digital Scholarship. In the afternoon, the KSL Open House included demonstrations by library staff of various research databases available to students and alumni. KSL also organized “From Page to Screen,” a panel discussion about books that were translated to film. Panel members included Michael Heaton (columnist, author, critic and screenwriter), John Orlock (CWRU Professor of Humanities), Brad Ricca (filmmaker and author) and moderator Robert Spadoni (CWRU Associate Professor and author). Panelists discussed their personal writing styles, what types of books are conducive to becoming good films, how the internet has affected the movie industry and also answered questions from the audience.


Octavofest, an annual celebration of the book and paper arts during the month of October, was the occasion for KSL’s exhibit, “Around the World in 80 Books,” featuring 80 books and manuscripts from the library’s special collections, university archives and circulating collections. In addition, KSL sponsored a travel journal workshop led by artist Aimee Lee that taught attendees how to create travel journals using fine art papers. Poet Amy Kesegich and KSL’s Jared Bendis also presented their own travel experiences and journals.


To honor KSL’s 100th anniversary as a federal depository library, George Barnum, Agency Historian at the Government Printing Office (GPO) and former government documents librarian at KSL, delivered a talk. Guests from around the state gathered at the library for the presentation of the GPO plaque and the milestone was officially noted in the Congressional Record by Rep. Marcia L. Fudge.


Throughout the 2013-14 academic year, KSL featured the work of Julian Stanczak, world-renowned painter and pioneer in Optical (or Perceptual) Art, in a series of four exhibitions at the library’s newly renovated art gallery.

“CWRU was honored to present Julian Stanczak with an honorary doctorate this past spring,” said Lynn Singer, the university’s Deputy Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “Now we are fortunate to exhibit his pioneering Perceptual Art at KSL, and to hear directly from a great living artist how he creates such visual radiance in his abstract paintings. Stanczak also compels us with his life story, which is one of triumph over hardship, injury, pain and intolerance.”

Born in Poland in 1928, Stanczak was imprisoned in a Siberian labor camp during World War II. While there, he permanently lost the use of his right arm before his escape at age 13. Eventually making his way to a Polish refugee camp in Uganda, Stanczak was able to take his first private art lessons and learn how to paint and write with his left hand. Stanczak moved to the United States in 1950 and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Cleveland Institute of Art and Master of Fine Arts from Yale University. His meticulously crafted Perceptual Art—layered patterns of color with effects of transparency and light—represents a conscious decision to leave his wartime experiences behind him. His substantial body of work has all been produced in a modest house and studio in Cleveland, where he and his wife Barbara, also an artist, have lived since 1964. 

Each of the four separate shows opened with a reception that featured remarks from both Stanczak and Henry Adams, Ph.D., CWRU professor of American art.

“Stanczak’s art stands at a boundary between art, psychology, mathematics, science and metaphysics,” said Adams. “The exhibition series at KSL presented a unique opportunity for interaction and discussion across disciplines at the university and beyond.”‌

Kelvin Smith Library | 11055 Euclid Avenue | Cleveland, OH 44106-7151 | 216-368-3506