Picture this scene. You are a Suffolk University student in search of information on a particular topic for a class paper or group project.

You immediately plan a visit to the Mildred F. Sawyer Library. However, instead of “checking out a book,” you “check out a person” with appropriate expertise, who would be available in the library at a specific time.

This innovation initially was suggested by Jennifer Blakely, head of circulation at the University library. It was then described in a senior capstone class taught by Professor Jodi Detjen, whose students, inspired by the unique concept, created a plan for its implementation.

The course challenges students to interact closely with a client – in this case the library – and apply what they’ve learned to help solve an actual business problem.

Tackling real business problems

“Students learn by doing,” said Detjen, clinical professor of management and Sawyer Business School MBA program director. “What they worked on was real, in-depth, and in the moment.

“In the end, the clients were very happy because the plan gave them ideas and energy they hadn’t had before. It was also successful because the students were able to turn a very nebulous idea into something tangible and useful.”

“The fact that the course was in a collaborative and group-based environment made it a lot more fun and interesting,” said Brian Carter, a student in the capstone class. “It really gives you the skills and confidence to go out into the real world and tackle a complex business problem.” Carter, Class of 2017, plans to pursue a Suffolk MBA.

How it would work

The process of “check out a person, instead of a book,” would allow students to enter the library at scheduled times during a semester and connect one-on-one with professionals from a wide range of fields.

“It would be similar to a job fair in the library with a very personal touch,” said Sawyer Library Director Sharon Britton. “Students would learn the importance of human interaction and gather the information they need face-to-face rather than on the phone or via e-mail.”

Interactive learning

Britton and Blakely took the roles of co-CEOs in interacting with the students. They visited the class and made PowerPoint presentations on the pros and cons of the library business in 2017. They also met individually with each of the five groups of students participating in this joint venture.

“I was very impressed with how serious the students were in trying to fulfill what our needs are in the library,” said Blakely. “It was fun to interact with them and see, after all their hard work, the eventual outcomes of their respective projects.”

Students suggested additional ways that the library can improve client services through collaboration with faculty and students, becoming a strategic partner at the University, and focusing on new technologies and electronic resources.

“The students were successful in bringing together different perspectives in order to come up with more creative and useful solutions,” said Detjen.

Daniel Sanchez, Class of 2017, said: “This course helped me to sharpen my leadership skills and adapt to multiple roles with teams." Sanchez said he’s been able to take many of the practices learned in Detjen’s class and use them as he pursues a Suffolk MBA.

The students delivered a final presentation of their work to Britton, Blakely and other library staff members, with positive reviews.

“They did their research, were well prepared, and came up with some great ideas,” said Britton.

Campus collaborations

The class interaction with the library grew out of Suffolk’s Faculty and Professional Learning Communities, which bring together educators from different disciplines to explore the latest research on teaching and learning. The program originally was established under a three-year grant from the Davis Educational Foundation, with additional support from the University. Given the success of these cross-disciplinary collaborations, Suffolk will continue funding them in 2017-18.