Campus News

Librarian pours energy into finding better ways to connect with students

Chandler Christoffel spearheads the Capturing Science Contest as part of his work with the Science Library. (Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski)

Before becoming a librarian, Chandler Christoffel was a math teacher and tutor, taking graduate classes in education at night and spending time in front of the classroom.

 “I learned to love research in college,” Christoffel said. “I think it was a way to procrastinate—hunting for just one more source instead of finishing a paper. I just remember being amazed at how much knowledge is out there. It was very therapeutic to go to the library and browse. It also helped clarify what I might do as a career—both what I would enjoy and what I’m good at.”

Since joining the UGA Libraries in 2012 as an instruction and research librarian at the Science Library, Christoffel has poured his prodigious energy into finding better ways to connect with students, faculty and his colleagues.  

“Working with classes, providing research consultations, staffing the information desk and conducting outreach efforts like workshops and contests: these are all ways that we interact with library users,” he said. “For me, the most rewarding work is more in-depth, one-on-one research support with students. It’s great to engage with students on a human level, which they don’t always get with large bureaucracies.”

One initiative that Christoffel spearheads is the Capturing Science Contest, which uses cash prizes to encourage students to think about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, learning outside of a lab or classroom setting. The Libraries are joined by the Office of Research in sponsoring the annual competition. Participants explain a STEM concept to a broader audience using any media. 

“Any and all formats, media and genres are encouraged,” Christoffel said. “Essays, board games, virtual reality, videos, music, software, apps, curricula, lesson plans, poems, infographics, fiction and exhibits are all accepted.”

Christoffel said he particularly enjoys working with First-Year Odyssey seminar faculty to integrate library research sessions into their courses.

“With these sessions, the focus is not just about learning goals but also about making sure students are comfortable with the library and aware of library services,” he said. “I want them to leave knowing that we are friendly and here for them. And that the class isn’t necessarily the end of the relationship.

“In fact, a fun part of my job is working with students who visit and reconnect throughout their careers at UGA,” he added. “For example, one graduate student reminded me that, years before, I had taught her in a precollege summer bridge program class. I’ve also worked over the years with a faculty member since he was a grad student.”

In addition, those conversations further his objective of getting to know users better.

“Some of my work on the Libraries’ assessment committee has been to help promote a culture of assessment. With thoughtful assessment, we can improve service points and instruction by better understanding and meeting users where they are,” he said.

Christoffel also is enrolled in graduate courses in clinical counseling that add to his value as a resource, noting public libraries are becoming a model for fusing librarianship and mental health services.

“This relates to my interest in helping users at their point of need. I really enjoy talking with students, whether it is about the research process or, say, coping with stress. I want to become more skilled at facilitating these conversations,” he said.

Christoffel’s dream would be to teach a class, paradoxically, called “How to be an Autodidact.”

“Students teach themselves all the time. As librarians, we sometimes occupy a nonexpert space where we help support student self-agency, which translates across competencies and domains,” he said. “It’s fun to be a partner in that process.”