Bring the Library into your classroom

By Molly Minturn | January 19, 2023

Jacob Hopkins knew from a young age that he wanted to work with books and people, either in a bookstore or a library. “I think what I have always liked about libraries is that everyday practice of teaching and learning, as well as meeting people where they are,” he said.

Hopkins joined the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library as an Instruction Librarian in August, becoming the newest member of a vast network of teaching librarians at the University of Virginia Library serving UVA and the local community. In the past calendar year, UVA Library staff conducted nearly 650 instruction sessions, orientations, and tutorials with students, faculty, staff, and community members, introducing them to the Library and sharpening their critical thinking skills.

Support in the Classroom

The Library offers teaching support in myriad ways: UVA instructors can request a Library class to improve their students’ research and data management skills; request an instruction session from Special Collections, where students can get hands-on experience with archives that connect to their courses; request a class in video and audio production in the Robertson Media Center; or schedule a consultation for spatial technologies fieldwork from the Scholars’ Lab.

No matter what they are teaching, all librarians are driven to “establish the Library as a resource, as a place full of friendly people, and as a place where you can get answers,” said Chris Ruotolo, who leads a team of subject librarians in the arts and humanities and has worked at the Library for 25 years, starting when she herself was a graduate student. “The idea of getting librarians into the classroom, or better yet bringing students into library classrooms, has always been a priority.”

Many teaching librarians have earned subject-specific master’s or doctoral degrees before joining the Library, making them experts in their fields. Others, like Hopkins, held teaching fellowship positions while obtaining their Master of Library and Information Science degrees, learning how to create lesson plans and assess their own instruction as librarians. Hopkins and his Special Collections colleagues teach roughly 60 classes a semester, using items such as ancient clay tablets from the Mesopotamian Sumer Empire to explore the history of writing and printing, and a first edition copy of Phyllis Wheatley’s “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” for students studying anything from poetry to race and class in the Atlantic World.

“We try to meet the needs of whatever class is coming in,” he said. “I aim to design learning experiences that represent the true diversity of lived experiences throughout human history. And I hope that that inspires students to think about how their own lives and experiences are being archived.” Hopkins urges faculty to get their teaching requests in early in the semester. “Even if they’re not coming in for another two to three months, they’ll want to go ahead and get that on the calendar, which I appreciate deeply because that gives us more time to plan.”

Requesting a Library instruction session is simple: just fill out a “Request a Library Class” form. From there, subject liaisons will arrange instruction for individual classes. 

For a Special Collections session, fill out a Special Collections Class Visits and Instruction” form.

Below, check out an overview of the multiple teaching resources the Library offers.

Teaching & Learning Team

The Library’s Teaching & Learning team helps undergraduate students develop information literacy and research skills through carefully planned classes. (Take a look at the team’s tutorials, tips, and tricks about all the Library has to offer on the “How do I …” page.) The team also gives orientations on using UVA Library resources to local high school classes.

“We have a survey that we ask our instructors to give to their students beforehand that helps us gauge how much experience, if any, students have with the library,” said Cecelia Parks, an Undergraduate Student Success Librarian who gives instruction sessions to College Advising, Writing & Rhetoric, and Engagements courses in the College of Arts & Sciences. “That’s been extremely helpful for us in figuring out where students are coming from and making sure that this session feels really relevant.”

Parks and Meridith Wolnick, who directs the Library’s Teaching & Learning programs, co-taught a session for a 56-person, first-year writing class this past fall that Victor Luftig, the course’s professor, described as the best interaction with a library I have ever had in more than three decades of teaching.”

Luftig, an English professor, said the librarians’ amount of preparation and attention to students’ specific questions took the quality of the presentation to another level. “I think the Library, in its outward-facing capacities, is the purest expression of UVA’s commitment to its mission as a public institution,” he said in an email. “My students’ relation to the institution changed because of this session. One student could not get over the wealth of information that is available to him easily and without charge; he slapped both his hands on the desk in wonder and glee. My students’ attention was locked in for all 50 minutes.”

The Teaching & Learning team, which interacted with more than 5,000 people in the past academic year, also includes members of the Robertson Media Center, who offer classroom instruction sessions and consultations on audiovisual production; digital storytelling; 3D data processing and fabrication; equipment for innovation, design and production; and digital projects. The Robertson Media Center team has expertise in creative and cutting-edge technologies and works closely with faculty to design inclusive class sessions that build on students’ existing knowledge and skills.

To request an instruction session from the Teaching & Learning team, fill out the “Request a Library Class” form.

Research Data Services + Sciences Team

Overwhelmed by databases? Struggling to organize a massive amount of research? The Library’s Research Data Services + Sciences team can help. Led by Ricky Patterson, an astronomer by training, the team provides classroom support and outreach to all science disciplines at UVA.

The team’s subject liaisons, many of whom have graduate degrees in science disciplines, teach students best practices for data management — how to catalog, store, and preserve all data used in a research project so it can be easily accessed and understood in the future. They also instruct students in finding data sources — from basic keyword searches; to accessing articles in the many databases licensed by the Library; to lesser-known ways to access information, such as interlibrary loan and Libkey Nomad.

Finally, liaisons are available to meet with students who might be struggling with writing a thesis or presenting data or building a bibliography for the first time. “I always say that our liaisons create a safe space,” Patterson said. “If you’re under some deadline or you’re embarrassed because you don’t know the answer but it seems like everyone else does, come in and talk to a liaison one-on-one. It will be a safe space and it’s going to be okay.”

To request an instruction session from the Research Data Services + Sciences team, fill out the “Request a Library Class” form.

Arts & Humanities

Chris Ruotolo heads up a team of ten subject liaisons in the arts and humanities. These liaisons provide subject-specific instruction at all levels, but focus on providing more specialized classroom instruction to upper-level undergraduate and graduate classes.

“Our work tends to be as much about connecting students with specific sources — where to find resources on, say, modern Chinese history or on certain types of representation in media — as about helping them navigate the library. A lot of our preparation work involves making sure we know what is out there, and what are the best places to go. Many of these students are doing field work or community data-gathering, so our work also involves connecting students to resources beyond the library that can help them with their research.”

To request an instruction session from the Arts & Humanities team, fill out the “Request a Library Class” form.

Special Collections

For a recent ENWR class called “Monstrosity,” Jacob Hopkins led a Special Collections instruction session that invited students to examine vintage movie posters for “Dracula,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in unique miniature book form, and a first edition of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

“These sorts of items got students thinking about the idea of monsters and what they represent, but this was also an opportunity to show the wide variety of items in Special Collections — everything from literature to ephemera,” Hopkins said. “These items contribute to their research and scholarship, and they start to really tell an interesting story, opening up all these new pathways for exploration.”

In addition to working with objects in Special Collections, students learn how to search the archives in Virgo (the Library’s main catalog), as well as in other discovery platforms, such as Archival Resources of the Virginias (ARVAS).

To request an instruction session from Special Collections, fill out the Special Collections Class Visits and Instruction” form.

Scholars’ Lab

The Scholars’ Lab is UVA Library’s community lab, specializing in the digital humanities, geographic information systems, mapping, scanning, and modeling of artifacts and historic architecture.

We regularly provide cutting-edge spatial technologies fieldwork, training, and research, partnering with UVA faculty and students and regional community members to tell stories about, discover, and preserve our history,” said Scholars’ Lab Managing Director Amanda Visconti in an email.

The Scholars’ Lab regularly offers short consultation sessions to everyone in the UVA community. With at least one term’s notice, Scholars’ Lab staff will consider collaborating with faculty on syllabus design or module teaching, as well as co-teaching courses.

To contact the Scholars’ Lab, write to

Research Tutorials

The Library offers in-depth tutorials to students, faculty, and staff to assist with specialized research projects and to provide individual instruction in the use of online databases and other library resources. To request a Research Tutorial, fill out a “Research Tutorial request” form.

Course Enrichment Grants

Course Enrichment Grants provide support to faculty who would like to boost their students’ abilities in seeking and using data, as well as to create new types of media-rich class assignments. Recipients receive a $2,500 award and dedicated support from experienced librarians, technologists, or other Library staff.

These grants are open to anyone holding a faculty appointment at UVA who is teaching a semester-long course (Fall, J-Term, Spring, or Summer).

The next application deadline is Feb. 17, 2023.