The Library Peer Network: a lifeline in the education lottery
Updated: Jan 28, 2022
University of Manchester
We all know that the route to academic success is not always a level playing field. Launched in Autumn 2020, the Library Peer Network (LPN) at the University of Manchester is a student-led widening participation scheme designed to help first-year undergraduates from under-represented backgrounds settle into their studies.
Starting a degree can be hard enough under normal circumstances but can feel like another mountain to climb in a pandemic, especially if you come from an under-represented background. Sitting in a lecture theatre for the first time, suffering awkward icebreakers at introductory seminars and meeting so many new people (whose names you probably won’t remember)... if you’ve been to university, you’ll surely remember these pivotal moments that marked the start of your journey in Higher Education.
Imagine navigating this milestone as the first member of your family to attend university, being estranged from your family, or coming from the care system with little real support during this huge transition in your life. Now imagine on top of that: starting your degree remotely, not knowing anyone at the same university and attending virtual lectures and seminars, which lack the sense of community and belonging that physical proximity brings. The inherent isolation is like adding water to an already slippery path. Adding a global pandemic into the mix only makes things a lot more difficult for these under-represented groups.
Enter the LPN. We designed the LPN with the agile needs of these undergraduates in mind, providing a Microsoft Teams space where they could build a support network with students in a similar position. A critical component of the LPN is that it is led by the Library Student Team, a group of current undergraduates, postgraduates and recent graduates spanning a range of degree subjects and backgrounds, reflecting the diverse community that exists within the university. As students ourselves, we identify with the challenges of student life.
Recognising these common struggles, we provide weekly ‘Student Team Tips’ blog posts with our personal experiences and reflections on a range of topics, such as revision and well-being. We also record podcasts where we discuss imposter syndrome, career tips and worst exam experiences! In addition to producing content that students can relate to, we realise it’s important to help them with exploring university life and developing skills they’ll need for future careers. So, we came up ‘LPN Coming Up’ and ‘#OpportunityTuesday’, providing weekly updates on university events and exciting career opportunities (specific to each faculty), in addition to offering resources on academic support.
While collective resources are helpful, we understand from personal experience that sometimes we all need something more specific. This tailored support comes from mentoring students studying similar degrees to our own. Personally, I have found this the most rewarding, using my experience to provide advice on university life or feedback on specific assignments via Zoom. The greater the obstacles, the greater the achievement in overcoming them. The LPN is a testament to this principle.