The first in our series of monthly article discussions is "The Academic Library Impact on Student Persistence" by Mark Emmons and Frances C. Wilkinson. The article can be found here: http://crl.acrl.org/content/72/2/128.full.pdf+html
As promised, I have posted 5 questions to get the ball rolling. PLEASE do not feel that you must answer all, or any of the below questions, and instead use them as a jumping off point for the discussion. This article will be discussed during the month of August, and a new article will be posted for September. Please see this post if you're interested in facilitating another month's article discussion!
Looking forward to a great conversation!
When you composed your conclusion, the possible reasons for the impact of staff were couched exclusively in terms of an academic intergrative context, such as "a more professional staff builds collections that connect students better to the knowledge that they need" or "library staff encourages students to use the collection"; did you consider socially integrateive aspects as well?
I think of the socially integrative portion in Tinto's model particularly when you mention Gender and Race as predictors. Perhaps, the library is a safe, nonjudgmental atmosphere or, perhaps, it is a safe place to study, a social environment where one can be alone, but feel secure enough with having others around.
I also am curious about if you see a relationship just between number of staff and persistence; or if this is just reflective of more money spent on the library likely creates a better, cleaner, more modern environment and; therefore, is better used because of money not only spent on the collection and on staff, but also on the building itself?
More technology, more collaborative work spaces, more comfy chairs, etc.
I suppose, I see libraries as dwelling in the middle of Tinto's model, uniquely a part of both the Social Integrative experience necessary for student persistence (like students interacting with faculty or librarians, meeting friends for group study, hanging-out between classes, etc.) and the also the necessary Academic Integrative experience (like fostering intellectual curiousity through exhibits, library instruction, life long learning programming, etc.). Some of this is measurable in terms of number of contact hours like through instruction; or, can be qualitatively gathered, through interview after a viewing an exhibit or guest speaker; for example,"are you interested in learning more about this topic?" as a measure of intellectual curiousity. I would think that the number of staff promotes both the academic integrative and the socially integrative in this context.
Titus found that poor people tend not to go to expensive schools. We should expect elite schools to have better retention rates because they are more selective about who they admit and they have more resources available to the students.
I'm not sure that libraries can do much to equalize anything here. If the college has less money, the library will have less money. One thing some community colleges do is collect textbooks for the students who can't afford them. I would be interested to see how that impacts retention rates.
I worked for a small school with a large percentage of what Titus calls "low SES students." Adjuncts with MLS degrees taught required courses in basic information and computer skills. Some of them also worked part-time in the library, which housed a computer lab and the academic support center. This was beneficial for the students in line with Tinto's model. Students who needed extra help academically, and students who depended on the school's computers, recognized the librarians as educators and experts ready to help.
One way to evaluate the impact of the library efforts would be through exit interviews, especially with graduates who were academically at-risk at any point during their time in college.
While I too have worked many years with SES students, the most successful instructional strategies and outcomes have been based on Paolo Friere's concepts of working from the student's knowledge base to the desired academic outcome. By taking Frierian concepts, the dignity and self-confidence of the student is enhanced.
I do completely agree with you about lower SES not going to expensive schools and about the selectivity of the elite schools. But, I do also believe that the library can help 'equalize' for those students at their own institution. Perhaps, not relative to 'elite schools' or even schools that have managed to keep a high professor to student ratio (if those schools still exist??); but within a particular institution, I do believe that a library can have a great deal of impact upon student persistence for all of their students.
Where to spend that limited amount of money is the big question (or, it is always the question). To a large degree it will depend on the culture of the institution and the demographics of the student body. Each institution is going to be different, whether it is a largely lower-SES serving or Hispanic Serving or Urban or Rural institution. The programming will be different; the instruction will be different; the library support and environment will need to be different as well.
I do believe that there are ways of measuring library impact (and, I do like your suggestion regarding at risk student exit interviews -- which, I am filing away), but how the library does contribute to a student's academic success is not going to be the same at every library. The institutions, the students, and the campus culture will all be unique. For me, it is a matter of, "how do I best support the educational goals of my students; what do they need? More instruction, more collaborative space, secured late night computer labs, more online, textbooks?" and "What are the ways I can discover their needs and determine if what I'm doing is working or not to meet these needs?" Doing everything would be great. But, we can't afford everything these days.
I'd like to see a similar in-depth analysis done on smaller, non-ARL schools. ARL libraries serve research institutions - they are of course concerned with persistence and degree completion of undergraduates, but they are also concerned with faculty research, graduate research, and even graduate student retention. I very much appreciate the author's suggestion that we apply "systems thinking" to the issue, and understand that no library is free of competing demands for "impact." Even so, I wonder what we could see if we analyzed libraries and institutions who were not also trying to rub their bellies and pat their heads. Perhaps there is a study that could reassure me that the same actions which positively affect faculty and graduate students positively affect undergraduates, but I haven't seen one yet! I'd also like to point out that the IPEDS "graduation rate" data only reflects full-time first-time undergraduates - perhaps this doesn't significantly affect the data for large universities or 4-year primarily residential colleges, but it signficantly affects ours because we're very small and a good number of students don't start at full time or have transferred in. Surely all schools keep their own retention data that includes part-timers and transfer students, but it's unfortunate that "first-time, full-time" numbers from IPEDS are the only consistent numbers across schools.I know I'm preaching to the choir in this group, but I think all libraries should seek a seat at the table for conversations about retention and/or institutional effectiveness. Just as Emmons and Wilkinson suggest, "systems thinking" is the key. I partnered with other departments before I joined our retention committee, but now I know more about other departments' retention-oriented initiatives and I can more easily find partners in other departments for our own initiatives. Perhaps the best part of it is that I can put retention-focused terminology on existing library initiatives, and it gives us confidence for continuing programs we wanted to do anyway.This was a great choice for a first article, by the way.
This study brought home to me the difficulty in measuring library/librarian impact on student retention and graduation. I'm sure there is an impact, but measuring it is the difficulty. It was very interesting to read that input/output measures are not directly correlated to retention/graduation, but number of librarians is.
I'm sure effectiveness of the librarian is something that enters the equation in smaller libraries, like my own. Most branches in my community college system have one librarian per branch; the personality and effectiveness of the librarian play a huge role in whether students even use the library. However, at larger institutions I think the effect would be watered down...if that is the correct terminology.
One of the biggest reasons I believe librarians impact students is in showing interest and caring about the outcome of their academic dilemma. Many times a student has told me that they feel we are in their corner, we are a part of their team and we are a reason they are still there. One thing that librarians do as a part of their job is to ask "How can I help you?" As demonstrated by some of the responses already received, the librarian then goes out of their way to help a student find what they need to succeed.
I think that students ALWAYS reach a point at some time in their career as a student when they are overwhelmed and ready to quit. When we step forward, sometimes at just that crucial moment, and ask how we can help it turns the tide in their thinking to the point where they realize they can do it with just a little bit of help. And this is especially true with students of lower socio-economic status.
This was a great first article to discuss--made me feel all warm and mushy inside after I waded through all of the statistics and found the conclusion. Librarians and faculty are all "part of a complex social system" that weaves a net to catch students who slip occasionally. Now, how do we prove that?
As with others, I agree with the assumption that fewer lower SES students attend elite colleges; financial aid and scholarships only go so far. Like Sarah, I would like to see this type of analysis on non-ARL schools. I am at a community college and retention is very important, as many of our students have to juggle work, family and school responsibilities, and we need to be sure we are there to support them as much as possible. My campus is much different than other campuses in our system (we are a Hispanic serving institution, with a large number of part-time students) so our analysis could be much different our college as a whole. I am not sure how we can equalize financial factors, but as another has noted, we too have course reserves which helps students who may have a textbook issue if they are willing to work in the library. It's small, but it could easily save them hundreds.
I do find it interesting that the correlation of number of librarians impacts student retention and graduation. As the author indicates, and others have noted, it could be that the campus/college atmosphere is the underlying factor. I agree that number of librarians alone are not a factor - again, the campus/college plays a role. If the librarians are very active collaborating with other faculty (our librarians are faculty) then I believe the faculty see value in the library and are more likely to encourage their students to use the library and its services, and in turn, schedule library sessions, whereas, if the librarians are invisible, the faculty in turn may see no value in the library or its services.
Unfortunately, I don't believe any of our librarians are represented on our college's retention committee. That is something I plan on looking into, as I think it is an excellent point. For those that are on retention committees, what role do you play? Have you seen any change in how administration view the library?
This was a good first article - I have read it over a couple of times and shared with a couple of my peers. I have also enjoyed the comments...also thought provoking.
I found this article to be very thought-provoking. I really started thinking about how we can possibly link library statistics to the outcomes of the institution as a whole. I have read several related publications recently, including books on anthropological study of student use of libraries and on librarians collaborating with student affairs. Are others out there working in this research area? I would like to get in contact with you and learn about what you are doing.
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