We’re excited to announce that the Borough of Manhattan Community College Library and Ithaka S+R are partnering on new IMLS-funded research exploring librarians’ role in college fluency. The College Fluency Capacity Building research project will equip library faculty and staff to address new and urgent challenges they are facing in their profession as they are called to meet the changing information needs of the students they serve.

As the type of information that students are seeking has been significantly impacted by social, demographic, economic, and technological changes, students are also facing new challenges in navigating complex institutional and administrative bureaucracies. Our research team has coined a novel term to describe this emerging phenomenon: college fluency is the knowledge and corresponding set of abilities that enable students and staff to effectively locate and use relevant college services, programs, and resources, which can help students to successfully engage with and self-advocate within the culture and bureaucracy of higher education institutions in order to achieve their goals.

In addition to helping students navigate more traditional academic, journal, or archival information sources, there is a need for librarians to develop new knowledge and skills to answer students’ questions about navigating the university environment and culture itself. By strengthening community college librarians’ skillful fluency in more dimensions of college navigation, they will be able to better meet the needs of students who come to the library for support accessing resources and services that can benefit their material, financial, and other needs.

The stakes of college fluency are high for students and librarians; the culture, nomenclature, and organizing principles of US higher education are often opaque to students, and even sometimes to staff ensconced in departmental silos, creating barriers to success. This ambiguity can make navigating the services a college offers a challenge, especially for non-curricular needs that are served by myriad offices with unfamiliar names. One student, interviewed during prior IMLS-funded research conducted by BMCC and Ithaka S+R, astutely describes the complicated college landscape: “For me the college is just so big. Sometimes you get bounced back and forth from departments to departments… you get lost in bureaucracy… sometimes you don’t even know how to navigate the whole system.”

Providing support to students for non-curricular information needs is not a straightforward task for librarians, and further research is necessary to uncover what resources and practices community college libraries need to increase college fluency on their campuses.

Over the next two and a half years, our research project will focus on unmet needs related to college fluency for community college librarians and students through a series of case studies and a national survey. This research seeks to enhance the abilities of academic librarians and library workers to help community college students successfully access and navigate institutional resources and services for their holistic needs. The findings of our project will drive trainings and workshops to increase librarians’ college fluency and their capacity to support it so that students may have improved access to the resources and services that can positively impact their financial, mental, and social health.

We look forward to sharing insights as our research develops. For more information on project activities, project team members, and advisors, visit our project website.


The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.