Serving Graduate Students
Graduate and professional students are among the heaviest users of academic libraries, driven by original research and various types of extensive literature reviews. Faculty members have traditionally had their interests represented through various types of library advisory committees, and in recent years libraries have turned significant attention to undergraduate student success. In many universities, of the library’s major stakeholder groups, graduate students are least well understood and, in these cases, they may offer potentially the greatest opportunity for improvements to library service offerings.
There have been some major projects to examine the needs of graduate students. In a major project commissioned from an outside consultant, the NYU Division of Libraries focused at some length on graduate student needs, leading to the development of a number of new spaces and services. As Nancy Fried Foster described in her recent issue brief, the University of Chicago spearheaded a project with five other Illinois libraries to understand the research needs of medical students.
Over the past two years, I have heard again and again from library directors, especially at research universities, who are concerned that they need tools to understand their graduate students better, especially given the growth of international student populations and increasing emphasis on the sciences. They see terrific opportunities for the library, but also limitations in their ability to plan services based on evidence about practices and needs.
Responding to the needs of university libraries, Ithaka S+R recently developed a survey questionnaire focused exclusively on the practices and needs of graduate and professional students as part of our local surveys. We designed the core questionnaire, which all participants run, to focus on graduate students’ higher education objectives, experience with academics and coursework, instructional practices (for those with teaching responsibilities), and perceptions about the role of the library. We have developed additional thematic modules on topics including library space planning, research projects and activities, STEM-specific practices, co-curricular activities, and career goals. The questionnaire enables participating institutions to analyze responses based on international student status, socioeconomic status, and veteran status, in addition to standard demographics.
We are eager to learn more about the practices you have instituted to learn about and reach this important set of users, and how these fit together with the instrument we have developed. To that end, I invite you to join our surveys coordinator Alisa Rod at ACRL for a conversation about serving graduate students.