The Case for Academic Libraries and “College Fluency”
Students struggle with a variety of challenges outside of the classroom that affect their academic success–balancing family, household, work, and school responsibilities, having enough money to pay for courses and basic needs, and navigating college resources and services. When presented via survey with a series of possible interventions to address these needs, students expressed great interest in having more support in navigating information related to the college experience, as described in this service concept:
Imagine that the college offered a single point of contact for whenever you need help navigating any part of college including advising, registering for classes, applying for financial aid, securing personal counseling, and obtaining tutoring or other coursework assistance. This service would offer expertise in connecting you with the right college employee for assistance.
Academic libraries may be naturally well-positioned to meet these information needs by fostering “college fluency” across students and staff. Libraries serve as welcoming spaces, are often open longer hours than other offices on campus, and provide a variety of services and spaces that address both curricular and non-curricular needs.
Further, students already envision the library as a possible support provider for information on navigating college services. In the survey, students named the library, along with academic advising offices and one-stop centers, as the place they would go to seek support. And, more informally, I’ve spoken to many academic library employees over the past year who note the relative frequency with which these questions are being posed to public-facing staff.
However, providing support to students for non-curricular information needs is not a straightforward task, and many librarians are not prepared sufficiently to answer these questions. Because relevant services are offered by myriad institutional providers that may not be in close coordination with one another, it’s not always easy for one department or staff member to know what resources are available and where they are provided. Further, because the library is typically part of academic affairs, as opposed to student affairs, there are additional structural barriers that exist for libraries in providing referrals for services.
The pairing of student demand for this type of service, coupled with their desire to potentially see it housed in the library, has me reflecting on the following questions:
- What structures, capacities, and relationships currently exist to ease the process of students navigating college services–within and outside of the library?
- What challenges exist for doing this work? What special considerations should be made in light of resource constraints?
- What are possible new roles for libraries and other support providers in student and academic affairs? What are the implications for the mission of the library and other campus support providers?
Next week at Achieving the Dream’s annual conference, I will be presenting with colleagues at Borough of Manhattan Community College, Pierce College District, and LaGuardia Community College on a few different models in which libraries are leading efforts or collaborating with others to help students navigate college services. We are very interested in continuing to explore these partnerships between libraries and their broader institutions in the coming years. If your institution already has a formalized model of support or is interested in developing one, we would love to hear from you.