Student Success and the Community College Library

If your community college is anything like mine, you hear the phrase “student success” frequently. At my college, it’s more than a buzzword. Student success is the most important of our four institutional values, in addition to workforce and economic development, P-16 pipeline, and our people.

In fact, we can’t seem to overstate the importance of student success to our mission, making clear on our website that “Student success is our reason for being. It frames our thinking in everything we do, and it guides every decision we make.”

Every policy the college implements, every new program or facility it develops, every individual performance measure we set for ourselves, is centered around its effectiveness to help our students succeed.

It’s easy to measure student success in the big picture, with tangible outcomes: a successful student is one who graduates, completes a certificate program, or transfers to a four-year university. There are other, intangible measures, too: a successful student is one with a sense of pride in her accomplishments, one who has learned valuable skills to take back to the workplace, one who is able to effectively balance the demands of work, school, and family.

I think about the library and student success often. The library does not operate like an academic department, vocational program, or campus service. It’s clear, for example, how the Financial Aid office contributes to student success; after all, for a student to graduate, she must be able to finance her education.

In the library, however, it’s difficult to accurately assess the impact of reference services, information literacy instruction, or library amenities on student success, whether quantitatively or qualitatively measured. When I show a student how to read an LC call number, will it help her graduate? Will access to a free reserve textbook be the deciding factor in whether or not a student completes a certificate? How can we measure the library’s contribution to student success?

It’s hard for us to answer this question specifically, and I admire the work many librarians are already doing to assess our impact. I plan on writing future posts about the difficulties libraries face with assessment, but there are a number of studies that correlate using the library with retention and student success. I’ll highlight just a few here:

Zhong and Alexander surveyed students to identify the library resources and services the students felt contributed most to the ability to complete their coursework successfully; they found that “academic libraries and library initiatives are viewed by students to directly and positively impact their academic success.” Haddow and Joseph found that library use (defined as at least one instance of book borrowing, login to a library PC, or authenticated login to library resources) is “statistically significantly associated with retention.” Goodall and Pattern found a “positive correlation between library usage and classification of final degree award,” where library usage is defined as borrowing books and logging in to the library’s online resources.

While many of the studies seeking to establish a correlation between using library resources and services and student success are conducted at four-year universities, there is research being conducted in community colleges, as well. Librarians at Glendale Community College are doing amazing work studying the longitudinal impact of library instruction on student success. They've found that both components of their information competency program, library workshops and library courses, result in statistically significant short-term and long-term gains, including persistence, higher semester and cumulative GPAs, and number of completed units.

So what can you do right now to support student success at your institution? Here are a few outreach strategies I’ve tried with the goal of advancing student success at my college:

1. Get involved with campus-wide student success initiatives

Chances are good that if your college is discussing student success, there are formal initiatives in place to increase retention, persistence, and completion. At my college, the centerpiece of our initiative are our Student Success Courses. There are two iterations: a college preparatory-level course titled College Student Success and listed in the catalog as GUST 0305 (Guided Studies), and an interdisciplinary course titled Learning Frameworks and cross-listed in the catalog as EDUC/PSYC 1300. While only instructors credentialed in either education or psychology may teach the latter, anyone with at least a bachelor’s degree and has completed a 3-day training workshop is eligible to teach GUST 0305.

If you have any sort of formal student success classes on your campus, get involved! Next fall will be my seventh semester teaching a GUST 0305 section, and it is a valuable opportunity to understand first-hand the kinds of educational, financial, and social barriers to success our students face.

If you aren’t able to teach a student success class yourself, lobby to make library orientation or a one-shot session a required part of the course. Our GUST 0305 course requires instructors to schedule 3 or 4 class periods (“points of contact”) for students to work with First Year Experience, Career Counseling, Advising, and Financial Aid staff. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in persuading the department chair to include library orientation as a required “point of contact.” However, by leveraging my own experience teaching the course and networking with other instructors, a majority of GUST 0305 instructors voluntarily schedule a class with a librarian.

2. Liaise with First Year Experience

The First Year Experience (FYE) program is ground zero for our student success initiatives, managing mandatory student orientations and a retention calling program. If you have a similar program or office at your college, set up a meeting to discuss areas in which FYE and library staff can collaborate. I’m very lucky to work with an enthusiastic FYE director, and some of the projects we’ve worked on in the last year include:

  • Snack Attack: FYE student leaders came to the library several times over two days to distribute free water, snacks, scantrons, and school supplies to first year students.

  • Roaming Reference: Librarians set up a table in the Student Center one day, and in the Welcome Center the next, in order to provide reference help for students passing through. We will repeat this again in September, when the library closes to the public for three days as part of a six-month renovation.

  • BLAST Off to Finals!: Inspired by a program at UNC-Charlotte, BLAST Off! took place the last week of classes and provided students with stress-relieving amenities in and around the library: bubbles, lollipops, activities (coloring books, games, craft stations), snacks, and touch (hand massagers and stress balls). The library and FYE partnered with Student Life to develop the program, and it was one of the most popular programs either group held that semester. We plan on repeating and expanding this program by partnering with our Tutoring and Learning Center.

  • Get Carded! ID card drive: Currently in the planning stages, FYE and the library are partnering with Enrollment Services to hold a drive the second week of the fall semester to encourage students to get their student ID card made and bring it to the library to check out materials.

3. Spread the word that the library is dedicated to student success

Too often I get the impression that faculty and administrators take the library for granted; that they think we’re necessary for a college to have, but that we operate in a bubble, blissfully holed up with our dusty books.

I try and promote the library and our commitment to helping students succeed as much as possible. Last spring I presented a surprisingly well-attended breakout session at a district-wide in-service day titled, “They Do Research, Don’t They? Librarian and Faculty Partnerships for Student Success.” Our college Foundation runs a Student Success Initiative Grant program; last year I secured a $3700 grant to purchase and market LibraryH3lp’s chat and text message reference service, putting us on the radar of the Foundation and its Board. I attend every New Student Orientation Resource Fair, as much to perform outreach to students as to let other attending departments and services know librarians consider themselves a resource for student success. Each semester I speak at new faculty orientations and department meeting to reaffirm our commitment to collaboration and innovative services to help as many students as possible succeed.

Simply spreading the word that the library is an enthusiastic collaborator and promoter of student success will go a long way toward securing a place at the table as a true stakeholder and partner in your college’s student success initiatives.

Does your college focus on student success? What are you doing at your library to promote student success?



One thought on “Student Success and the Community College Library

  1. Fabulous blog. You have quoted some excellent research that again emphasizes the importance of libraries, librarians, collaborative efforts between faculty and the library staff, and current programs at San Jacinto College. Thank you, Jane!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s