Since 2013, North Carolina community colleges have been tracking performance measures focusing on students who need help to catch up and to keep up with their peers. A group of librarians wanted to identify and document the contributions of libraries to student success.
With support from the State Library of North Carolina and the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, Rejeanor Scott, Nora Bird and several librarian colleagues commissioned a three-year, first-of-its-kind study. In early 2015, 168 librarians and other library staff responded to a preliminary survey. Later that year, 7,122 students and 1,449 faculty responded to surveys.
Students gave their librarians high marks — as high or higher than instructors did — for contributing to their academic success. Generally, librarians were more modest in their self-assessments, whereas both students and faculty were usually more generous.
Praise from students
Students needing to catch up included those who needed to learn basic skills, earn GED diplomas and learn English. These students were as likely or more likely than their instructors and their librarians to rate the library contribution to their success as excellent or good. Here are two examples:
A GED student at Durham Technical Community College shared, “I have been using our library since I was part of the GED program. Information which is taught by the librarians ranges from how to cite scholarly articles to how to properly search for books in the library. The library means a lot to me, but there is something special about the library. It is not the books, computers or printers; it is the librarians who take time to help a student succeed.”
An anonymous English-as-a-second-language student said, “English isn’t my first language. I had to learn it the hard way because I didn’t have much time. And the librarians were there for me.”
Students needing to keep up included first-year students, those pursuing two-year degrees or other credentials (licensure or certification), and those aspiring to four-year degrees. They also rated the library contribution to their success as highly as, or more highly than, their instructors and their librarians.
“There is something special about the library — librarians who take the time to help a student succeed in his or her studies,” a first-year Durham Tech student observed.
An anonymous student pursuing nursing credentials mentioned the resources librarians locate and aggregate: “I am a second-year nursing student and just recently learned that one of the librarians has worked to create a special allied health research database. I have found it a lifesaver resource.”
Another anonymous student explained how a librarian helped her transfer successfully to a four-year institution. “I was not sure how to acquire information for the many essays that were required. The librarian explained how to find what I needed, and how to cite my work. I received an ‘A’ in the English class, and might not be in college today if it weren’t for him.”
Passing on information literacy
The curriculum of community college librarians is information literacy — teaching students how to formulate questions, find information to answer them, judge its quality and use it appropriately.
The study’s findings underscore that teaching information literacy is a key way in which librarians contribute to academic success by helping students acquire essential research skills. A librarian at Sandhills Community College gave this example: “I was told by a mid-life student, returning to college after 20 years, that the help and support she received from our library staff made all the difference for her. She described being overwhelmed by using databases, and said that instruction from our librarians kept her from giving up and dropping out.”