Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Bridging the Chasm

Betsy Barefoot has an article in the online Chronicle Review, titled "Bridging the Chasm: First-Year Students and the Library." (May be password protected...let me know if you can't get in and I'll repost the full story.) In it, she champions the library as essential to first-year students' success, and she essentially takes up the tune we've been singing with our very small academic advocacy work.

Here's an excerpt:
The most effective way to ensure that first-year students become information literate is making library instruction an integral part of courses across the curriculum. That integration requires continuing and creative collaboration between librarians and professors. The good news is that a variety of institutions — public and private, large and small — are taking library instruction increasingly seriously. Members of the Association of College and Research Libraries are working with the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina to produce a monograph about information-literacy instruction in the first year that will provide models for including library use in courses throughout the curriculum.


My boldface added. I'm not trying to toot my own horn here...but I am tickled pink to know that we (as the library industry/profession) are not the only ones yakking about how the library is so important--while everyone else in our respective communities quietly keeps on, keepin' on. Other people (at least one) have started the yak!

2 comments:

Cathy said...

Yep, they'd like a password!

Alice said...

Bridging the Chasm: First-Year Students and the Library

By BETSY BAREFOOT

The campus library may historically be the centerpiece of institutional life on college and university campuses, but many first-year students think it is largely irrelevant to their lives. The reasons include the students' characteristics, attitudes, and prior experiences; the nature of first-year college courses; the lack of instruction on information literacy; and, perhaps most important, the availability of information 24/7 from online sources. Why walk to the library when all the information you could ever need is available at your fingertips in the comfort of your residence-hall room? Or so goes first-year student logic.

Students who have grown up in a world of computers, cellphones, and ATM's expect information to be immediately available and presented in a USA Today format — short and devoid of detail. Few first-year college students can easily distinguish fact from fiction in online and print sources, and even fewer have ever been exposed to the scholarly resources that can be found in a college or university library.

Most of us in higher education would agree that high on the list of essentials for collegiate success are the abilities to find, manipulate, and use information — not just information that can be easily downloaded from the Web, but information that meets standards of accuracy and academic rigor. While colleges generally acknowledge that first-year students are unlikely to develop those abilities on their own, we don't do much to help them.

Many first-year students are middle- to upper-class 18-year-olds who are persistent, self-assured, competitive, and aided by "helicopter parents." But other freshmen are far less sure of themselves and their educational prospects. Students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, students who are the first in their families to attend college, and older students represent increasing proportions of our freshmen classes.

Although going to the library is usually part of childhood and adolescent memories for traditional students from relatively affluent families, it represents a new experience for many first-year students. I have found that some freshmen are afraid of the library, while others see it as a sort of museum — a place that belongs to the past, not the present. Although a few use the library for serious study, others find it "too quiet to study in." One student even complained: "The library gives me a headache."

The freshman year is when students establish habits and seek to learn how to do things "the college way." Some of what they learn comes from campus authority figures like professors and librarians. But for better or worse, upper-class students often have the most influence on new students' behavior, as they distinguish between rhetoric and reality: Do I really have to go to class, study two hours for every hour of instruction, and use the library? New students quickly learn what it really takes to do well, or minimally well, in college.

Although the first year offers a unique opportunity for educators to teach students how to learn, the nature of freshman courses on many campuses is a significant barrier. In a few fields like English composition, first-year courses are typically small, and many include a focus on information literacy. However, first-year courses in history, biology, psychology, sociology, and other subjects often have 75, 100, 500, or even more than 1,000 students. Instructors with that many students are unlikely to assign papers or research projects that require students to use library resources. (Of course, large classes — some of which are taught by graduate students — are cash cows for universities and help pay for small, upper-level courses.)

Many institutions provide information-literacy instruction and library orientation in what I often think of as collegiate "homeroom," the first-year seminar. The quality of library instruction in those seminars varies, as does the amount of time devoted to the topic. Other institutions offer special courses on library use that generally carry one hour of academic credit. But even if students get an introduction to information literacy in a first-year seminar or a special course, they may not transfer what they learn to "regular" courses across the disciplines.

The most effective way to ensure that first-year students become information literate is making library instruction an integral part of courses across the curriculum. That integration requires continuing and creative collaboration between librarians and professors. The good news is that a variety of institutions — public and private, large and small — are taking library instruction increasingly seriously. Members of the Association of College and Research Libraries are working with the National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition at the University of South Carolina to produce a monograph about information-literacy instruction in the first year that will provide models for including library use in courses throughout the curriculum.

What other actions can colleges and universities take to get first-year students into the library?

Include the library as a stop on the campus tour that prospective students take with admissions representatives. Along with the newest residence hall and the state-of-the-art recreation facility, students and their families should see the library. They should be welcomed by a librarian who delivers the message that the library is critically important to each student's academic experience. That message bears repeating at every opportunity, especially during freshman orientation.

* Make sure that librarians are part of any campuswide discussions of the first year. While few faculty and staff members would intentionally exclude information experts from such discussions, librarians are often unintentionally left out. They should not wait for an invitation to join in, but should take every opportunity to remind professors and administrators of the central role that information literacy plays in helping new students achieve their own and the institution's learning goals.
* Involve librarians directly in the delivery of first-year programs. For example, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis considers librarians an essential part of the instructional team in first-year learning communities. Each learning community includes a library consultant who participates in selected course sessions. Bowling Green State University has a librarian who works with professors to design special programs and services for first-year students.
* Try the Barnes & Noble approach. A comfortable ambience, Wi-Fi, and coffee may bring into the library students who are seeking a cozy alternative to studying in a residence-hall room. As The Chronicle reported last July, the University of Texas at Austin has revamped its undergraduate library to include "computers, a coffee shop, comfortable chairs, and 24-hour technical help."

A number of higher-education scholars have observed that the freshman year can be characterized by the low-level bargain that colleges offer students: Don't expect too much of us, and we won't expect too much of you. That bargain is clear in our collective expectations about first-year students' ability and willingness to use library resources.

If we have minimal expectations for what beginning students can and will do, we set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, librarians, professors, and administrators should share a collective goal: that students entering college will get the best start possible by becoming savvy consumers of information.

Betsy Barefoot is co-director of, and a senior scholar at, the Policy Center on the First Year of College, located on the campus of Brevard College. She is a co-author of Achieving and Sustaining Institutional Excellence for the First Year of College and Challenging and Supporting the First-Year Student: A Handbook for Improving the First Year of College, both published last year by Jossey-Bass.
http://chronicle.com
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 52, Issue 20, Page B16