David Free: Welcome to ACRL Podcasts. My name is David Free. In partnership with the Association for Institutional Research, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, and the Council of Independent Colleges, ACRL recently held two IMLS grant”‘funded summits on the value of academic libraries. During a quick break, I met up with Nancy Marlin, provost at San Diego State University, and we talked about ways libraries could use existing data to enhance student success.
Is there one particular idea or trend that really grabbed you that you want to take back to your colleagues at your institution?
Nancy Marlin: I think there are many wonderful ideas. One of the values of having these types of conversations is it brings people together who don’t spend a lot of time together on campus talking. So, that has been very helpful, and I think we already have an agenda to bring back.
David: You made some good comments in the session today about the use of data.
Nancy: The whole conference centered on the value, of course, of academic libraries. And there seemed to be a proclivity that people said, “All right, we have to establish the value by assessing this and that.” The impact that the library has on student success or research or anything related to the university. There seem to be, again, this tendency, like, “We’ll go out and get more data. And then, that will convince everyone the libraries are very important.”
My concern was, I don’t think it’s that we lack data. We actually have a lot of data. Getting more data isn’t, as a provost, to me, probably going to be that helpful. What I was suggesting is we turn the methodology around a bit and say, from the data we have, where are there particular needs? And this came up during the discussion of, on our table, student success. We know we have some students who are really at risk. We have good longitudinal data. We can identify some of the characteristics of those students.
So, rather than try and just gather lots more data to demonstrate the library contributes to student success, let’s try and design an intervention for the students that we know from our existing data are not succeeding. How can the library be part of that effort, to me, is a far more compelling type of argument for the role of the library.
David: What steps do you think that academic libraries could take to make that next step?
Nancy: Well, I’ll give you the specifics we’re thinking about at San Diego State University. We have done some longitudinal research in terms of measuring graduation rates, as our measure of success, that look at the students academic preparation and whether they live on or off campus. And what we’re finding is a group that’s very at risk are our commuter students. They live at home. Their academic preparation is stronger than the students living on campus, and they’re not doing as well.
They’re living at home, because they need to work, or they have family responsibilities or transportation problems and so forth. But they’re clearly not making the same type of connection with the institution as students who are actually living at the university. The library, it seems to many of us, is a physical place. I mean, that’s one of the big advantages of libraries. They have more space because we aren’t doing the same type of collecting and just endlessly getting more volumes in the library.
What if we really create a space for these commuter students that would connect them peer to peer? We do some academic work. We put them in learning communities, sort of the same classes. They have this space in the library that would be for them. We have the resources that the librarians can bring to bear to help those students and so forth to create an engagement, even though they aren’t living on campus. Maybe we will have lockers where they can plug in their laptops and things like that.
So that’s I think a very specific situation where we can use the library and the librarians we hope to advantage those students. Again it’s based on we know those students are at risk. We’ll do this type of intervention. We’ll be able to see does it help, does it not help. So that’s one example we’re thinking of.
David: Have you found them to be successful in your campus?
Nancy: No we’re just…
David: Just starting that?
Nancy: We just, again, this is years of data. And that was one of the things that came out again. These changes don’t come quickly. To see that that student group is really at risk, we’re looking at graduation rates over lots of cohorts. This is a decade of research. But one of the things again that struck so many of us was these students come academically very well”‘prepared. They do less well, in terms of student success measured by graduation, than students are less academically prepared, but who were living on campus. So what can we as an institution, in particular a library, do to try and in some ways change that situation?
David: Aside from that issue of moving from collecting data to acting on that data, trying to improve students’ success, what other challenges do you think are facing academic librarians as they’re trying to move forward in demonstrating our value on campus?
Nancy: Well I think one of the things we talked about at my table was the role of librarians in research, faculty grant getting. Faculty, when they’re seeking their grants, it’s only anecdotally or they come to the library to get occasional information or library loans and things like this. But we have our librarians who have content knowledge, who if paired in some ways early on, of course if the faculty member wants this, in terms of information organization and access to materials and helping with the actual development of the grant can be very, very helpful.
This is something we talked about at our table of early on where we do workshops through our research foundation for faculty who are going to be seeking grants. But that’s where the operational side, the agencies, how to put together budgets, what their rules are, and the institutional review boards and so forth.
But if we had a librarian paired more on the content side, to provide assistance with that grant writing in the process, we also think that might increase the success of our grant getting, which all universities, especially those of us who rely a lot on external funding these days, have to keep those numbers up because those fund many of our own programs and students.
Transcription by CastingWords