Reading Dallas Long’s 2016 Dissertation

In a college environment upended (and still reeling) from the effects of COVID-19 and subsequent closures, college librarians have an important role to play in designing welcoming environments for students. This is especially the case for community colleges, whose students—overwhelmingly minority and/or first-generation—often have no shortage of difficulties navigating the labyrinthine campus environment and the myriad services offered within. One aim of this IMLS-funded research grant, “College Fluency Capacity Building,” is to proactively and systematically develop college fluency as a librarian skillset. Operating within a college fluency framework, college librarians would familiarize themselves with relevant campus support systems and learn how to provide students with effective referrals, so they can prevent the protracted “shuffle” that often characterizes student service requests.

Understanding how library supports can complement, while not duplicating, broader campus efforts will be key. This requires deliberate and thoughtful coordination between libraries and existing student services. The intricacies (and politics) of such coordination are examined in Dallas Long’s 2016 dissertation, “Librarians and Student Affairs Professionals as Collaborators for Student Learning and Success.” Long makes an important observation relevant to this research grant: Although student affairs professionals and academic librarians often have only vague conceptions of each other’s responsibilities, their ideas about what constitutes student learning and success are nonetheless converging. In particular, Long observes a shared interest between the two groups of professionals in terms of teaching soft skills “that the curriculum may not be teaching,” which may be applicable to students’ daily lives (p. 202).

Moreover, both groups’ positive assessment of colleges’ increasing emphasis on the library as a student hub for curricular and non-curricular activities offers a major site of alignment, and potentially collaboration, between student services- and library-oriented approaches (p. 208). Such observations suggest the importance of interventions that leverage the library context, perhaps in the form of “working groups…that bring student affairs professionals and librarians together to identify the student services that might serve students best in a centralized location” (p. 228). Dovetailing with Long’s work, an aim of our present College Fluency research is to construct and disseminate best practices for librarians to navigate the web of student services, including strategies for developing structured and institutional modes of coordination. As Long discusses, student affairs professionals have quite a bit to offer librarians in terms of approach: not only can they teach “advising skills that help librarians more appropriately diagnose and understand students’ information needs” (p. 17), but they can also “integrate librarians into activities and programs so students could become familiar with librarians, the library, and how to use library resources effectively very early in their college experience” (p. 223).

This engagement between the two types of professionals could have the effect of further pushing librarians’ student interactions beyond the merely “transactional” into something sustained and personal. And as a result, librarians might gain deeper insight into the relationships binding student non-curricular needs and student success—an important facet of College Fluency Capacity Building. Indeed, there continues to be a need for librarians to familiarize themselves with the intricacies of such services, owing to college libraries’ typical centralized location, not to mention the safety many students feel in the physical space of the library. As an endeavor, this might require a reorientation of certain library services beyond the brief and transactional and into the ongoing and relational. Or, in Long’s words—

This engagement with students likely means that librarians must leave the library and participate more fully in students’ lives – they must go where the students are.

Dallas Long (2016, p. 233)

It is important to underscore that the initial foreignness of the college environment, with its various silos and compartments, is not experienced and surmounted by all students equally. Previous Ithaka S+R research has shown that students of marginalized backgrounds, including those with limited exposure to higher-ed vocabularies (due to first-generation status or otherwise), indicate personal preference for initiatives targeting college navigation: advising, financial aid, career planning, counseling, etc. In the next College Fluency in Context Post, we’ll examine a piece of scholarship that discusses such factors in detail, especially within the community college context, and connect it to our present research.

Long, D. (2016). Librarians and student affairs professionals as collaborators for student learning and success. [Doctoral dissertation, Illinois State University]. ISU Research and eData. https://ir.library.illinoisstate.edu/etd/519

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