From Student Success to Student Well-Being 

In recent years, the concept of “student success” has taken center stage in higher education, impacting the way colleges and universities approach the well-being and achievements of their students. While traditional metrics such as GPA, retention rates, and graduation rates have historically been the benchmark for student success, the concept is no longer confined to academic achievements alone. It is evolving to encompass a multitude of non-curricular and non-academic factors that are equally vital for students’ overall well-being. 

A small but notable shift is underway in the academic library landscape, one that recognizes and responds to students’ non-academic needs. Amid this shift, Student Success Librarians are poised to play a pivotal role. These positions blend traditional librarianship with student engagement and development, more akin to Student Affairs. While Student Success Librarians’ focus has been primarily academic support, there is now a growing acknowledgment of the importance of addressing non-curricular information needs. 

The Evolving Role of Academic Librarians 

The changing character of Student Success Librarian positions is demonstrated by an important study by Sarah Simms and Jeremiah Paschke-Wood, in their essay titled “Academic Librarians and Student Success: Examining Changing Librarian Roles and Attitudes” (2022). Based on librarian responses to survey questions, this study delves into the evolving perspectives of librarians regarding student success, the challenges of defining and measuring such a nebulous concept, and their expectations for the future of this facet of academic librarianship. The study underscores the growing awareness of non-academic barriers to student success, including financial constraints, racial inequalities, food and housing insecurity, mental health and well-being, and unequal access to technology. These external factors have a significant impact on a students’ ability to succeed, emphasizing the need for a holistic approach. 

A key insight from Simms and Paschke-Wood’s research is that student success is far from a uniform concept. Echoing research from Ithaka S+R, the concept of success varies among students, encompassing academic accomplishments, personal growth, social development, and overall well-being. In a “post-pandemic” world where COVID-19 and its ripple effects continue to affect students, albeit with less urgency, a singular focus on academic success is no longer adequate. Students grapple with myriad non-academic challenges, making it crucial to directly engage with them to understand how they are coping (or not) with these external factors.  

This is where Student Success Librarians have an opportunity to foster a more compassionate educational environment. The responses to the study show that many librarians are already embracing this idea to some extent. Some libraries are developing programs, positions, and other repositories of knowledge that foster the transition from traditional notions of student success to what might be better thought of as “student well-being.” This transformation aligns with the cultivation of what we term “college fluency,” which enables students to navigate their academic journeys while effectively addressing their non-curricular needs. 

The Undergraduate Engagement Program at UIC

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)’s Library’s Undergraduate Engagement Program (UEP) provides an excellent illustration of this. Discussed by Teresa Helena Moreno and Jennifer M. Jackson, two librarians at UIC, the UEP challenges the conventional definition of student success from an early stage, recognizing that student information needs go beyond simply academic resources. Their article “Redefining Student Success in the Academic Library” (2020) underscores the critical perspective that student success should encompass the diverse and non-academic needs of students, often overlooked by quantitative metrics. For example, students experiencing housing or food insecurity face challenges that transcend traditional data points like GPA or attendance at library programs. 

Since its inception in Spring 2019, the UEP has aimed to collaborate with campus partners and redefine students’ relationships with the information necessary for their academic journeys, all while honoring their diverse backgrounds and identities. The authors note that the success of the UEP relies on its relationships both within and outside the library, and particularly through the creation of library-led programming. Examples include the Wall of Encouragement for student solidarity and a Pop-Up Library curated by students. The UEP also actively supports first-year writing courses and other outreach roles, such as orientation assistance, task forces for first-generation students, and information literacy workshops. Moreno and Jackson emphasize that this critical approach to undergraduate engagement contributes to a sense of belonging among students, a non-quantifiable yet crucial facet of student success. 

College Fluency: Student Success Beyond Academics 

The emergence of Student Success Librarians reflects a welcome shift in the library’s role within higher education, an acknowledgment that student success is multifaceted and extends far beyond the classroom. Some student success initiatives like the UEP are even going beyond academics, emphasizing students’ non-curricular needs in a holistic sense.  

College fluency naturally comports with this approach. Libraries are information-rich environments staffed by experts who can guide students (and staff) not only in accessing academic resources but also in securing crucial information regarding housing and food security, financial aid, mental health services, and more. Ideally, librarians might become vital connectors, ensuring students are well-prepared to address both aspects of their college experience. In the process, they could empower students to advocate for themselves, making their college journey a less intimidating and more successful one. 

Moreno, T. H., & Jackson, J. M. (2020). Redefining student success in the academic library: Building a critically engaged undergraduate engagement program. Research Library Issues301, 6–25.

Simms, S., & Paschke-Wood, J. (2022). Academic librarians and student success: Examining changing librarian roles and attitudes. Journal of Library Administration62(8), 1017–1044.

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