Saturday, December 8, 2012

Barriers to Student Success

It is near the end of the semester, and the obstacles facing students are suddenly more noticeable. As they sprint to the finish, students are rushing around and packing things in, with no time to waste. Anything that is not a requirement, it seems, can be dispensed with. They have to do what to get a library card, in order to access the library resources? You can't get this online because of copyright? How many clicks does it take to connect to the database? The assigned reading is how many pages, and it will take how many hours?

In our department, meanwhile, it seems we have repeated discussions about specialization and the amount of time needed to learn to do a task efficiently. Occasionally librarians are pulled into helping at the circulation desk, for instance, and those transactions then end up taking twice as long due to unfamiliarity with the system and procedures. Students figuring out the expectations of a college during their first years (or semester) in higher education are similar to librarians negotiating unfamiliar tasks, and these can be painfully inefficient and frustrating experiences until mastered.

Some of the barriers that students encounter are unavoidable; some are due to poor time management or organization; some are a result of indifference. But I keep returning to the thought that if there is something we can do at the library to remove a barrier, we should. This may sound simple and obvious, but it belies the amount of energy and willpower it can sometimes take. Here are a few that come to mind as examples: *Off-campus authentication: Currently this involves the integrated library system and the local public library consortium, and to improve it would involve the college's public safety department, some new code from IT, and a new process for library staff. *Cooperation among services that are located in the same building: The library as a space occupies an entire building, but as a department it only occupies the first floor. Students often approach library staff with problems we have little control over.

Librarians, along with others working in academia but particularly in community colleges, have an obligation to identify and remove barriers in order to foster student success.

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