Partners in Retention: Collaborating with Student Affairs

We have reached the end of the summer and thus the end of my summer outreach series. You can check out Parts I, II, III, and  IV for a refresher.

As campus readies itself for the influx of new students, it seems only appropriate that this installment focuses on partnerships with student affairs. Librarians are talking about ways to demonstrate their value, both in terms of  maintaining and growing collections and providing important services to their institutions. In our new higher education landscape, there is a push toward more accountability and I agree that demonstrating value is a part of that. But as Barbara Fisher suggested yesterday in Inside Higher Ed, “Libraries are suddenly obsessed with demonstrating value, but measures of value that become unanchored from philosophical values can be destructive. (This is an issue for all of higher education. In the rush to prove our value, leaders sometimes toss our values overboard.)” Well said, I say. Beyond supporting research and knowledge creation, I also believe that librarians play a role in supporting our students’ success in other areas of their life on campus beyond the classroom. For me, supporting student success across campus in collaboration with student affairs is in line with librarianship’s values around community.

Courtesy of the Hampshire College Archives

Fully supporting students requires different departments and individuals to work together in and out of the classroom. At Hampshire, one great example of this are the partnerships librarians forge with our office of First Year Programs. Last year, an amazing woman took on First Year programming and met with us during the summer to talk about possible collaborations. In exchange for some food budgets and free advertising, we put together programming for research lunches and late night research consultations in the library at peak times.  These programs were great for two reasons:

1. We learned more about how student affairs worked and more on challenges First Years face.

2. Students met us in different contexts, discovered that we are friendly and helpful, and become repeat customers.

3. First Year Programs had successful sessions, we had support to market ourselves, and thus everyone involved came out as winners.

While these collaborations really embody our library’s mission to support student research and development, partnering with student affairs and first year programs allows us to put names with faces in different parts of campus that can guide students through other roadblocks they encounter. So often, a student will come to me with a research question that is actually a screen for another crisis. By making connections with folks across campus that can help with any variety of student distress, I know who to call on to refer a student towards a successful outcome. That’s huge. I am not suggesting that librarians are an extension of student affairs – or that we should be in the business of fixing our students’ problems – but we can and often do play a role in supporting our students’ emotional lives. And often times, one caring adult at college can be the difference between a student staying and leaving. Retention is a huge metric of success in higher education, and I want to suggest that librarians can and do contribute to students staying, thriving, and graduating.

Librarianship is as much about service as it is about collections. Measuring service can be tricky and imperfect, but I believe that we can tie our services into  the actions colleges and universities take retain students. In a landscape where higher education is faced with making tough decisions that force us to confront compromises in our values, librarians can feel secure that working at the intersection of student affairs and academic services  can provide our campus communities with tremendous value, and value we as librarians can be proud of.