Friday, August 25, 2006

Article Note: On Outreach and Multicultural Centers

Citation for the article:

Walter, Scott. "Moving Beyond Collections: Academic Library Outreach to Multicultural Student Centers." Reference Services Review 33.4 (2005): 438-458.

Read the article via Emerald.

Walter argues that reaching out and focusing on the campus multicultural center is one effective way to improve services for diverse users. Because academic libraries serve as a bridge between librarianship and higher education, they are in a good position to accomplish this. Walter points out that collection development and liaison activities are the best services to diverse users that academic libraries have to offer. However, Walter argues that it is time to move beyond these comfortable areas and implement outreach efforts to student service programs.

As part of the literature review, Walter cites K.E. Downing's list of barriers that minority students may face in relation to using an academic library. I figured these are important to consider, so I am listing them as well:
  • "students of color may come to campus from K-12 schools w[h]ere libraries were under-funded and library services limited. . ."
  • "lack of diversity within the library profession may be reflected on service desks that do not include information professionals of color, which may, in turn, make students of color less likely to approach service desks or to make use of research assistance, consulting services, etc.; and. . ."
  • "changing terminology and standards for collecting and describing information related to topics of interest to students representing diverse communities may make it particularly difficult for students to locate information relevant to chosen research topics" (qtd. in Walter 441).
In addition, the issue of the digital divide may be another barrier, not just for minority students, but for non-traditional students as well.

Washington State University was the subject of the study; it is a comprehensive land-grant research campus. The study used a survey "distributed to students affiliated with one of the four cultural centers, or with the Academic Enrichment Center. . . ." (446). The survery was disseminated in print and electronically. Based on the survey, the librarians the Multicultural Student Center (MSC) staff created a list of possible collaborative endeavors. Some of the items on that list included:
  • Orientations to the library for first-year and for transfer students.
  • A "workshop on finding information about diverse populations in the library and on the web. . ."
  • "alternative voices in the media: finding information in minority-owned publications" (445).
So, what did the author learn from the study? Well, the study found that students associated with the MSC do make regular use of the library and its resources. However, there are some caveats. Walter writes,

"While the most common reason for visiting the library was to locate books or articles for personal use, access to the internet was cited almost as regularly as an impetus for entering the library. The professional assistance offered to students by librarians in the areas of information and instructional services, by contrast, were among the least commonly cited reasons for library use" (448).

The author found this interesting given that the library's numbers for students receiving instruction have been on the rise. He also writes that "the fact that fewer than 10 percent of the students who responded to this survey cited instruction as a reason for visiting the library bears further study" (448).

Walter further points out that survey findings complement other studies when it comes to student research patterns. For instance, the study found that two thirds of students surveyed start their research with the Internet. Walter suggests determining the types of websites they use is a needed investigation. I know I would be curious about the results of such a study.

Walter draws three conclusions. First, development of web resources is crucial. Given that students are more likely to start their research on the Internet, the library needs to create, develop, and promote resources for the minority students. Second, Walter envisions providing instruction to the MSC peer mentors. Given that students are more likely to ask a peer for assistance when they start researching, it makes sense to reach those students through their peer mentors by training the mentors in how to use information effectively. Third, more effective marketing of resources and services is needed.

I liked the peer mentor idea because I think it may work for us if we reach to the various Supplemental Instruction (SI) leaders in place in some of our classes. The SI leaders are students, part of the SI Program, who have taken a particular course and passed it with at least a "B." They audit the class, and they provide various out-of-class sessions for review, discussions, and support. I am thinking it may be a good idea to make an overture to the SIP. I am not sure what I would like to offer yet, but I think there is a good opportunity here.

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