Tag Archives: learning commons

RIOT: Latin@ Perceptions of the Library: Transforming our Space and Services

Dallas Long, Latino Students’ Perceptions of the Academic Library, The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Volume 37, Issue 6, December 2011, Pages 504-511, ISSN 0099-1333, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2011.07.007.(http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0099133311001613)

As we move forward with our new space considerations and campus collaborations, I am thinking of student perceptions of the library, specifically among our diverse populations. The literature suggests that Latin@ students report lower levels of library usage and do not ask librarians for help as often as other racial and ethnic groups. This group also exhibits lower levels of information literacy (see below studies from Solis and Dabbour and Whitmire).
Over 19% of UT’s student population self-identifies as ‘Hispanic’ according to UT’s Statistical Handbook. What are we communicating to these students as we build our spaces and transform our services? Why is it so hard to find information about the intersections between cultural support and learning support in libraries?

This study is the result of interviews with 9 undergraduate students from a large midwestern residential research I institution. All of the participants held an on campus job for 10-20 hours a week. All self-identified as Latin@ and were recruited for the study by the Latino Cultural Center (LCC), a university program created to support the cultural, educational, and recreational needs of Latin@ students. As such, the researchers acknowledge, the group of students interviewed may not be representative of the Latin@ population at this school or at other schools. These students identify with their Latin@ background and may therefore be “more engaged and better perceive the connection between cultural constructs of identity and educational systems more than other students who share their cultural identity”(507).

All of the participants began using the library after their first semester – sometimes years into their academic career. Many of the students only came to the library after being prompted by their peers. Some reported learning how to use the library catalog or databases from their peers. As with other studies we have read here in RIOT, the students interviewed here rarely ask librarians for help and often do not know what librarians can help with. Not much new information there.

Where the study got interesting was in talking about the participants’ experiences in the library as they related to their specific cultural identities. For instance, one participant revealed that she had felt on several occasions that staff members and student workers could not understand her accent and therefore raised their voices as if she could not understand them (509). Participants also intimated that they are more likely to approach a library staff member who appears to share their cultural identity. One participant is quoted, “It’s good to know who the other people are who are like you, even if it is just to say hello to.” (509)

Another participant felt that the lack of materials on display which reflect her culture make her feel alienated from the space. She said, “seeing materials that are clearly for me and not really marketed to other students…that really sends a message to me that the library knows that I am here and they recognize me and want me to feel included” (509). Her thoughts were echoed by two other participants who lamented the lack of Spanish-language materials, signage, and posters, materials which make them feel at home (509).

Interviews with the subjects also suggest that public and school libraries figure heavily in Latin@ communities. Those interviewed regarded these spaces as part of their community, spaces for cultural support and expression (509). Experiencing a library in this way would make the transition to the typical university library unsatisfying; we do not typically engage students on that level. The authors suggest holding performances, celebrations or showcasing traditions in the library or dedicating space to Latin@ student services (510) in order to make culturally diverse students feel more included.

In anticipation of the Learning Commons, one of the initiatives that I have been working on this semester is building fruitful partnerships with campus diversity organizations, like the Multicultural Engagement Center, the Gender and Sexuality Center and smaller student diversity groups (and credit is due to the hard work and inspiration from Kristen, Jee and the rest of the Diversity Action Staff Interest Group in facilitating this conversation). This article suggests building substantial partnerships with student orgs and support services and any other cultural groups on campus for shared library spaces. I think such efforts in our space could go a long way in communicating our values and promoting our inclusive attitudes, but the key is finding places where our services complement one another.

So, my questions for you are:

  1. Have you ever thought of this issue of students not feeling included in the library space? Do you have examples?
  2. What about in the virtual space – do you think there is a way or a reason to study diverse students’ perceptions of the library based on how they encounter us digitally?
  3. Moving forward with the Learning Commons, what diversity partnerships or initiatives would you like to see?
  4. The students in this study also work on campus. Do you see opportunities for our diverse student worker population in helping us create an inclusive environment?

Footnote:

Jacqueline Solis & Katherine S. Dabbour, “Latino students and libraries: a U.S. Federal Grant Project Report.” New Library World 107 (1220/1221) (2006): 49.
Ethelene Whitmire, “Cultural diversity and undergraduates’
academic library use.” Journal of Academic of Librarianship 29 (3)
(2003): 152.
Ethelene Whitmire, “Campus racial climate and undergraduates’
perceptions of the academic library.” Portal: Libraries and the
Academy 4 (3) (2004): 363.