Did you know that the number of international students at about 3,000 U.S. colleges and universities rose 8% last year to a new high of 671,616. Big increases in students from China helped fuel the rise. As in other recent years, India once again sent the most students to the U.S., followed by China, South Korea, Canada and Japan. Or were you aware that U.S. receipts from international students studying in the United States reached $17.8 billion in 2008, the highest amount yet recorded. Those U.S. exports come primarily from travel by international students, who then pay tuition, fees, and living expenses to U.S. institutions. Students who come from abroad to live and study at our colleges and universities are not only vitally important to our institutions, but to the U.S. economy as well.
In our focus to serve mainstream American undergraduates, we sometimes overlook the increasing numbers of international students at our institutions, but they represent a unique population with perhaps even greater needs for library and research assistance. It suggests that we should be paying special attention to and developing programs targeted to this group. Only after I attended a meeting at ALA MW of the relatively new ACRL Academic Library Services to International Students Interest Group did I realize that we’ve never once written about international students here at ACRLog. We now correct that oversight.
The session I attended was led by Dawn Amsberry and Loanne Snavely, two librarians from Penn State University. Amsberry is the administrator of the international students interest group. While I’m relatively new to this topic it’s clearly not a new one for many academic librarians. In fact, at the session I learned that the earliest known publication on this topic is Sally G. Wayman. “The International Student in the Academic Library.” Journal of Academic Librarianship. v. 9 no. 6 Jan., 1984 pp. 336-341. Many articles and programs have followed since this article’s publication. A presentation by Amsberry and Snavely shared many of the program efforts made at Penn State to reach out to international students. From the obvious beginning-of-the-semester orientation to the special web page for international students, Penn State has tried many programs. For example, both international and American study abroad students participated in an essay contest about library experiences in non-U.S. countries. A student was hired to translate the library’s audio tour into Chinese. The library sponsors a global perspectives panel, and invites international students to speak about exposure to new cultures. I was impressed by the many efforts to involve international students in the library beyond the traditional orientation.
Why should we care about extra efforts to reach international students when so many of our domestic students are themselves in need of our assistance? My observation is that cultural differences and communication skills create unique barriers for international students. Domestic students, when they need assistance, know librarians are there to help (though they may not be sure who the librarians are), and can communicate their basic needs. International students, owing to their cultural traditions, may be reluctant to ask for help or may lack the language skills to articulate their needs. But those of you more experienced in working with international students are familiar with these issues. More of us need to pay attention to them. That’s why I was glad to become aware of the ACRL Academic Library Services to International Students Interest Group.
If you are interested in participating in this interest group, you can learn more by exploring their Google Groups page. You will also find some valuable resources, some of which were used in the session I attended. ALA members can also join the group via ALA Connect. Please use the comments to share something special your library does for international students.