So The Library Director Walks Into the Provost’s Office And Says…

“I have great news for both of us! You care about increasing student retention and I care about getting more funding and staff for the library. Now you can make both of us happy.”

“And how do I do that?” asks the Provost.

“Well” says the library director, “I just read a new research study that confirms that institutions where the libraries have the greatest expenditures and the most staff demonstrate a significant positive effect on student retention. So you can stop wasting money on all those orientation programs and just shift it to the library.”

The Provost hesitates a moment and replies “But if I hired lots more faculty, student advisers and plowed lots of funds into a great new student center, that would all increase student retention. Pretty much anything we do to give students a better chance at academic success – as well as more socialization and interaction with faculty outside of the classroom – will likely increase retention – and I’ve got studies to support that. Can you tell me what specific things our librarians are doing regularly that contribute to student retention – and can you document it? That’s what I want to know.”

The dejected looking library director appears to be thinking about it and then says “Let me get back to you on that soon,” and quickly shuffles out the door.

Back to reality. Wouldn’t it be great if we could easily demonstrate, with some numbers and charts, how spending on libraries contributes to student retention. That’s the core message of an article titled “Return on Investment: Libraries and Student Retention” in the latest issue of The Journal of Academic Librarianship (September 2007, v.33 n5, pp. 561-566). In this study the author, Elizabeth M. Mezick (an accounting professor at Long Island University), concludes that library expenditures and professional staff have a significant positive effect on student retention. In a previous post I asked how academic librarians can do more to connect our work to student retention. And in a comment to that post Chadwick Seagraves pointed me to a study that concludes virtually the same thing that Mezick does. In essence, the more you spend on ibrary resources the more strongly associated that spending is with higher student graduation rates. But as this other study reports, virtually all instructional expenditures contribute to retention. What Mezick does add is a finding that the relationship between expenditures on resources and retention is greatest at baccalaureate colleges, while the relationship between expenditures on staff and retention is greatest at doctoral-granting institutions.

So does this new study advance our knowledge and our ability to conclude that the library, it’s staff, services and resources, contribute positively to student retention. To an extent, the answer is yes. If nothing else it appears to give some ammunition to those who might need to defend the library when other administrators argue that library resources are wasted in an Internet age. I’d still like to see academic librarians develop the metrics that enable us to demonstrate or confirm that the contributions we make as educators, not just the information commodities we deliver, boost retention rates.

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