This week I watched a new report, “Student Needs Are Academic Needs,” make the rounds of community college listserv discussions. I watched the discourse around this report get kinda heated, so I thought I’d share my reaction.
As a community college librarian, I was interested to read a study with community college students in mind. While our population overlaps with 4-year institutions, it’s meaningful to see the experiences of community college students examined here specifically. The researchers found that students “see the library not only as an informational resource, an academic resource, or simply a quiet place to study, but also as a community resource within the campus context.”
I think that’s the part some readers are taking issue with: the idea that students see the library as the place for both academic support and personal assistance with things like childcare, wifi hotspots, and help navigating college.
I recognize the anxiety that comes up when strapped librarians read a report that says students would like to find social services and childcare at the library. There’s a legitimate fear that the library’s mission will become so broad in scope that our original vision is obscured, and that expanding our services will come at the cost of burned-out library workers.
But I think we should be redirecting the conclusions of this report outside the library; share these results with our larger institution or funding body as an indication that the library needs more resources to provide or host desired services. It’s certainly not the intentions of the co-authors of this report to suggest that libraries must become all things to all people; they’re quoted in Inside Higher Ed as saying libraries shouldn’t take all of these ideas literally.
A report is just that: it reports on the state of things, in this case what students need. Students say the library is one of the most likely places they’d go for non-curricular help. If that is the case, then we should think creatively about how that help can be waiting for them where they are seeking it. I’m not threatened by these conclusions because my first thought when I hear that a student would access a social worker’s services if they were in the library is “Great, let’s collaborate with a social worker,” not “Oh, I guess I have to become a social worker now.” As Christine Wolff-Eisenberg said in that same IHE piece:
“A lot of these services are going to require deep collaboration so the library is not reinventing the wheel when other resources exist.”
The ideas in this report spark my imagination more than my temper, but maybe I’m just in a particularly optimistic mood. Has your library tried or considered any programs like the service concepts posed in this report?