ACRL IS Current Issue Discussion Digest –ALA Annual 2016

ACRL IS Current Issue Discussion Digest –ALA Annual 2016

They’ve Already Come (Now We Need to Build It):  Constructing a First-Year Experience for Graduate Students

Discussion Conveners:  Dr. Wendy Doucette, Graduate Research and Instruction Librarian and Ms. Joanna Anderson, Distance Education Librarian from East Tennessee State University

June 25, 2016 | 4:30pm – 5:30pm
Orlando, FL | Convention Center, Orange Ballroom C

College and university librarians take for granted the need to provide research and outreach support to undergraduates as part of their “first-year experience.”  This commitment to supporting student success is widespread…to a point.  Graduate students face the same problems encountered by undergraduates—new subject, new environment, first-time responsibilities, enhanced workload—yet are often left to fend for themselves.  While many manage to succeed in the “sink or swim” environment, without adequate administrative and library support, graduate students are just as likely as undergraduates to flounder and even to fail.  Even worse, the likelihood of additional family and work responsibilities, greater financial burdens, and the shared stigma of being “older students” can all add to the burden of post-baccalaureates.

Aligning initiatives with administrative goals is critical to success, as is framing graduate programs within the larger existing context of institutional information literacy programs.  This session is predicated on the belief that targeted, relevant, practical training and support are essential to the first-year graduate experience and that one of the cornerstones of the program should be the academic library.  The objective of this discussion is to generate ideas about what would constitute the library’s responsibility towards a first-year experience for graduate students.

While we know that the best approach to reaching and helping graduate students to succeed in their programs will not be one-size fits all, we anticipate there will be common ground regarding successful approaches and outreach, lessons to be learned from failed attempts, and productive new ideas to be implemented.

Discussion Questions

Part One:  Building or maintaining a Graduate First-Year Experience

  1. Does your library provide a “first-year experience” for graduate students?
  2. If yes, are these events primarily social or academic or both? How often are they held?  Are they well attended?  Do you have more than one event for particular groups of students (for a particular program or College or any other type of division)?  Do you hold separate events for in-person and online students?
  3. If no, what methods do you use to serve your beginning graduate students? Do you feel they successfully provide students with a “first-year experience?”  If yes, what services do you provide?  If no, what support would you need to begin a more formal program?  Are there significant differences in service and support provided to in-person or online students?

Part Two:  Strategies for growth and continued success

  1. How can we assess our programs in a way that provides genuine, constructive feedback?
  2. Which departments on your campus are most critical to the success of your program? What strategies will best allow you to build relationships with these groups?
  3. Which marketing measures have you tried in the past? Which were the most successful?  Which new avenues could you pursue?

Recommended Reading

Andrea Baruzzi and Theresa Calcagno. “Academic Librarians and Graduate Students: An Exploratory Study.” Portal: Libraries and the Academy 15, no. 3 (2015): 393-407. Accessed May 3, 2016.

Critz, Lori, Mary Axford, William M. Baer, Chris Doty, Heidi Lowe, and Crystal Renfro. “Development of the Graduate Library User Education Series.” Reference Services Review 40, no. 4 (2012): 530-542. Accessed May 4, 2016. doi:

Monroe-Gulick, Amalia and Julie Petr. “Incoming Graduate Students in the Social Sciences: How Much Do They Really Know about Library Research?” Portal: Libraries and the Academy 12, no. 3 (2012): 315-335. Accessed May 3, 2016.

Roszkowski, Beth, and Gretchen Reynolds. “Assessing, Analyzing, and Adapting: Improving a Graduate Student Instruction Program through Needs Assessment.” Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian 32, no. 4 (2013): 224-239. Accessed May 3, 2016,

Siegel, Gretta. Libraries and Graduate Students: Building Connections. Routledge, 2013. Switzer, Anne, and Sherry Wynn Perdue. “Dissertation 101: A Research and Writing Intervention for Education Graduate Students.” Education Libraries 34, no. 1 (2011):4-14, accessed May 3, 2016,

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