ACRL IS Current Issue Discussion Digest – ALA Midwinter 2013

Graduate, Transfer, and Non-Traditional Students: Surprises, Skills, and Support

Convener: Rhonda Huisman

Saturday, January 26 |  4:30 – 5:30 PM
Westin Seattle, Pike Room


Graduate, transfer, and non-traditional students enter higher education with a variety of life experiences, educational backgrounds, and employment histories. These students may return to higher education after many years pursuing other activities and are often balancing outside obligations such as family and careers, as well as encountering an information universe and technologies that continue to rapidly evolve.

In this session the moderator—who both supports and teaches thousands of undergraduate, graduate, and non-traditional students each year—will explore the research literature, instructors’ experiences, and instructional issues associated with assisting these groups. The discussion will engage the audience in considering and reflecting on the following questions:

  1. How often, and in which venues (credit-bearing courses, workshops, etc.) do you interact with graduate, transfer, and non-traditional students? Are these interactions initiated by faculty members, campus offices, or student requests? Within your organization, are any librarians charged with providing graduate-level support (similar to first-year experience librarians)? How often do you meet with graduate, transfer, and non-traditional students individually, and what concerns do they most commonly present?
  2. Has your library or campus formalized graduate-level information literacy learning outcomes and objectives? If so, how are these learning outcomes/objectives implemented and assessed?
  3. What types of support could academic libraries implement for graduate, transfer, and non-traditional students? Does stand-alone information literacy instruction (such as 1-credit courses) work better for graduate, transfer, and non-traditional students, or does course-integrated instruction provide a richer, more authentic experience for these students?

Main concepts and points of discussion will revolve around the ideas of adult learning theory, andragogy, and the Praxis of Recognition, and touch on these three main themes:

  • Transformation
    The transformation of the adult, non-traditional, or graduate student; this includes concepts and ideas about critical thinking, new perspectives, organizational and time management skills, collaboration with peers, and challenging mores, from the business or working world to the academic environment. Allaying fears and establishing trust contributes to this transformation as well.
  • Differentiation
    Recognize, validate, and include the talents, ideas, strengths, and social/cultural capital of the student. Students come to the classroom with a variety of experiences and knowledge, but often the teacher/librarian is seen as the authority in the classroom. There should be space with equity-minded practice, and a space to encourage deep, rich dialogue, as well as celebrate successes.
  • Inclusion
    Include the student in the learning process. Engage the student through authentic, real-world problemsand create an atmosphere where students have a voice and choice in the democratic classroom. Encourage students to lead, collaborate, mentor, and support peers.

Further Reading/Literature

Cooke, N.A. (2010). Becoming an andragogical librarian: Using library instruction as a tool to combat library anxiety and empower adult learners. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 16(2), 208-227.

Harkins, M. J., Rodrigues, D.B., & Orlov, S. (2011). “Where to start?”: Considerations for faculty and librarians in delivering information literacy instruction for graduate students. Practical Academic Librarianship: The International Journal of the SLA Academic Division, 1(1), 28-50.

Ismail, L. (2009). What they are telling us: Library use and needs of traditional and non-traditional students in a graduate social work program. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(6), 555-564.

Lange, J., Canuel, R., & Fitzgibbons, M. (2011). Tailoring information literacy instruction and library services for continuing education. Journal of Information Literacy, 5 (2). Retrieved from

Oakleaf, M. (2011). Are they learning? Are we? Learning outcomes and the academic library. Library Quarterly 81(1), 61-82.

O’Malley, D., & Delwiche, F.A. (2012). Aligning library instruction with the needs of basic sciences graduate students: A case study. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 100(4), 284-290.

Sarkodie-Mensah, K. (2000). Reference services for the adult learning: Challenging issues for the traditional and technological era. New York, NY: Haworth Information Press.

Wong, S.H. R., & Cmor, D. (2011). Measuring association between library instruction and graduation GPA. College and Research Libraries, 72(5), 464-473

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