Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Reference Service in Academic Libraries: Accommodation of International Students

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Reference Service in Academic Libraries: Accommodation of International Students

Article excerpt


Due to the author's experiences as an international student, this paper will examine reference service in academic libraries especially as it relates to international students. This become necessary because of the hardship that most of this group of students experience when faced with a new cultural and educational environment which is most times different from what they are used to.


After a discussion of the planning process, the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL) standards, and the relationship of assessment to the standards, the article will investigate the nature, objectives, and value of reference service in academic libraries along with the special problems associated with reference service for international students. Assessment practices and the particular difficulties associated with assessment will then be explored.

As with all planning, it must take place within the confines of and it must be in the furtherance of the institution's mission. Accordingly, goals and objectives must be set within the parameters of the institution's mission. Important values may also be addressed through the planning process. [2] One such value is diversity which is of special importance to academic institutions with large numbers of international students making up their student body. Such institutions must actively seek to accommodate a diverse academic base in their planning or they will not be effective in reaching many members of their primary user group.

Outcomes assessment also plays a role in this process. Certain sought-after outcomes are incorporated into the goals and objectives. Outcomes are particularized through the establishment of performance indicators or proficiencies. Assessment in regard to these performance indicators reveals whether the library is meeting its goals and objectives. [3] This is of paramount importance to the overall "accountability" of the institution. [4] Insights gained through outcomes assessments may then be used to perfect "library practices." [5]

ACRL Standards

The ACRL standards recommend certain "assessment instruments," such as "surveys, tests, interviews, and other valid measuring devices." [6] The ACRL guidelines for university library services to undergraduate students provide greater detail. The guidelines propose surveys and testing to determine if library instruction is successful. Given that reference service often involves individual instruction, to some extent general reference service contributes to "producing more information-literate students." [7] Still, determining the exact impact of general reference service and tours as opposed to formal bibliographic instruction upon this outcome would be difficult to assess. Other assessment tools mentioned in the standards and guidelines include "information literacy diaries," and "focus groups." [8]

The ACRL standards also recommend the use of "colleagues at peer institutions" to provide guidance concerning the development of assessment tools. [9] For purposes of improving reference services to international students, it would be helpful to identify peers with sizeable international student populations. These peer institutions would be great resources in regard to their experiences with similar problems concerning international students. The guidelines further suggest a "standard set of assessment tools ... that expedite direct comparison with performance at peer institutions." [10] Accordingly, standard survey questions could be designed to determine certain particulars in regard to reference service to international students. [11]

Library Obligation

Specifically concerning services, the library should design a group of services to fulfill the institutional mission and goals and should actively assess these services to ascertain whether performance targets are being met. The standards also set forth specific questions which identify critical aspects of the process such as primary user group expectations, proper utilization of resources, hours of service, better awareness regarding service matters, [12] "quantitative and qualitative measurements" concerning services, and comparison of peers. …

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