Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Helping the Adult Learner Succeed: How Community College Libraries in Massachusetts Are Serving This Growing Population

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Helping the Adult Learner Succeed: How Community College Libraries in Massachusetts Are Serving This Growing Population

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION: Adults choosing to return to college is rising. Cannady et al. points out that, "The number of adult learners in institutions of higher education is increasing, and these students' reasons for attending, ways of learning, challenges, and methods for overcoming challenges often differ from those of traditional-age students (2012, p. 156). Similarly, Cooke writes, "Adult learners are becoming a much larger demographic at colleges and universities around the world, and the specific needs, characteristics, and anxieties of adult learners are often overlooked" (2010, p.208). Adult learners are faced with many unique problems and challenges to overcome, such as library anxiety or apprehension to technology (Cooke, 2010, p. 210). With these difficulties in mind, this study aims to determine what community college libraries in Massachusetts are doing to help these students succeed, as well as look at what areas could be enhanced or improved.

Adults who return to college after being away from the classroom often encounter several obstacles different from those facing the traditional college student. These issues include challenges with technology, time management, undeveloped study habits, and anxiety due to a changing environment and surroundings (Cooke, 2010, p. 213). While the traditional-age student may also encounter troubles in these areas, adult learners experience these issues differently. For instance, a student entering college directly out of high school may struggle with time management in terms of managing school work and social activities, while an adult learner is often attempting to manage not only schoolwork, but also hold down a job and support a family. Although both groups encounter time management issues, the circumstances of each are very different. Similarly, undeveloped study habits in a traditional student may be caused by inexperience or lack of motivation due to uncertainty of goals, while an adult learner may have undeveloped study habits because they've been away from the classroom for a period of time, which can still be considered inexperience, but in a different way than that of the traditional student. Both populations of students also experience anxiety due to a changing environment differently. Unlike students who enter college right out of high school, many adult learners suffer from anxiety because of "perceived competition with younger, traditional undergraduate students" (Cooke, 2010, p. 213). Many times adult learners also feel anxious because they are unfamiliar with the workings of the library or because they are not yet comfortable with the advancing technology around them, things that many traditional students have grown up with. There are also several physical barriers that stand in the way of many adult learners which are far less likely to be seen in traditional students. These include "visual, aural, or mobility issues," all of which could affect the success of adult learners (Cooke, 2010, p. 213).

In an attempt to mitigate these obstacles and to help adult learners cope with the stress of returning to school, libraries should provide resources aimed directly at the adult learner. These resources could include library instruction, basic computing classes, open forums, lectures, or providing information or group sessions on time management or other identified areas of concern. Campus libraries often act as a safe haven or communal meeting place for college students. This includes students entering college right out of high school, as well as those who have been away from the school setting for several years. The goal of the library is to be a welcoming place where students can feel comfortable, ask questions, and get work accomplished. All students, regardless of their age or education experience, deserve a space where they can relax, work, socialize, research, and receive assistance without apprehension. Although the library is for all to use equally, because adult learners have many unique needs, libraries must reach out to this population and provide them with services specifically tailored to their needs. …

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