The library remains the nerve center upon which the world of academia is anchored. It is the central point where intellectual nourishment dwells. In a well-stocked library, one can access a great number of pieces of very important information and gain a needed experience. These issues are important in data collection and analysis.
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In fact, some scholars define it as the most prominent physical manifestation denoting the ultimate goals of academic life which are the ultimate focus of universities and colleges. Reiterating Guskin, “…an academic environment without a library is tantamount to a person without a brain” (as quoted in Satpathy 2007 p. 34). Consequently, this paper seeks to identify the role of the library in academia.
Several academicians have stressed the importance of the library within a given academic setup. What are the important contributions of a library to academia? To begin with, libraries offer a wider dimension of information that meets students’ needs as compared to other sources.
While the Internet has been viewed as more accessible source given the technological advancement, the amount of information available there is limited. Kuh (2001) argues that students are always in need of a physical repository for printed resources. In his study, he argues that an average college student spends the same amount of time searching for the materials in the Internet as the one he/she spends in the library. Furthermore, the library offers more than a single form of assistance.
Different students visit the library for different purposes. For instance, there are students who specifically visit the library to borrow the books. Others go to the library to access its electronic resources, such as electronic catalogues, digitized primary resources, guides to research, electronic databases which contain important, accurate and reliable information, etc. The library hence offers different support for different students’ needs.
Other than books and electronic support, other forms of assistance given by the library include availability of deliberately designed services that facilitate research. These include availability of references, instructions from senior and experienced library attendants, availability of research consultations within the libraries and provisions for interlibrary loans. These services clearly increase student’s chances of gaining the best mark for his academic research and study.
For instance, interlibrary loans allow a researcher to get books unavailable in his library. Finally, students enjoy other services at the library, such as using equipment available there as well as facilities. These include adequate study space not just for individuals but also for study groups. Equipments available for students in the libraries include computers, photocopiers and printers. All these assist in facilitation of research.
In a study to support the above argument, several students from universities in the United States were asked on their library use. They were to determine what they wanted most to be able to access in the library and how they believed they may have been assisted. In the research, 60% of the researched students pointed out that the available e-resources within the library provided the most important source of support for their development of a thesis statement.
Furthermore, 90% of the respondents in the study pointed out that gathering relevant information that was necessary in support of their thesis was to a great extend facilitated by the traditional resources in addition to e-resources found in the library. 80% of the respondents pointed out that their process of information gathering was purely accredited to the library (Powell 1992).
All these successes in different research stages were facilitated by instructions offered by librarians, provision for reference questions, consultations in research and finally interlibrary loans which widened the scope of data.
Secondly, a library offers a much more reliable and well-researched material as compared to other forms of resources. The Internet, to be precise offers too much information but quite a small percentage of this information is accurate and reliable. This is attributed to lack of control and accountability.
Unlike years ago when there were bodies solely responsible for the determination of accuracy and reliability of information on the Internet, there is no such approach nowadays. People are free to upload information which becomes available to students, who really need it. Unfortunately, these students don’t have an adequate knowledge and skills to determine if the information gathered is indeed accurate and reliable.
As Kuh and Gonyea (2003) argue, “Only about half of all students are confident in their ability to find good information….same percentage admit to having difficulty in judging the quality and accuracy of what they do find.” (p.257). This information illiteracy possesses a great danger to the world of academics.
In continuation of the above argument, libraries offer a friendly context where support is available in all aspects. Most qualified librarians can accord any assistance to a wanting student as they are experienced enough and their professional careers force them to undergo studies in information literacy.
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This involves development of reasoning capacity as well as development of critical thinking. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) conceives information literacy not just as a part of research but a liberal art that should be given upper hand status in educational institutions. To promote this, they came up with a five point competence standards which guide every librarian in providing their services.
In addition, they have founded an institution that offers information literacy (Shapiro Hughes 1996, p. 56). With such effort by library associations, it is inarguable that a library offers a supportive environment that students can rely upon when searching for accurate and reliable information.
The use of library improves students’ persistence rate while at the same time improving their college grades. In addition, it improves their critical thinking ability. In a study by Powell, which unfortunately failed to incorporate other factors pertinent to the institution such as selectivity, shown that students who frequently used the library exhibited a better persistence rate as compared to their counterparts who didn’t visit the library that often.
Furthermore, the study pointed out that these students had better college grades (Powell 1992). This argument is supported by another study carried out by Glendale Community Library whose findings pointed out that participation in library workshops improved a student’s performance in English and that of ESL. In the same line of research, Ory and Braskamp as quoted by Reitz (2005) found out in their study that there is a positive correlation between use of library and a student’s critical thinking ability.
Use of libraries offers a conducive environment deliberately designed to fit the student needs. Unlike independent search for information from other sources, libraries offer a platform where a student is imparted skills necessary for a positive performance in class. For instance, librarians are well trained in understanding “the conditions that foster learning and how they might work independently, or with others, and assess the outcomes associated with library experiences” (Kuh and Gonyea, 2003, p.258). This clearly supports the fact that unlike individual search for academic information, visits to libraries offer the researcher an environment that is well designed to promote both joint and individual activities. The researchers insist that libraries improve a student’s writing ability while at the same time improving on his faculty interaction.
While quoting the Association of College and Research Libraries, Rodriguez (2011) posits that the standards put up by the association ensures that libraries contribute towards a positive academic environment through their own research on continuous improvement. He writes, “Libraries define, develop, and measure outcomes that contribute to institutional effectiveness and apply findings for purposes of continuous improvement” (par 4).
Libraries have been known to undertake user-oriented evaluation that assists researchers in getting the best out of their search for knowledge. This means that libraries not only offer a physical repository of academic materials, but also provide a platform upon which a researcher’s effort is rewarded through facilitations by the library (Matthews & Feather 2003).
There is a clear direct relationship between library and student retention. According to Matthews, Smith & Knowles (2009), the percentage of school drop outs is slightly lower among the students who attend libraries as compared to those who do not visit frequently. Retention can be defined as the number or percentage of students in a given college who opt to continue with the studies and not choosing the option of dropping out.
In a study by Lloyd and Kramer as quoted by Rodriguez, they found out that students who frequently visit libraries with a good intention and those who borrowed books dropped out 40% less as compared to their counterparts who never visited or borrowed books from the library.
Although retention might not be identified as a learning outcome, Rodriguez argues that this acts as a necessary and important metric in determination of academics in institutions of higher learning. Through the library, he argues that students tend to increase their level of involvement and increase their impetus towards researching. In addition, libraries offer part-time jobs for students, hence increasing their chances of being retained.
This argument was supported by Mezick as cited by Rodriguez (2011) in her research to determine whether expenditure and stuffing within a given library could impact on retention. In her study, she found out that “holding a campus job, especially in an organization that supports the academic mission, is related with higher levels of [student] effort and involvement” (Rodriguez, 2011).
In conclusion, it is evident that the library remains the nerve center upon which the world of academia is anchored. This is supported by its numerous advantages as argued in this paper. For instance, it is clear that the traditional resources and the e-resources offer a platform upon which students and researchers anchor their development and support their theses.
Other resources within the library which include consultation and physical equipment and facilities such as computers and printers also facilitate research. In addition to facilitating research, evidence within this paper has pointed out that libraries promote college grades as well as increasing retention of students.
All these arguments therefore point out that for academic development within any given academic institution, a library is a prerequisite and an indispensable companion. However, there is need for proper staffing and expenditure in order to achieve the mentioned benefits of the library.
Kuh, G 2001, ‘Assessing What Really Matters to Student Learning: Inside the National Survey of Student Engagement’, Change, vol. 33, no. 3, pp156-68.
Kuh, G & Gonyea, R 2003, ‘The Role of the academic library in promoting student engagement in learning’. Web.
Matthews,G & Feather,J 2003, Disaster Management for Libraries and Archives, Ashgate publishing, Hampshire.
Matthews, G Smith, Y & Knowles, G 2009, Disaster Management in Archives Libraries & Museums, Ashgate publishing,Surrey.
Powell, R 1992, ‘Impact Assessment of University Libraries’, Library and Information Science Research 14.
Reitz, M 2005, Dictionary for Library & Information Services, Libraries Unlimited, London.
Rodriguez, D 2011, Understanding library impacts on student learning. Web.
Satpathy, K 2007, ‘Role of Libraries in Disaster Management : Experience from North East India’, Library and Information Sciences Services in Astronomy v :Common Challenges Uncommon Solutions,vol.377, pp313-318.
Shapiro, J & Hughes, S 1996, ‘Information Literacy as a Liberal Art: Enlightenment Proposals for a New Curriculum’, Educom Review vol.31, no. 2, p2.