Library Support for Indigenous University Students: Moving from the Periphery to the Mainstream

Reviewed By: Sarah Crawford, Kaylene Ogden, Argelia Ramirez, Millie Jones, Chelsey Roos

Link to article: https://journals.library.ualberta.ca/eblip/index.php/EBLIP/article/view/25413/19285

Info 275: Libraries Serving Diverse Communities
Professor K. Rebmann
Group 2: Sarah Crawford, Kaylene Ogden, Argelia Ramirez, Millie Jones, Chelsey Roos

Blogging Open Access Research
“Library Support for Indigenous University Students: Moving from the Periphery to the Mainstream”

In “Library Support for Indigenous University Students: Moving from the Periphery to the Mainstream,” Joanna Hare and Wendy Abbott, two academic librarians, conducted a survey of academic libraries across Australia and a focus group for a small group of indigenous students in South East Queensland. Hare and Abbott’s objective is to explore different ways that libraries are addressing the needs of indigenous students and to open a dialogue between indigenous students and academic librarians to better address their service needs. The results show that a large majority of libraries offer support services for indigenous students and that indigenous students have many of the same concerns common to the general population of students.

The author’s core research questions ask what services are currently being provided to indigenous student populations at academic centers across Australia, what needs do indigenous students have in particular that ought to be addressed, and how services can be enhanced to meet the evolving needs of the population. The resulting information showed that libraries are already providing a range of services to meet the needs of indigenous students, and that library programs and services show a strong commitment to supporting this population. The authors find that the main areas of improvement needed are greater cultural education amongst library staff, the promotion of indigenous staff-persons, and the need for greater interdepartmental communication.

For this study, mixed methods data collection was used. The authors created an online survey that was distributed nationwide to academic libraries in Australia, and a focus group. Non probability, purposive sampling was used in order to target the correct population. The focus group was originally intended to be individual interviews, but because of low response rate a focus group was made out of the Indigenous students who responded. The focus group included 6 students, and cannot be used to generalize about Indigenous students, but is a useful exploration of how individual students at one particular campus interact with their academic library. The survey questions were sent to 39 libraries and included a mix of close ended and open ended questions. The sampling and data collection methods are appropriate for this exploratory study, as they allow for collection of both qualitative and quantitative data, and took into account ethics considerations. Researchers in this study found that, in general, Australian academic libraries are firmly committed to the success of indigenous students and put forth considerable effort to engage with the issues faced by these populations.

Results from the survey revealed that 84% of academic libraries provide a specific type of support to indigenous students, of which services 89% are conducted outside the library. Researchers concluded that efforts to support indigenous students might improve through better communication and collaboration between individual university departments and the university at large. More training for library staff regarding indigenous cultural sensitivity, as well as employing a more diverse library staff were also suggestions for improving support of indigenous students.

Furthermore, the focus group found that indigenous students’ concerns about using the library were not dictated by their cultural background. Instead, their concerns mirrored those felt by the general student population. Researchers concluded that the focus group proved helpful as far as it opened up communication between indigenous students and library staff, as well as highlighted the importance of engaging with students both formally and informally.

One question the research raises but does not fully address in the article has to do with the fact that all six of the students in the indigenous focus group were high-frequency library users. On the whole, all students reported typically using the library at least every week, if not every day; they were clearly not low-frequency users, or students who avoided the library entirely. This may indicate that the students in the discussion already felt an unusually high degree of comfort in the library, a knowledge of the resources, and as one student states, a knowledge of “who to approach” on staff to get the assistance they need. If students who were not high-frequency library users were included in the focus group, what would they say? Do they avoid the library for certain reasons, like staff racism, uncertainty, or a lack of access or important resources? Future research could put together a focus group with a more diverse segment of students, some library users and some not, to address these questions. It seems entirely possible that students who have had strong, negative interactions with staff, particularly ones that seemed to do with their indigenous status, would avoid the library in the future.

It is also relevant that the focus group was very limited in size, with five undergraduate students and one postgraduate student. The authors themselves acknowledge the difficulty in recruiting students for the focus group and the survey portion of the study, which resulted in a small pool of participant and less age/ education level diversity. The focus group responses proved to be the most valuable, where they engaged with students and got unique and direct answers on their academic library experience. Yet, the quantity of participant respondents had to be more reflective of the whole population of Indigenous university students, not only to present experiences from high and low-frequency library users, as mentioned above, but different ages and grade levels, which might influence their library use, experience and level of library access training from the university.

As indicated in the study, the focus group served to help open a dialogue between Indigenous students and support staff. The authors can use this rapport in future studies and they can have students in this first focus group aid researchers build a more extensive group. As members from the indigenous community, students can serve as volunteers, not only to recruit other Indigenous students, but to provide insight and help formulate the questions for the next survey or focus group. Another reason to maintain communication with this initial focus group, is to engage them in discussion with the library staff, to inform them on improving their sense of welcome in the library environment.

References

Hare, J., & Abbott, W. (2015). Library Support for Indigenous University Students: Moving from the Periphery to the Mainstream. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 10(4), 80-94. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.18438/B86W3Q

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