When talking about second-year transition initiatives, it’s easy to focus on instructional strategies, faculty collaborations, or splashy events—but don’t lose sight of the small, everyday interactions your staff have with students. Surveys show that second-year students feel less supported than their fellow undergrads, a perception that could manifest itself as a barrier between them and your library’s outreach efforts.
Everyday interactions between students and library staff are one of the factors students rate in the Student Satisfaction Inventory. This jumped out at me when reading “The Invisible Students: Service Excellence in the Second Year” by Denise D. Nelson (2018). Prior to my work in higher education, I was a librarian for many years at a public library that emphasized customer service and I continue to strive for service excellence in my librarianship.
The Student Satisfaction Inventory (SSI) is one of the well-established instruments offered by Ruffalo Noel Levitz, a national consulting company supporting colleges and universities in gathering and analyzing data for student enrollment and retention. This instrument asks students to rate their level of satisfaction on a variety of measures and note the importance of each area. Nelson’s article detailed her analysis of three years of SSI data from many institutions. She reported that satisfaction levels as well as what is important to students varies by class rank.
Results show that second-year students were overall less satisfied with the perceived caring and helpfulness of the campus staff with whom they interacted at both private and public institutions than other students. One exception was students at public institutions who rated the item Library staff are helpful and approachable the same across class rank. I hope that this means they were satisfied! The article does not elaborate.
The second-year students rated the element Campus staff are caring and helpful as most important. This is not a surprise. Students want to know that someone cares about them, their learning, and their well-being. George Kuh (2005) notes in Student Success in College that at schools with high student engagement there is shared responsibility for student learning and success. It is everyone’s job to support students. When everyone is working toward student success, it is expected to be student-focused and help students find what they need in a positive manner.
Likewise, when Gallup asked 30,000 college graduates about their current well-being and their college experiences, they found that students who had people who cared about them on campus (in this study, they note professors and mentors) they were significantly more likely to be thriving in their current lives (Busteed, 2015).
These small interactions matter, establishing a pattern that will shape your students’ perception of the library and the value of the services you offer. What may seem trivial today might nudge an individual to approach you later with a tougher question, having learned from such positive experiences that you will be attentive to their needs.
Beth Black is the undergraduate engagement librarian and an associate professor at The Ohio State University. She helps undergraduates learn about how the library supports their success through integration of library information and resources in a variety of student experiences. She focuses on first- and second-year students, working closely with Ohio State’s award-winning First Year Experience and Second-year Transformational Experience Program (STEP).
Busteed, Brandon (2015) Is College Worth It? That Depends. April 8, 2015. https://www.gallup.com/education/237278/college-worth-depends.aspx.
Kuh, G., Kinzie, J., Schuh, J. H., Whitt, E.J., & Associates (2005), Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter, American Association for Higher Education, Washington, D.C.Nelson, Denise D. (2018). “The Invisible Students: Service Excellence in the Second Year.” In Sophomore Success: Making the most of the second year, edited by Laurie A Schreiner, New Directions for Higher Education, no. 183.