Keeping Up with… Academic Advising

This edition of Keeping Up With... was written by Ashleigh D. Coren.

Ashleigh D. Coren is Resident Librarian, Office of the Dean at the West Virginia University Libraries, email: ashleigh.coren@mail.wvu.edu.

Introduction

Academic librarians have always worn various hats in the workplace, and many of us enjoy the flexibility of moving out of different spaces like instruction, scholarly communication, data management, and public services. Many universities have focused a majority of their efforts on student retention which has provided another area for librarians to possibly partake in: academic advising. Academic advising refers to “a process in which...the advisor serves as teacher and guide in an interactive partnership aimed at enhancing the student's self-awareness and fulfillment.” [1]

Essentially the relationship between the advisor and the student is an intellectual exchange that requires each party to be open, flexible, and curious. While there are existing examples of librarians engaging in academic advising on their campuses, there may be opportunities for more academic librarians to be involved in a practice that reflects some of the core components of reference work. [2]

Librarians as Academic Advisors

The current literature on this subject, while sparse, provides an adequate look into this work through different case studies. In the early 1990’s Kathy Sisoian and H. Palmer Hall posed the idea of librarians as advisors in the seminal text The Librarian in the University, and now there are a handful of libraries that engaged in this type of work. At institutions like Millersville University in Pennsylvania and the University of St. Thomas in Texas their librarians volunteered as advisors for undeclared first-year students. Due to a budget issue the librarians at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania were asked to advise a large caseload of students, at sixty students per librarian. Two of the librarians from Belmont University have written at length about their advising program and the benefits it has brought to their institution. Examples of engagement include helping students create their class schedules, assisting with major selection, referring students to the key academic and non-academic units on campus, and helping them with time management. 

While the current literature focuses on voluntary experiences, opportunities for advising now appear in job announcements, particularly for First-Year or Undergraduate Experience Librarian positions. An alternative example for advising can be found at Oberlin College, where students taking first-year seminar are assigned a library advisor who serves as their personal link to the library.

Why Should Librarians Engage in Academic Advising?

Librarians participating in academic advising can be a benefit for both an academic library and their institution. Advising can be a way for librarians to get a better understanding of the curriculum of a particular department or subject area, but can also provide insight into university policies for undergraduate students. [3] Studdard, along with Wiley and Williams, discusses how the impartiality of librarians makes us a good fit for advising because we can help students by leveraging our connections to different departments on campus. [4]

Advising provides another way to redefine what we classify as service in our professional qualifications. Advisors often function as advocates for incoming students, and help them acclimate to their new community by introducing them to the various academic and student resources on campus. [5]  Some of the main components of advising are familiar to librarians and show the parallels between reference work and academic advising. Both facilitate discussion to establish the information needs of the student and encourage self-learning. Both require active listening, instruction, and keeping track of essential services for students on campus. [6]

This work can also serve as another form of outreach to first-year students or as a way to promote or introduce library services in an informal setting. [7] By becoming advisors librarians have the opportunity to connect with students and help them build their confidence to succeed in their classes. The concept of personal librarianship, which seeks to build long term connections with students and help them transition to a new environment through one-on-one interaction, mirrors many of the duties of academic advising and should also be viewed as a similar practice. [8]

Other Considerations

For librarians and other library personnel interested in academic advising there are several things to consider before jumping into academic advising. Who is the typical college student in your institution? Non-traditional, commuter, or other underserved populations may not have the same needs as the traditional first-year student. If your institution has a student retention program it is recommended that you talk to the professionals in that particular unit to learn more about their best practices in working with these populations.

Ideally advisors should seek out professional development opportunities to develop their skills in coaching, managing difficult conversations, and time management. While rewarding, advising is time consuming and can lead to burnout. The website for the National Academic Advising Association offers articles and other great resources to help advisors succeed.

Notes

[1] Terry O'Banion, “An academic advising model.” Junior College Journal 42, (1972): 62-69.

[2] Courtney L. Young, “Incorporating undergraduate advising in teaching information literacy: Case study for academic librarians as advisors.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34, no. 2, (2008): 139-144, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2007.12.003.  Also Mary Kelleher and Sara Laidlaw, “A natural fit: The academic librarian advising in the first year experience.” College & Undergraduate Libraries 16, no. 2-3, (2009): 153-163, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10691310902976469.

[3] Kelleher & Laidlaw 159. And Claire Wiley & Judy Williams, “Librarian as Advisor: Information Search Process of Undecided Students and Novice Researchers.” The Journal of the National Academic Advising Association 35, no. 1, (2015): 13-21, http://dx.doi.org/10.12930/NACADA-14-008.

[4] Paul Studdard, “Academic librarians as advisors: Working with students to plan their futures.” College & Research Libraries News 61, no. 9, (2000): 781-792.

[5] Laura Urbanski Forrest, “Academic Librarians and Student Affairs Professionals: An Ethical Collaboration for Higher Education.” Education Libraries 28, no. 1, (2005):11-15.

[6] Kelleher and Laidlaw 160 and Young 142.

[7] Kelleher 158.

[8] Richard Moniz and Jean Moats, The Personal Librarian: Enhancing the Student Experience. (Chicago: ALA Editions, 2015): 14.