Keeping Up With . . . First-Year Experience

This edition of Keeping Up With… was written by Sarah Diaz.

Sarah Diaz is First Year Experience / Assessment Librarian at Northeastern State University, email:


Academic libraries often play an integral role in First-Year Experience (FYE) programs intended to help new students integrate into the college/university community. The concept of FYE in higher education can be traced back to the 1970’s, when it originated at the University of South Carolina [1]. FYE programs often involve faculty and staff from a variety of campus departments, and may include orientation events, required first-year courses, a common read book, and a variety of services such as advising and mentoring. While the concept of FYE is not a new one, it is a rapidly growing and changing field with implications for academic librarianship.

FYE Librarians

Some academic libraries now have specialized librarian positions focused on First-Year Experience, with a variety of responsibilities depending on the specific institution. Information literacy instruction is frequently the focus; in a survey of FYE librarians published in 2018, 74% cited this as one of their primary responsibilities. Other activities for which FYE librarians may be responsible include outreach, orientation, collaboration with other departments/programs, and initiatives such as Common Read and Summer Bridge. These positions also tend to be highly collaborative, with respondents citing a variety of campus partners such as “First-year Programs/New Student Experiences/Student Success”, English departments, and other academic disciplines. [2]

Libraries that do not have a designated FYE librarian may still play a prominent role in the First-Year Experience. For example, in a Library Journal survey regarding instruction for first-year students, only 9% of respondents held a position specifically focused on First-Year Experience; it was more common for a librarian whose primary focus was information literacy, reference, or public services to also be involved with the library’s role in serving first-year students. [3] At libraries that do have an FYE librarian, this is often a relatively new development. According to the 2018 survey of FYE librarians, 68% reported being the first person in that role at their institution. [4]

Information Literacy Instruction

One of the library’s primary roles in FYE is providing information literacy instruction to first-year students. According to the Library Journal survey mentioned above, only about 28% of students begin college with adequate preparation to do research. [5] While studies have shown that receiving instruction at the high-school level correlates with stronger information literacy skills [6], most students still have a lot to learn as first-time freshmen.

Since the release of the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, library instruction is frequently structured around the framework. For classes targeted toward first-year students, librarians often plan their lessons around the frames of “Research as Inquiry” and “Searching as Strategic Exploration.” [7]

Other Activities

While one-shot information literacy instruction is an important part of FYE, it is not the only way libraries can participate. Other suggestions include participating in orientation, embedding librarians in first year courses, linking first-year course assignments with library services and resources, and creating fun, interactive activities such as scavenger hunts. [8] In addition to one-shot classes, some librarians also teach semester-long, for-credit courses, including FYE courses. For example, one librarian at the University at Albany published an article about teaching a one-credit seminar class for first-year students, using the topic of sustainability and science literacy to introduce a variety of library activities. [9]

Another consideration when working with new or incoming students is library anxiety. Knowing that students may be intimidated by the library and nervous about asking for help, some libraries have chosen to use orientation or first-year library instruction to attempt to mitigate this factor by humanizing the librarians and helping students to feel comfortable with the library. Attempts to alleviate library anxiety have included strategies such as library game nights [10], sharing fun facts about librarians [11], creating a “survival guide” handbook for new students [12], and focusing on “warmth” and approachability during library instruction. [13]

In-Person vs. Online Format

One recent trend in First-Year Experience is a move towards an online/virtual format rather than an in-person experience. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has hastened this process along, it began long before 2020. For example, a study from 2000 measured the difference between learning outcomes for first-year students who received traditional in-person instruction versus those who completed an asynchronous online activity which included the same content. Contrary to the researchers’ hypothesis, which stated that in-person would be more effective, the two groups had similar results on both the pre-test and the post-test, with no statistically significant difference found between the types of instruction. [14] 


The academic library can play a variety of roles in FYE. Librarians are frequently called upon to provide information literacy instruction to first-year students and may also participate in orientation programs, teach for-credit courses, and coordinate interactive activities. Many academic libraries now have a librarian position focused on first-year experience, and those that do not typically include similar responsibilities as a component of other specializations such as reference, information literacy, or public services. By providing these services for first-year students, academic libraries can alleviate library anxiety and help students develop their information literacy skills.


[1] Shawnda Freer, “The First-Year Experience Movement: History, Practice, and Implications for Student Development Professionals,” Growth: The Journal of the Association for Christians in Student Development 15, no. 15 (2016): 15,
[2] Katelyn Angell, “An Exploration of Academic Librarian Positions Dedicated to Serving First Year College Students,” Collaborative Librarianship 10, no. 1 (2018): 21-22,
[3] Jennifer Dixon, “First Impressions: LJ’s First Year Experience Survey,” Library Journal, April 2017. 
[4] Katelyn Angell, “An Exploration of Academic Librarian Positions Dedicated to Serving First Year College Students,” Collaborative Librarianship 10, no. 1 (2018): 20,
[5] Dixon, “First Impressions.”
[6] Carol Anne Germain, Trudi E. Jacobson, and Sue A. Kaczor, “A Comparison of the Effectiveness of Presentation Formats for Instruction: Teaching First-Year Students,” College & Research Libraries 61, no. 1 (2000), 69-70,
[7] Dixon, “First Impressions.”
[8] Liz Lanfear, “Enhancing the First-Year Experience: Ten Ways to Involve Library Services,” Assessment, Teaching and Learning Journal 4 (2008): 31-33,
[9] Irina I. Holden, “Expanding Instruction Beyond Library Topics: Teaching a First-Year Experience Course on Sustainability,” C&RL News 78, no. 2 (2017): 66-69,
[10] Jeffrey Henry, “Hosting a Game Night in an Academic Library,” in The Library Outreach Casebook, ed. Ryan Sittler and Terra Rogerson (Chicago: ACRL, 2018), 111-118.
[11] Rachael Muszkiewics, “Get to know our Librarian: How a Simple Orientation Program Helped Alleviate Library Anxiety,” Public Services Quarterly 13, no. 4 (2017): 223-237.
 [12] Elizabeth DiPrince, Amber Wilson, Chrissy Karafit, Amanda Bryant, and Chris Springer, “Don’t Panic! Managing Library Anxiety with a Library Survival Guide,” Reference & User Services Quarterly 55, no. 4 (2016): 283-291.
[13] Cecelia Parks, “Testing a Warmth-Based Instruction Intervention for Reducing Library Anxiety in First-Year Undergraduate Students,” Evidence-Based Library & Information Practice 14, no. 2 (2019): 70-78.
[14] Carol Anne Germain, Trudi E. Jacobson, and Sue A. Kaczor, “A Comparison of the Effectiveness of Presentation Formats for Instruction: Teaching First-Year Students,” College & Research Libraries 61, no. 1 (2000), 68-69,