Building Bridges: Creating Success Before the First Year


By: April Sheppard, Assistant Library Director, Arkansas State University

Working in an academic library, one quickly learns the impact that library use can have on first-year student success. Not only do we get immediate feedback in the thanks we receive and seeing students return to the library, research repeatedly shows that library use increases first-year students’ GPA and retention. In one 2014 study, some library activities appear to show improvement after just one use.1 To see if this trend held up at Arkansas State University, we measured the impact of the library’s for-credit class, Introduction to Academic Research. Using data obtained from the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, we determined that first-year students who took our course had 20% higher first-year retention, 20.8% second-year retention, and 12.1% higher six-year graduation rates compared to overall students. Admittedly this data did not take into account that students who willingly take a for-credit library course might already be high-achieving students, but we were still thrilled with the results.

Introduction to Academic Research and First-Year Student Success

In 2015, our Library Director, Jeff Bailey, had a happenstance conversation with Ian Singer, General Manager at Credo Reference. Credo Reference is a well-established library vendor which provides a variety of electronic reference materials and information literacy skills products. While discussing our success within our own library, Ian simply asked if we were doing anything with local schools. We weren’t, but this conversation started another one in our library. Why weren’t we? If we know that library usage has a positive impact on first-year college students, what would happen if we worked to increase college-readiness and information literacy skills of students before they became first-year students? Thus, our Building Bridges program was created in partnership with Credo Reference and eleven local high schools. Credo would create separate instances of Credo Reference and Students Exploring & Evaluating Knowledge (SEEK) modules for each school and offer support and training for the products. We would provide hands-on training, information literacy sessions within the schools, and open our for-credit class to concurrent students.

Building Bridges Schools

Building Bridges Schools

When we began contacting schools, we were certain that they would be amazed at this awesome opportunity we were offering. This wasn’t always the case. We were met with skepticism – why would a university library be willing to provide resources and instruction to a high school? What’s the catch? We were also met with some hurt feelings. We had to learn to communicate that we were not telling them how to teach and we had to work to assure schools that we were trying to support them and their curriculum. The goal is to help students be better prepared for college, even if they do not apply to Arkansas State.

College Student Success

So does earlier information literacy outreach help create more successful college students? Early indicators point to yes. Preliminary data shows that students from our partnered schools have higher retention rates, higher high school GPAs, and lower remediation rates compared to the overall student population. Data also shows higher admissions and registration rates. Again, how much of the success is due to our contributions and how much is other factors? We don’t know, but we’re going to continue just in case.

1. Soria, K. M., Fransen, J., & Nackerud, S. (2014). Stacks, Serials, Search Engines, and Students’ Success: First-Year Undergraduate Students’ Library Use, Academic Achievement, and Retention. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(1), 84–91.