The Importance of Access to Librarians in High School

Post written by Janell Verdream, Instruction Librarian at The Ohio State University- Newark and Central Ohio Technical College.

In 2021, I joined librarians from Miami University, Abigail Morgan and Jerry Yarnetsky, as they built on a study they conducted in 2019. We surveyed first-year students at Miami and OSU-Newark who attended high school in Ohio before coming to college. The main focus of our research was to investigate how access to librarians in high school may impact feelings of preparedness for college-level research. We were also interested in comparing high school typologies (district size, poverty levels, and district type such as rural, urban, etc.) as we viewed our survey results.

Overall, students reported feeling anxious when it comes to conducting college-level research and using their university library. Only 41.4% of the respondents reported feeling prepared for college-level research. We found that students who attended high school remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic felt especially less prepared.

The good news is that instruction from librarians in high school did seem to make a difference. Having learned research skills from a librarian (instead of another person, an online module, or not at all) was correlated with feeling more prepared. Additionally, the smallest amount of help from a librarian in high school makes a huge difference. Only 27% of students who never received librarian help reported feeling prepared. This percentage nearly doubles when students “rarely” received help, with 50% of those students feeling prepared. 62% of students who “occasionally” received librarian help felt prepared for college-level research, and the students who felt most prepared (83%) were helped “frequently” in high school.

The unfortunate news is that 54.5% of our respondents reported never receiving help from a librarian in high school. This percentage is even higher among the students who attended a small-town high school (72.4% never received help) and those who attended rural high schools (58.8% never received help). Furthermore, it is those students who received the least help that reported feeling the most intimidated by their college libraries.

Inspired by our study results, Abi, Jerry, and I have made some changes to our day-to-day interactions with students. We are reducing library jargon on our signage and websites, as well as going back to the basics (how to access the library website, how to read call numbers, etc.) in our one-shots. We encourage you to consider your students’ perceptions of their research abilities and their levels of library anxiety as you plan future instruction sessions.

If you would like to learn more about our study, you can find our presentation at ALAO Annual 2022 here. NEO-RLS members also have access to a recorded webinar from earlier this month. We will also be presenting our research at ALA Annual this summer with additional updates based on conversations we’ve had with other library-related professional organizations around the state.