This year I’ve been looking at a couple of “big picture” issues at our library, squeezing in my investigations around the edges of everyday library life: user experience, especially of our online presence, and examining those new AASL standards with an eye toward linking them with other school priorities, including cross-walking with other sets of standards (a whole other post!). Among other things, these projects are leading me to another big question that I have begun to think about in a new way; how best to serve our international students and English Language Learners (ELLs). In my consideration of these students and their needs, I have tended to focus on the second part of this description – service to ELLs. In collection development, class visits, one-on-one instruction and summer reading selections, I have tried to accommodate and learn how to provide accessible, interesting, and useful materials and information. However, I have felt slightly at sea when trying to learn more about school library service to ELLs – much of what I find, rightfully and crucially so, addresses the multifaceted and diverse needs of young students from immigrant or refugee families or those growing up in the U.S. who speak a language other than English in the home. For the most part, these just aren’t my students – our ELLs are international boarding school students in middle and upper school enrolled here in order to learn and build on English skills, and usually to prepare for the TOEFL and study in an American college or university. These students and the way to approach serving them, I have recently realized, may have more in common with international student experiences in academic libraries. While I have found almost nothing specifically about serving international students in independent K-12 school libraries, plenty of academic librarians have researched, written about, and created resources to support international students coming to their institutions.
This now seems so obvious, but my focus on the age group we serve in K-12 schools has often kept me out of diving very deep into practices common to academic librarians. Well, no longer. While my students needs and backgrounds are also diverse and multifaceted, perhaps I should begin to balance my investigation of library services to younger ELLs with strategies tested by our colleagues in higher education to support international students as readers and researchers.
In chapters he wrote for two books: International Students and Academic Libraries: Initiatives for Success (ACRL, 2011) and Practical Pedagogy for Library Instructors: 17 Innovative Strategies to Improve Student Learning (ACRL, 2008), John Hickok relays the importance of understanding students’ prior experiences of libraries in their home countries and previous schools. He then recommends incorporating comparisons into library orientation sessions for international students, so that students may understand that notions they may have about libraries and librarians do not necessarily match what is offered in their school. This matches what I have gleaned from interactions with students over the years, but reading this in such plain terms was kind of revelatory. Based on Hickock’s strategies, I am eager to try a few new ideas to engage and support our students:
- Interview faculty members who are from or who have lived overseas, especially those countries from which our students are coming.
- Have casual conversations with international students to get a sense of what their perceptions are about the library and the role of the librarian.
- Connect with young alumni who have matriculated at institutions whose libraries have made specific efforts to reach out or offer special programs to international students.
- Collaborate with ESL faculty members to include more hands-on library time at the beginning of the year, introducing myself and the physical and virtual spaces, and ideally embedding library instruction into summer camp or new student orientation.
I’m not sure whether creating a resource guide specifically geared toward international students is the way to go, though many college and university libraries have done so. (A search for LibGuides for international students retrieved pages of results from universities; none from a school in the first four pages of Google results, anyway.) However, I am awakened to the need to learn from the powerful wisdom of my ESL teacher colleagues and academic librarians in not only collection development and appropriate information literacy scaffolding, but also user experience. A lot more articles just got added to my professional reading list!
If you have discovered useful resources, UX design ideas, or effective ways of providing library services including information literacy instruction to international and ESL students in middle and high school, please comment!
Hickock, J. (2008). Bringing them into the community: Innovative library instructional strategies for international and ESL students. In D. Cook & R. L. Sittler (Eds.), Practical pedagogy for library instructors: 17 innovative strategies to improve student learning (pp. 159-167).
Hickock, J. (2011). Knowing their background first: Understanding prior library experiences of international students. In P. A. Jackson & P. Sullivan (Eds.), International students and academic libraries: Initiatives for success (pp. 1-17). Chicago, Ill.: Association of College and Research Libraries.