Libraries Support First-Generation Students through Services and Spaces, but Can Do More


  • Hilary Bussell The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, United States of America



A Review of:

Arch, X., & Gilman, I. (2019). First principles: Designing services for first-generation students. College & Research Libraries, 80(7), 996–1012.


Objective – To provide recommendations for academic libraries in supporting first-generation college students, defined by the study’s authors “either as those whose parents have no college experience or did not graduate with a bachelor’s degree” (p. 996).

Design – Multidisciplinary literature review and two qualitative survey questionnaires.

Setting – United States secondary and post-secondary schools.

Subjects – College Counsellor Survey: 300 private/parochial, private/secular, public, and charter secondary/high schools in rural, suburban, and urban areas randomly selected from across all 50 states. Academic Library Survey: Academic libraries at 100 four-year institutions.

Methods College Counsellor Survey: An online survey was sent to potential subjects via email. The survey included basic demographic questions and open-ended questions about counsellors’ perceptions of the challenges faced by first-generation college students, the types of institutional support they need, and how academic libraries could offer support. The answers were analyzed in NVivo using a combination of inductive and axial coding in order to develop a set of themes reflecting the most commonly-mentioned challenges and support needs.

Academic Library Survey: A survey invitation was sent directly to library deans and directors at 100 four-year institutions and to two academic library electronic mailing lists. The survey included questions about services academic libraries offer for first-generation students. The data were analyzed to determine whether academic libraries were offering services that matched the thematic areas identified in the College Counsellor Survey.

Main Results College Counselor Survey: The response rate was 24% (n=78). There were six themes which were identified regarding challenges and support needs for first-generation students: Academic and Tutoring, Social and Cultural, Home and Family, Navigating College, Financial, and Mentoring and Advising. Recommendations for library support included library participation in first-generation student orientations, library instruction in research methods, and conveying that librarians are welcoming and friendly.

Academic Library Survey: Out of the 59 responding libraries, 19 reported offering services designed for first-generation students, while 6 additional libraries reported offering services they believed would be useful for first-generation students, though they were not designed for them specifically. The library services addressed needs relating to the Academic and Tutoring, Navigating College, and Financial themes. The library services did not address the needs relating to the Social and Cultural, Home and Family, and Mentoring and Advising themes.

Conclusion Based on the surveys and literature review, the authors provide recommendations for academic library services for first-generation students that address each of the six thematic areas of need. The recommendations include, but are not limited to, assigning liaisons for first-generation programs, working to create an inclusive and affirming library environment, designing library spaces that support the multiple social roles and identities of first-generation students, helping family members of first-generation students become aware of the library as a resource, providing training on applying for financial aid, and having librarians either provide outreach to mentorship programs or become mentors themselves.


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Author Biography

Hilary Bussell, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, United States of America

Librarian for Political Science, Economics, & Communication




How to Cite

Bussell, H. (2020). Libraries Support First-Generation Students through Services and Spaces, but Can Do More. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 15(1), 242–244.



Evidence Summaries