1st Gen student groupReflecting on my own experience as a first-generation college student, I rarely used the educational resources of the academic library. Being a first-gen, library usage was just not ingrained in my family culture.

As a result, I had no idea of the variety or richness of the resources available that could have helped me learn and understand the academic challenges I faced throughout my college experience.

For me, at that time, going to any library meant looking for information in an encyclopedia and/or seeking a quiet place to study.

Graduating from a Boston public high school and lacking college-level study skills, I struggled academically throughout college. Ironically, my major was political science. In most of my classes, I was the only Black and female. Loved the subject matter, but did not possess the savoir-faire to participate in class discussions as demonstrated by my male peers. However, through sheer determination, I did graduate in four years.

At my undergraduate commencement, I remember feeling sad, angry and disconnected, not really exhilarated at my accomplishment.  I kept thinking to myself, “I wasn’t given this degree,” as speaker after speaker was intimating. “I earned it.”

What I recognized then but could not articulate was that I could not fully appreciate the learning experience because I was buried in the struggle to succeed.

Influence of Information Literacy

While serving as an associate dean of enrollment services at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, I experienced an “academic epiphany” – most college students underutilized the teaching and learning services of the academic library.

That epiphany inspired me to pursue a Ph.D. in educational studies, focusing on first-gen students’ information literacy skill development at an urban public university. Information literacy is a teaching and learning philosophy historically rooted in the realm of library and bibliographic instruction. It has gained tremendous momentum within higher education since the turn of the century.

The actual concept of information literacy first came into my universe in the late 80’s/early ‘90’s while managing a unique, four-year scholarship/academic support program for Boston public high school seniors accepted to the University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Participants at the Class Action 2014 1st-Gen Summit

Participants at a Class Action 1st-Gen Summit learn about strategies for success, including the resources available to them as students.

Funded by the Boston Globe Foundation, high school principals selected recipients “who worked hard all through high school and deserved the chance to keep on working hard and further their education.” Academic merit was not a primary consideration.

Scholarship recipients were known as Taylor Scholars, after the benefactors of the Boston Globe Foundation at the time. The goal of the Taylor Scholars’ program was to ensure their graduation in four years by providing each cohort with on-going academic and student support services.

Initially, Taylor Scholars’ program activities consisted of group /individual academic/financial aid counseling and advising sessions in addition to specific information literacy seminars and workshops designed to enhance students’ research and study skills. Over time, the First-Year Seminar, co-taught by a faculty member and an academic librarian, was also added to the program.

As a result of the program, many of the scholars went on to confidently pursue their academic studies and graduate from the University. Our program graduation rate was higher than that of the University.

The following quote is from one of the Taylor Scholars’ who went on to earn her MBA in the field of investor relations, employed in New York City. It exemplifies the overall experience of these students to their exposure to information literacy:

“Until I worked at my present job, I never really had such a deep understanding of how the difference in your upbringing affects the rest of your life. I knew that there were different classes in our society which separate individuals based on their incomes, but the most important factor that separates those who advance or get the most benefits available in this society has more to do with the lack of information than anything else.”

Using Google and Wikipedia are really only the first steps in becoming a knowledgeable working professional in any field, auto mechanics included.

Without engagement in the discovery of academic library resources to enhance your overall undergraduate learning experience, your undergraduate education will be lacking the information resource strategies needed for any individual to be competitive as a professional in today’s information/digital society.

First gen students, just think about it for a minute… Ask Yourself, “What are the information resources I need to know to remain competitive in school and in my future career?”

Then check in with your local reference librarian for confirmation.

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