The African proverb, "It takes a whole village to raise a child," has been on my mind the last week or so. I know the proverb has been overused, but the essence still resonates with me: we are all responsible for the well-being of our young. I'd like to suggest a slight rewrite, though, to fit my context: "It takes a whole college or university to graduate a student." Or, more plainly: in higher ed, at least at small institutions like mine, we are all in the retention business.
Let me say that again: we are all in the retention business. Professors and residence deans and coaches have an obvious role to play, but librarians can still contribute. That's because one of the biggest factors in student retention is one that anyone can influence: making students feel like they belong on campus. It's all about the strength of the relationships they develop, not with whom they connect. That's where this librarian comes into the picture.
When I tell you that I think about student relationships every day, I'm not exaggerating. Building relationships with students was at the core of adding popular reading materials, of our participation in National Gaming Day, of hosting Humans vs. Zombies, of the cultural literacy series, and so on, and so on. And it's working. One of the benefits of doing these things at a small, liberal arts college is that, as a result, I'm able to be on a first name basis with a good chunk of our student population. I've gotten to be so well known on campus that I was actually the answer to a trivia question at a student run event. When I asked why, I was told: "Because everyone knows you." All I could do in response was to smile.
How about you? For those of you who work (or want to work) at academic libraries, is student retention part of your charge? What do you do? For those of you who don't work at academic libraries, do you have any suggestions for us who do?