Haras, C, Lopez, E. & Ferry, K. (2008). (Generation 1.5) Latino students and the library: a case study. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(5), 425-433.
This fascinating article studies the past, present, and future perception and use of library services among U.S.-educated first-year Latino undergraduate students. Using focus groups and an electronic survey, the authors conclude that the research skills among the Latino Freshman studied were underdeveloped due to low levels of K-12 library use. The authors further suggest that the under-utilization of K-12 library resources leads to lower levels of information literacy development within this student population, which could be one cause of the high rate of drop out among Latino students after their first year of college. The authors note that previous studies have focused on early literacy and numeric development as a predictor of future academic success or failure of Latino students, but not on the specific impact of library use and information literacy development.
As a Spanish-bilingual teacher-librarian, some of the information noted in this study as well as the findings were frankly alarming. On the positive side, 83.5% of the participants said that their first visit to the library happened before sixth grade with their mothers or a teacher. Many students also stated that they had fond memories of their visits and remembered the library as a “safe place.” In addition, 72% of these Latino students reported doing some research in high school and 76% said that they felt familiar with scholarly databases.
However, on the negative side, the authors noted that many “Generation 1.5” students stuck between their home language of Spanish and the English-dominant school environment were placed in low-track ESL classes in poor urban high schools lacking in adequate technology and library collections, which meant they were ill-prepared for the academic load in college. More shocking was the fact that according to a report by the California Department of Education in 2004, only 23% of our state schools had credentialed library media teachers and ranked last among all 50 states with librarian to student ratio (1:5,965). In one particularly shocking study on library use by undergraduates based on race, Ethelene Whitmire (2003) found that only 40% of Latino respondents had ever borrowed a book from a public library. The sad result of this lack of preparation and contact with libraries led to only 40.9% of Latino students surveyed in the study presented in this article to state that they felt “good” at doing research. Many of the participants felt that their former teachers did not prepare them adequately on how to use the library and its resources, which led to frustrating attempts in academic libraries.
After reading this article, I am even more concerned about the Latino students at my school. Clearly, the information literacy and research skills taught by me and the other teachers at my elementary school as well as the positive connection to be built between our students and the library are essential to their future academic success.