From ACRLog: Assisting College Military Veterans in Academic Libraries

Student retention has been a big issue here on the North Dakota State University (NDSU) campus. One specific group that the library is actively seeking to form more diverse relationships with is military veterans. Library services for military veterans provide targeted opportunities for outreach and access to information.

Advertisements

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Alejandro Marquez, Undergraduate Outreach and Instruction Librarian at North Dakota State University.

Student retention has been a big issue here on the North Dakota State University (NDSU) campus. My position was recently created within the library to work as a cooperative liaison with other on-campus support services and entities to address this issue, such as the tutoring center, disability services, and the counseling center, among others. This collaborative environment has sparked a positive conversation in our library that is focused on how to redefine the role of libraries on academic campuses and the integration of new and diverse support service roles.

One specific group that the library is actively seeking to form more diverse relationships with is military veterans. Library services for military veterans provide targeted opportunities for outreach and access to information. However, veterans as a user group are difficult to define as they may have served in Vietnam, during peace time, in the post 9/11 era, or in a number of other distinct situations. Each of these groups brings unique and diverse experiences in terms of age, education, life experience, health, and socioeconomic status. Unlike library services to people of color or older adults, there are no identifying social, ethnic, geographic, cultural, or chronological markers for veterans.

There are currently 1,388,028 active personnel in the armed forces and 850,880 reserve personnel. As the United States withdraws forces from around the world, this number should decrease. The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial support for education and housing to returning veterans and their families and since August 2009, the VA has provided educational benefits to 773,000 veterans and their family members, amounting to more than $20 billion in benefits. Former service members can utilize their educational benefits for up to fifteen years.

Here are a few examples of the ways libraries can assist college military veterans:

  1. Provide training sessions for library staff to increase awareness, as well as the knowledge and skills needed to address and examine the stereotypes and challenges veterans may face.
  2. Develop a social media presence to target veterans groups on Twitter and Facebook through local VA administration offices, campus and community groups.
  3. Develop an outreach strategy to provide educational and vocational workshops and invite veterans to speak about and share their experiences.
  4. Provide classes on financial security. Many veterans may not know the various educational rights and responsibilities available to them under the GI Bill. These benefits may include a housing allowance, vocational/technical training, flight training, correspondence training, licensing and national testing programs, entrepreneurship training, and tutorial assistance. Additionally, many veterans can qualify for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) free of charge. Another topic of interest within financial security is money management. Some individuals may have entered the service quite young and may not have had the opportunity to develop a strong financial management skill set.
  5. Sponsor a career services fair in the library. Veterans come with unique skill sets that many employers find attractive, such as leadership skills and the ability to perform well in difficult situations. Activities can include a resume workshop, career strengths assessment, and an interviewing skills class.
  6. Create displays of books, magazines and DVDs that highlight veteran issues or information that might be of interest such as entrepreneurship, financial literacy, test preparation manuals, and military history.
  7. Libraries can promote other support services that are available on campus and often free of charge such as counseling, disability services, and tutoring
  8. On an institutional level, the campus could develop an initiative to include “veteran classifications” as data points. NDSU currently includes “Veterans Data” within their enrollment census summary statistics. However, demographic data points such as “veteran” do not appear to be included within graduation statistics. Adding this type of demographic data can show the number of veteran students who graduate from NDSU.

One challenge is that some students will choose not to self-identify as former members of the armed forces. Others may also feel that they should know how to do certain educational tasks already. As a result, libraries and on-campus support services need to develop innovative practices that meet the diverse informational needs of this population. No one person or office can address all of veteran students’ needs. Meeting the needs of veterans requires libraries to focus on the whole person while providing services that look after their mental, physical and emotional well-being. Many of the suggestions listed above would require strategic partnerships with other on-campus and community entities to ensure successful implementation.

The NDSU Libraries have found that many of the suggestions on the above list would be difficult to implement at this time. As an institution, we may have the time, manpower, and money to make these ideas a reality. However, the question often raised is “should we?” Should we undertake these efforts with this specific user population? What is the return on investment? Workshops and career services fairs do not fit into our current mission statement of providing reliable academic resources. This type of programming might be better suited to a public library which focuses on broader information needs. Additionally, there are so many other support services on campus that it seems ill advised for the library to invent a program that could be handled more adeptly by others.

These types of “should we” questions are important because they allow us to consider if our ideas and our justifications have merit. However, I think that we also need to ask the question: why shouldn’t we? This alternative question helps us examine the reasons why it could be advantageous to implement these types of suggestions. Librarians are always seeking contact with students and can use this programming as a means of connecting with this often hidden population.