It’s tough being an international student. Sure, it’s fun, but studying in a new language is difficult, and making friends—even with friendly Americans—can be hard. As more and more students from foreign countries are choosing to study in the US, it’s up to school administrators to make sure this segment of their campus community has the resources they need to thrive.
The higher education library can be a huge part of the solution. Here are a few ways your library can help international students feel welcome on campus.
Optimize your website
For a student who’s not just new to your campus but to the whole country, it can be more than a little intimidating to enter your library and strike up a conversation with the nearest resource librarian. Instead, they may turn to your website for information. Whether they’re looking for your hours during midterms, how to return an overdue book or what resources you have available in their native tongue, make sure your website is easily navigable and clear.
You may want to take a page out of NYU Libraries’ book and set up a website specifically for international students. Keep the writing on this website clear, concise, and free of any confusing English phrases to ensure everyone understands, regardless of their language abilities. Put important links on the homepage along with helpful research tips specific for international students. If anyone on your library staff is multilingual, make sure to shout them out as well!
Regardless of where they’re from, college students all have one thing in common: they love to party, especially if there’s free food involved. Take advantage of this youthful enthusiasm to help international students feel at home and get everyone on campus involved with the library.
At Copenhagen University Library, librarian Christian Lauersen holds candlelight dinners for foreign students and local students interested in making friends and forging bonds on campus. Students get the chance to eat, drink and dance to the sick beats of a student DJ—but more importantly, they get to chat with new friends from around the world. Consider turning your library into a similar hangout spot by hosting similar events. While you don’t need to do a candlelight dinner per se, a monthly event for international students and whoever else is interested can be a lovely way to get students into your library, introduce your collections and watch international friendships grow.
Provide in-person support
The Dewey Decimal System may be easy for American students to navigate, but for those who are unused to it, learning to navigate the library is like learning an entirely new language. Libraries aren’t the same across the world, and it may take a while for students to get used to yours. For an exchange student from Germany who’s used to ordering books online or at the front desk and getting them delivered to a specially-marked shelf, the process of browsing the stacks can be a real doozy. This kind of library-specific culture shock can make any student nervous to enter the library, let alone do research.
If you suspect that this may be a problem for your international students, take proactive steps to solve it. If there’s an international student orientation at the beginning of the semester, ask if you can give a library tour, complete with information on how to search for and check out resources. Give your email address to these students so they can get in touch with questions, and train your staff to give clear instructions and directions to students who may not be familiar with library protocol. When students know what to do, they’ll be a hundred times more likely to utilize your library and get involved on campus.
For more information on how you can add value to different segments of your campus community, check out our white paper: The Value of the Library on Campus Today.