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Strategies for serving international students at your library

August 2, 2018

Over a million international students studied at US universities last year–50,000 of them in Pennsylvania–and that number has been steadily increasing for decades, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE). Libraries are seeking ways to support these students.

Some suggestions for transforming libraries into “multilingual-friendly” spaces appear in Frans Albarillo’s recent College & Research Libraries article analyzing language preferences of foreign-born students. He mentions customized library instruction/orientation, linguistic diversity training for staff, computer labs with multilingual keyboard formats, collection development plus LibGuides focused on non-English scholarly sources, multilingual signage, and employment of multilingual librarians.

At Penn State Altoona, librarians have used some of these strategies, such as specialized orientation programming, name pronunciation workshops, and signage to welcome international students. Penn State is ranked 10th in the US for hosting international students, with over 9,000 in 2017 (IIE). According to Penn State’s Fact Book, 259 of these international students were enrolled at the Altoona campus, making up 7% of the student body.

New Student Orientation for International Students

Penn State Altoona hosts a customized orientation for incoming international students and their parents the week before classes begin. As part of the event, Library Director Bonnie Imler teaches a 3-hour Tech Academy that introduces the students to technology at Penn State and includes a tour of the library and its Media Commons. Plus, librarian Alessia Zanin-Yost partners with the Writing Center to share information about library services and tutoring resources, tips for acculturating to their new community, student success skills, and strategies for avoiding plagiarism. In addition, the library works with staff from Student Affairs to provide access to scanners for international students as they finalize their student visa paperwork.

Name Pronunciation Workshops

Last year, the library hosted two workshops designed to help faculty and staff learn how to correctly pronounce the names of international students. In February, the library worked in partnership with librarians at Penn State University Park to publicize and remotely host a webinar on Indian Name Pronunciation taught by Ritu Jayakar, lecturer in Hindi at Penn State. In May, Chunyuan Di, lecturer in Chinese at Penn State, taught a Chinese name pronunciation workshop at the Altoona campus. Over 60 faculty and staff members attended the event, which was co-hosted by the library and the Internationalization Committee. Why these two languages? According to the IIE, the leading places of origin for international students were China and India.

Multilingual Welcome Signage

A poster designed by the ALA that says “Welcome” in 27 languages is posted near the entrance of the library to create an inclusive atmosphere. This poster is still available at the ALA store.

The Penn State Altoona library continues to seek ways to reach out to the growing number of international students on campus. Please share your suggestions in the comments.

Jessica Showalter is an Information Resources and Services Support Specialist at Penn State Altoona’s Eiche Library. Say hello on Twitter @libraryjms

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 7, 2018 12:13 am

    Wow! When I was working as the Secretary for the Center for International Education at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem (this was five years ago), the college had a continually growing population of international students. Surprisingly, most of ours hailed from the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, or Vietnam. It was such a diverse mix. I enjoyed reading the approaches Penn State Altoona has taken to assist these students with feeling more welcomed and “at home,” as it can never be easy living in another country with your family thousands of miles away.

    • Jessica Showalter permalink
      August 8, 2018 1:47 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Michele! We’re all learning a lot from our community of international students here :)

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