Home 9 Blog Posts 9 v30 #2 Optimizing Library Services — International Students and Academic Libraries: Identifying Themes in the Literature from 2001 to the Present

v30 #2 Optimizing Library Services — International Students and Academic Libraries: Identifying Themes in the Literature from 2001 to the Present

by | May 23, 2018 | 0 comments

by Barbara Blummer  (Center for Computing Sciences, USA) 

and Jeffrey M. Kenton  (Towson University, USA)

Column Editors:  Caroline J. Campbell  (Promotions Coordinator, IGI Global) 

and Lindsay Wertman  (Managing Director, IGI Global) www.igi-global.com

Column Editors’ Note:  This study International Students and Academic Libraries: Identifying Themes in the Literature From 2001 to the Present, is featured in the recently released IGI Global book publication, Promoting Ethnic Diversity and Multiculturalism in Higher Education, edited by Dr. Barbara Blummer (Center for Computing Sciences, USA), Dr. Jeffrey M. Kenton (Towson University, USA), and Dr. Michael Wiatrowski (Independent Researcher, USA) (Copyright Year: 2018; ISBN: 9781522540977; Pages: 309). — CC & LW



According to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors Report on International Education Exchange, the number of international students studying in the United States (U.S.) is increasing as well as the number of U.S. students enrolled in academic institutions abroad.  In addition, the numbers of Hispanic, Asian, and nonresident alien students attending U.S. academic institutions increased from 2010 to 2014 (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2016).  Other countries are reporting a rise in foreign students enrolled in their universities, as well. Still, studies suggest that international students experience difficulties in adapting to academia, in part, due to cultural differences.  Librarians’ understanding of international students’ library use patterns can foster the development of appropriate informational literacy instruction and outreach to these individuals and facilitate their use of library resources and services.


A recent United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report illustrated the number of students studying in higher education institutions abroad is increasing (United Nations, 2016).  The report identified the most popular countries for these students as the U.S., the United Kington, Australia, France, Germany, and Russia respectively.  On the other hand, the report pointed to China, India, Germany, Korea, France, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. as claiming the most mobile students. Yi (2007) suggested the U.S. remained especially attractive to foreign students due to the extent of technological and scientific development in the country.  In addition to an increasing rate of international students in the U.S. and abroad, studies suggest a rise in immigration trends will impact the demographic composition of academic institutions, especially in the U.S.

International Students’ Adjustment to Academia

Research has identified a variety of factors that impact international students’ adjustment to academic life including:  language difficulties, technological barriers, different instructional methods, financial problems, discrimination as well as loneliness (Banjong & Olson, 2016;  Faleel, Tam, Lee, Har, & Foo; Zhou, Jindal-Snape, Topping, & Todman, 2008). Moreover, Koenigstein (2012), Peters (2010) and Sarkodie-Mensah (2000) believed international students in the U.S. experienced cultural shock that produced anxiety and stress.  Recent studies support these findings highlighting the linguistic, cultural, and instructional challenges facing international students (Han & Hall, 2012;  Lin & Scherz, 2014).

Foremost, differences between the libraries and librarians in students’ native countries and their host institutions affect international students’ utilization of library services and resources (Nataowitz, 1995;  Peters, 2010). Studies suggested international students visited the library for studying, but not research and these individuals were less apt to contact a librarian for assistance (Duan, 2016; Haley & Clough, 2017).  Additional barriers to international students’ use of library resources include difficulty with language, especially English, as well as a lack of understanding of library facilities, resources, and services (Duan, 2016;  Varga-Atkins & Ashcroft, 2004). Moreover, research found international students were often confused about plagiarism and library jargon (Han & Hall, 2012; Mundava & Gray, 2008; Ramachandran, 2014/2015). Surveys and focus groups with international students pointed to the role of language as a barrier to these individuals’ information literacy development as well as the importance of outreach, specialized instruction, and campus collaborations to improve their research skills (Ishimura, Howard, & Moukdad, 2007;  Jackson, 2005; Mehra & Bilal, 2007; Safahieh & Singh, 2007; Wang, 2008).

Authors noted international students experienced anxiety when using the library (Lu & Adkins, 2012).  Battle (2004) found information literacy instruction reduced library anxiety for international students in English as a second language (ESL) programs when completing a library assignment.  To this end, DiMartino and Zoe (2000) urged librarians to understand the learning styles, cognitive habits, and cultural background of international students to support their use of the library.

Ethnic diversity, and especially the appearance of international students on college campuses, exposes students to new perspectives, research opportunities, and pedagogy practices.  Still, language and cultural barriers can hinder the academic endeavors of minorities. It remains especially important that administrators, faculty, and librarians devise strategies to support international students’ research and learning activities.  Librarians’ and faculty’s support to international students can be aided by understanding how cultural differences impact their information seeking.

Literature Review Method

The methodology centered on a literature review of international students and academic libraries from 2001 to the present.  To identify relevant articles on this topic, the authors searched the library literature with various combinations of the following keywords: international, students, library, academic, university, college, and higher education.  The authors truncated terms and limited the results to material published after 2000, to reflect the availability of commercial technologies in libraries. The reference lists of relevant papers were also reviewed.

Research Analysis & Findings

The authors reviewed 99 papers that reported on international students and academic libraries.  These papers consisted of studies that examined data from surveys, interviews, focus groups, and reference interactions with international students as well as their search diaries and artifacts.  The majority of the papers did not differentiate among individuals’ ethnic status, but 14 out of 99, or 14 percent focused on Asian international students. There was also research that centered on international students from Saudi Arabia and developing countries use of the library at Robert Morris University and the University of Delaware respectively (Ibraheem & Devine, 2016;  Iheanacho, 2008). Likewise, more than half of the studies considered undergraduate and graduate international students, 59 out of 99.  However, some research focused on graduate or undergraduate international students. In addition, three studies consisted of surveys and focus groups with librarians that served international students.  Collectively the literature presents best practices for librarians and faculty for supporting international students in their academic research endeavors.

The authors identified four themes within the material including: international students in the library, library initiatives for international students, skills required for librarians’ support to international students, and marketing and outreach to international students (see Table 1.0).  The authors assigned one theme to each paper based on the primary focus of the material. Together, these materials highlight opportunities for librarians in supporting international students’ use of resources and services in academic libraries.


This study focused on librarians’ efforts to support international students in academic institutions as reflected in the literature.  The literature illustrated international students utilized the library, but experienced difficulties in locating items, consulting a reference librarian, and capitalizing on various library services.  Still, international students recognized the value of the library and sought additional information on how to utilize collections and services. Foremost, articles noted the need for librarians’ outreach and instruction to these individuals due to their limited use of the library and language difficulties.  The literature also discussed the importance of librarians’ communication skills as well as their creation of library initiatives and marketing efforts to support international students’ use of the library.

In addition to the themes identified above, the review underscored the role of collaboration, user studies, technology, and communication in facilitating library support to international students.  An examination of these topics illustrates the interrelationship among the themes and highlights the need for a multifaceted approach to providing library support to international students.

Collaboration was paramount in the provision of library support to international students.  Librarians collaborated with a variety of entities inside and outside the institution to develop initiatives for international students.  Librarians employed user studies to help inform the development and assessment of library initiatives to international students. Technologies were also used to facilitate library support to international students especially websites that offered students access to resources and services as well as other technologies such as library tutorials and online tours.

International diversity in higher education offers numerous benefits to the institution.  Still, administrators, faculty, and librarians must ensure international individuals remain satisfied with their academic experience.  Librarians’ support to international students can enhance their learning and research opportunities. In addition to the provision of library resources, instruction in information literacy skills fosters individuals’ success in academia and beyond.


Banjong, D. N., & Olson, M. R. (2016).  Issues and trends of international students in the United States.  International Journal of Education, 4(1), 1-14.

Battle, J. C. (2004).  The effect of information literacy instruction on library anxiety among international students (Doctoral dissertation).  Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertation & Theses Global. (3126554)

Duan, X. (2016).  How they search, how they feel, and how to serve them? Information needs and seeking behaviors of Chinse students using academic libraries.  International Information & Library Review, 48(3), 157-168.

DiMartino, D., & Zoe, L. R. (2000).  International students and the library: New tools, new users, and new instruction.  In T. E. Jacobson & H. C. Williams (Eds.) Teaching the New Library to Today’s Users (17-43).  New York: Neal-Schuman.

Faleel, S., Tam, C., Lee, T., Har, W., & Foo. (2012).  Stress, perceived social support of coping capability and depression: A study of local and foreign Students in the Malaysian context.  International Journal of Social, Behavioral, Educational, Economic, Business and Industrial Engineering, 6(1), 1-7.

Haley, A. N., & Clough, P. (2017).  Affective experiences of international and home students during the information search process.  New Review of Academic Librarianship, 1-25.

Han, N., & Hall, S. L. (2012).  Think globally!  Enhancing the international student experience with LibGuides.  Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, 24(4), 288-297.

Ibraheem, A. I., & Devine, C. (2016).  Saudi students, american academic library: A survey.  Library Review, 65(4/5), 267-280.

Iheanacho, P. C. (2008).  A plan for making the university of Delaware’s Morris Library more Accessible to students from developing countries (Doctoral dissertation).  Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertation & Theses Global. (3324456)

Institute of International Education.  Open Doors 2015 Report. Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.iie.org/Who-We-Are/News-and-Events/Press-Center/Press-Releases/2015/2015-11-16-Open-Doors-Data#.V-o_XU0VBUY.

Ishimura, Y., Howard, V., & Moukdad, H. (2007).  Information literacy in academic libraries: Assessment of Japanese students’ needs for successful assignment completion in two Halifax universities.  The Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, 31(1), 1-26.

Jackson, P. A. (2005).  Incoming international students and the library: A survey.  Reference Services Review 33(2), 197-209.

Koenigstein, D. (2012).  Alleviating international students’ culture shock and anxiety in American academic libraries: Welcome, ahlan wa sahlan, anyeong hae sae yo, bienvenidos, huan ying, sanu da zuwa, shalom, swaagat hai.  Library Philosophy and Practice Retrieved September 30, 2016, from http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1812&context=libphilprac.

Lin, S., & Scherz, S. D. (2014).  Challenges facing Asian international graduate students in the US: Pedagogical considerations in higher education.  Journal of International Students, 4(1), 16-33.

Lu, Y., & Adkins, D. (2012).  Library anxiety among international graduate students.  Paper presented at ASIST, October 28-31, 2012.

Mehra, B., & Bilal D. (2007).  International Students’ Perceptions of their Information Seeking Strategies.  Presented at the 35th Annual Conference of the Canadian Association for Information Science, May 10–12, Montreal (Quebec), Canada.

Mundava, M. C., & Gray, L. (2008).  Meeting them where they are: Marketing to international student populations in U.S. academic libraries.  Technical Services Quarterly, 25(3), 35-48.

Natowitz, A. (1995).  International student in US academic libraries: Recent concerns and trends.  Research Strategies, 13(1), 4-16.

Peters, D. E. (2010).  International Students and Academic Libraries: A Survey of Issues and Annotated Bibliography.  Lanham: The Scarecrow Press.

Ramachandran, H. (2014).  International students within our borders: Improving information literacy and library services for graduate engineering students.  Paper presented at the Special Libraries Association Conference, Vancouver, B.C., June 8-10th. Retrieved September 30,2016, from http://www.sla.org/2014-contributed-paper.

Safahieh, H., & Singh, D.  (2007).  Information communication channels for incoming international students at public universities in Malaysia.  In Building an information society for all: Proceedings of the International Conference on Libraries, Information and Society, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 26-27 June 2007, (pp. 137-144).

Sarkodie-Mensah, K.  (2010).  Plagiarism and the international student.  Catholic Library World, 80, 197-202.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  Institute for Statistics. (2016).  Global Flow of Tertiary-Level Students.  Retrieved September 27, 2016, from http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/international-student-flow-viz.aspx.

U.S. Dept. of Education.  Institute of Education Sciences.  National Center for Education Statistics.  (2016).

Varga-Atkins, T., & Ashcroft, L. (2004).  Information skills of undergraduate business students: A comparison of UK and international students.  Library Management, 25(1/2), 39-55.

Wang, J. (2008).  Toward understanding international students: A study conducted at Middle Tennessee State University.  The Southeastern Librarians, 56(3), 4-10.

Yi, Z. (2007).  International student perceptions of information needs and use.  The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 33(6), 666-673.

Zhou, Y., Jindal-Snape, D., Topping, K., & Todman, J. (2008).  Theoretical models of culture shock and adaptation in international students in higher education.  Studies in Higher Education, 33(1), 63-75.

Additional Readings

Bhattacharyya, S., & Patnaik, K. R. (Eds.).  (2018). Changing the scope of library instruction in the digital age.  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Bonnand, S., & Hansen, M. A. (Eds.). (2015).  Innovative solutions for building community in academic libraries.  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Ruan, L., Zhu, Q., & Ye, Y. (Eds.). (2017).  Academic library development and administration in china.  Hershey, PA: IGI Global.



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