Making Stone Soup: Integrating Academic Libraries into International Outreach Programs and Initiatives

By M. Nathalie Hristov, Associate Professor & Music Librarian
and Allison L. Sharp, Associate Professor & International Education Liaison Librarian
University of Tennessee, Knoxville


The international student population in the United States has risen by over 72% over the last twenty years; however, a review of the literature seems to suggest that the LIS field would continue to benefit from greater research in this particular area of librarianship (Click, Wiley, and Houlihan, 2017, p. 328). Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of articles published in the library literature focus on services and activities that promote the international education of domestic students rather than the library needs of international students. Future efforts call for academic librarians to define their role in the information seeking activities of their international constituents (Click et al, 2017, p. 344). It is the contention of this article that a solid platform for the engagement of international students by librarians must first be established.

“Student engagement is a critical target at most institutions of higher learning in the 21st century. Its centrality to the core educational enterprise provides natural in-roads for academic libraries to align information literacy and other engagement factors with broader institutional efforts to engage students and create an engaging environment” (Schlak, 2018, p. 133). Ultimately, Tim Schlak’s imperative to align library engagements efforts with those of the larger academic institution or community requires a greater level of commitment, time, and effort on the part of the libraries to include those of the larger institution. With an increase in international faculty and students, library engagement efforts described by Schlak must adapt to an increasingly globalized environment.

Since the early 2000s, the University of Tennessee Libraries (UT Libraries) has engaged in multiple efforts to address this internalization of its greater campus community. This commitment is in line with one of the University’s top priorities and has laid the foundation for future research studies in the servicing of international students in higher education. In this article, several strategies and case studies from the UT Libraries are reviewed, discussed, and evaluated for their effectiveness in building relationships with the international communities on campus. In some cases, these efforts are compared and contrasted with similar efforts at other academic institutions. While the primary objectives of the efforts described in this article vary, for the purposes of this case study, each activity is evaluated solely based on its contribution to the internationalization of academic library services, particularly on the level and quality of service provided to international students. The intention is to describe the groundwork that will be used for future study of the informational needs of the international student.

Internationalization of higher education

Globalization and internationalization have progressively become major areas of focus in higher education.  Although no standardized definition exists for either, Altbach and Knight accept the idea that globalization refers to the “economical, societal, and political” ideas that lead to internationalization, which is the change through which intercultural concepts are added to the university (2007, p. 290).  Bordonaro observed that although most higher education organizations do not explicitly define internationalization, most incorporate the concepts (2013, pp. 19-21). One way that universities accomplish this goal is by attracting and maintaining a diverse student body, including students from around the world.

According to the 2016/17 Open Doors Enrollment Trends Report, 1,078,822 international students attended community colleges, professional schools, colleges, or universities in the United States (Institute of International Education, 2017). Although that number shows a decrease of 3% from previous years, there are still a significant number of international students in higher education in the United States (Quilantan, 2018). Fischer noted that this decrease has encouraged institutions to expand their recruitment efforts by seeking students from countries that traditionally send fewer students to the US for higher education. Once students arrive, outreach and social networking events give international and domestic students the opportunity to develop friendships, which can decrease loneliness in international students, improve their success in the university, and increase retention (Sawir, Marginson, Deumert, Nyland, & Ramia, 2008, p. 156). Libraries can support these institutional efforts to attract, retain, and support an internationalized student body by creating an environment where students can feel welcome, find needed resources, and thrive academically.

Academic libraries in a global setting

Academic libraries play a unique role in this internationalization of higher education. Witt, Kutner, and Cooper conducted a 2015 survey of academic libraries which showed that 77% of institutions supporting doctoral education reported an increase in “internationalization activities” (Witt et al., 2015, p. 593). These activities directly support campus-wide initiatives, international students, study-abroad programs, the Peace Corps. and foreign language studies. In addition, libraries reported the value of educating students for a global society, supporting cultural diversity, and providing global access to information as powerful reasons to increase internationalization (Witt et al., p. 595).

Bordonaro found in her phenomenological study that librarians, international students, and international scholars all see roles for libraries in internationalization efforts (Bordonaro, 2013, pp. 128-129). This library support is evident in many ways; “the most frequently mentioned activities include liaising to foreign language and area/international studies departments, providing orientations specific to international students, and collecting international and foreign-language material” (Witt et al., 2015, p. 589).  Libraries have also recognized their use as a comfortable and safe community space. Student use of the library spaces varies by the level of the degree sought, but students of all levels agree comfort is a factor in their use.  While graduate students primarily use the library for quiet study and research (Cooper and Hughes, 2017), undergraduate students are much more likely to also use the library as a social hub (Hughes, Hall, and Pozzi, 2017, p.308). Libraries intentionally create spaces that lend themselves to providing this environment that gives students a place to research, study, socialize, and work in a coffeehouse or group study room. Some libraries have even created silent spaces to allow students to find a moment of peace while spending extended periods of time in the library. These spaces, long sought-after by diverse community groups on campus, are used by students of all beliefs seeking a private place to pray, meditate, or reflect (Wachter, 2018, p. 15).  These silent spaces, which are for students of all ideologies, reflect a small change that some academic libraries are able to implement to provide a comfortable environment for all students. Such initiatives to promote equity and diversity in the library services offered has become an imperative in the profession.

Figure 1. Muslim Prayer Room Signage, Feng Chia University Libraries (Taichung, Taiwan)
Figure 1. Muslim Prayer Room Signage, Feng Chia University Libraries (Taichung, Taiwan)

In reaffirming the library profession’s commitment to equity and diversity, the American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) adopted the following statement in June 2018:

RUSA is an association of library personnel connecting people to resources, information services, and collections. Recognizing the importance of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the association affirms the right of access to information for people of all identities, backgrounds, ages, and abilities, especially with regard to marginalized peoples. We value and support people seeking knowledge, enrichment, entertainment, and lifelong learning. We work within our communities to provide equitable access to library resources by building inclusive collections and providing accessible spaces and services. We are welcoming, open, and accepting of a diversity of viewpoints among our association members, and we strive to offer a safe environment for our colleagues to explore and express their ideas (RUSA, 2018).

In this vein, librarians from Eastern Washington University launched a series of library programs targeted to short-term international students from Japan. As evidenced by the results of a follow-up survey, the students who participated in these programs declared they had positive library experiences, “and a majority of them attribute at least some of their success in their program to the use of the library’s resources and services” (Rosenzweig & Meade, 2017, p. 383). As noted in their literature review, several academic libraries throughout the United States reported similar findings from their international programs and initiatives (Rosenzweig & Meade, 2017).

University of Tennessee Libraries in a global age

In Fall 2017, UT enrolled 371 international undergraduate students, and 850 graduate students (University of Tennessee Office of Institutional Research & Assessment, 2018). While not a large percentage of the approximately 26,000 students enrolled, the university is providing facilities, social, and academic services to the international population to make their educational and cultural experience successful and pleasant. Some of these offerings intersect with the efforts to deliver domestic students an intercultural education, preparing them for a global society.

UT encourages internationalization in a number of ways, both through its services for international students and by the offerings that educate American students. In the university’s values statements, two of the five values specifically focus on globalization and internationalization: “Advancing Diversity and Inclusion” and “Engaging Locally and Globally” (UT, 2016). UT also implemented a Ready for the World plan that provides funding to programs which contribute to “a long-range plan to transform our campus into a culture of diversity that best prepares students for working and competing in the 21st century” (UT, n.d.). Over $400,000 in grants have been awarded to projects, including an impressive music series organized by a music librarian and a faculty member in the School of Music.

In line with these greater campus initiatives, the UT Libraries’ Guiding Principles unambiguously state a desire to “foster a diverse and inclusive environment, marked by integrity and civility” while other guiding principles apply as well, which include: “[to] serve users with excellence and compassion; encourage innovation, creativity, and strategic risk-taking; act as a good steward of our collections, resources, and space; ensure equitable access to information; and build partnerships that advance learning, scholarship, and community” (2016). UT Libraries is not unique in its strategy for international engagement. In their article, “A Multifaceted method of outreach and instruction for international students,” Hensley and Love outline the steps for effective engagement: Staff development, partnerships, outreach, instruction, student needs, and assessment (2011, p. 116). The UT libraries’ approaches international engagement similarly by using the same or comparable strategies as outlined in the following sections.

Library personnel: Recruitment, development, and training for international engagement

In 2014, the UT Libraries created a library liaison position to serve the Center for International Education (CIE), which houses most international concerns including the Confucius Institute, English Language Institute, International House, International Students & Scholar Services, Office of International Partnerships & Exchanges, Office of the Peace Corps, and Programs Abroad Office (University of Tennessee Center for International Education). This relatively new CIE liaison assignment is the direct result of the need for increased support for international researchers and global research due to the university’s increased internationalization efforts. As expressed by Jannelle Ruswick, “[l]ibraries cannot provide quality information and programming to international students without the assistance of the International Center, Office of Admissions, and the Office of Student Affairs or their equivalents” (2011, p. 25).

In addition to the creation of a full-time liaison for International Studies, the UT Libraries employs other internationalization strategies throughout the organization. For example, the Interlibrary Services unit has been a leader in engaging globally through international borrowing and lending. International interlibrary circulation is increasingly important to provide the access to the best materials to researchers worldwide. As Atkins states in the 2010 article “Going global: examining issues and seeking collaboration for international interlending, the view from the US,” “Local institutional demand for international, non-English language materials (e.g. Latin American studies, Slavic language studies) drives these endeavors, providing focus, support, and funding.” David Atkins, who was the head of UT Libraries’ interlibrary loan services, was the first co-chair of the ALA and RUSA International Interlibrary Loan Committee. This committee worked to make international lending more accessible for all. Additionally, these beliefs were put into practice through a partnership with Makerere University in Uganda to provide an interlibrary lending collaboration between the two libraries (Atkins, 2010, p. 73).

Effective partnerships within the library form the cornerstone for offering resources, services, and spaces allowing scholars to engage in intercultural dialog leading to understanding, education, and scholarship. Library acquisitions are central to these partnerships. While language and area studies collections have been a priority for many years, the growing internationalized curriculum creates a growing need for robust collections in these areas (Celik 2019, p.194). Ward notes in “Acquisitions globalized: the foreign language acquisitions experience in a research library” that “[c]hanges in research patterns have created a greater diversity of needs and increased demand for foreign titles, and emerging and non-traditional research areas require a broader array of materials” (2009, p. 86). One non-traditional need is for online language learning software in the academic library. Historically, software has not been purchased by libraries, but as increasing numbers of students are now studying abroad, language learning software can enhance college-credit language classes, serve as refreshers for languages previously learned, and even teach a new language or dialect. The software also supports researchers when using foreign language materials. “This new direction in collection development plays an important role to help the university achieve strategic goals such as improved student retention, higher graduation rates, increased international enrollment, and enhanced recruitment.” Not to mention the fact that it “provides support for the university’s globalization efforts” (Downey, 2013, p. 91).

With an increasingly international campus, intercultural communication training is necessary to provide effective research assistance to diverse users. The need for this training is reflected in a 2017 study of 164 Saudi students enrolled in Robert Morris University. The study revealed that 28% of Saudi students participating felt language was a barrier to needed library information (Ibraheem & Devine, 2016, p. 569). To avoid barriers such as these, a UT Librarian provides communication training to improve interactions and understanding between library staff and non-native English speakers. These workshops include sharing common misunderstandings and ways to work around them, such as mitigating language problems through circumlocution, enunciation, the avoidance of idioms and metaphors, and patience.  These skills are then applied to a wide variety of library interactions, both in-person and online, giving users a better library experience.

Minority Resident Librarian Program

Since the early 2000s, the UT Libraries have been on the forefront in the investigation of collaborative ventures between the Libraries and cultural organizations across campus. One of the earliest efforts to increase diversity and reach out to minority and international populations was a Minority Resident Librarian program established in 2003. Based on a similar internship model adopted by Ohio State University, the University of Iowa, and others, the UT Libraries hired three new graduates from ALA-accredited information science programs from underrepresented populations. While these residents were offered the opportunity to tailor their program to gain experience in their professional areas of interest, they were also asked to serve on the Libraries’ Diversity Committee and to help establish and/or develop outreach programs to the department. In 2006, one group of residents studied the campus climate for multicultural students, including international, ethnic, and racial minorities, in order to identify the most efficient means for serving this particular population.

In designing their survey, they followed the recommendation from a Washington State University Libraries study that determined the need for collaboration with WSU’s Office of Multicultural Student Services in order to meet the unique information and research needs of international students (Walter, 2005). In the 2006 study by the UT Libraries’ Minority Residents, a survey based on Walter’s original instrument and adapted to fit local policies and practices determined international/multicultural students had little difficulty finding resources within the libraries, and collaborations between university libraries and multicultural/ international student centers enhanced the user experience in utilizing library resources and services. Furthermore, they came up with four specific recommendations based on their analysis of the survey results. Their recommendations were as follows:

  • offer workshops and training materials in foreign languages;
  • offer workshops at the Black Cultural Center/International House;
  • create a position for a multi‐cultural librarian; and,
  • increase efforts to market library services to these organizations (Puente, Gray, & Agnew, 2009).

Intercollegiate collaborations

By 2018, the UT Libraries followed all four recommendations from the 2006 group of Minority Resident Librarians. Moreover, the Libraries have collaborated not just with multicultural organizations on campus, but several academic departments as well. Some of the programs co-hosted with standing collaborators include:

  • International Coffeehouses – Co-hosted with the International House, this weekly event showcases library resources and services centered around a featured country, including books, films, scores, databases, and even streamed music. As the main draw to this event, the International House partners with student organizations to offer ethnic food and coffee.
Figure 2. International Education Librarian Allison Sharp, UT Chancellor Beverly Davenport, Music Librarian M. Nathalie Hristov, and Public Services Librarian Amanda Sexton in front of a library display at the UT International Coffeehouse.
  • The Ready for the World Music Series – Held three time during the academic year, the libraries co-host this series with the School of Music, and more recently, with the School of Art. UT’s Ready for the World Music Series brings renowned artists to perform and talk about musical styles and literature from diverse regions around the world (RFTW Music Series website). For this particular series, the Libraries organize all displays and exhibits, including a digital slideshow of cultural images.
Figure 3. Audience interacting with student organization representatives at the University of Tennessee Ready for the World Series: Cuba program.
Figure 3. Audience interacting with student organization representatives at the University of Tennessee Ready for the World Series: Cuba program.
  • Arab Fest – Hosted by the Department of Religious Studies, Arab Fest is held once a year during the Fall semester and lasts for approximately eight hours a day for two days (Friday and Saturday). During Arab Fest every year, the Libraries has a standing booth with displays, exhibits, and games, while in some years, the Libraries have contributed to the planning and organizing of this annual event.
Figure 4. Music Librarian M. Nathalie Hristov City of Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, and International Education Librarian, Allison Sharp in front of a display for the annual Arab Fest.
Figure 4. Music Librarian M. Nathalie Hristov City of Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, and International Education Librarian, Allison Sharp in front of a display for the annual Arab Fest.

Other joint activities around the campus include library exhibits at Chinese New Year celebrations hosted by the Confucius Institute, the International House World Showcases (held monthly), and international student orientations among others. While the libraries collaborate extensively with several of the most prominent cultural organizations within the campus community, several of the programs are further enriched, and often financially supported through collaborations with cultural organizations outside of the UT System.

Partnering with community organizations

The Libraries have also partnered with multicultural organizations in the East Tennessee region to help support standing programs and series. Some recent collaborators include: the Knoxville Association of Korean Americans (KAKA), the Asian Festival, HoLa Hora Latina (Hispanic cultural organization), the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Arab-American Club, as well as several local artists and musicians. Naturally, the level of participation each organization provides varies widely. While some organizations will provide monies to help support a specific program, others will provide support by offering its members as volunteers to staff events. During some of the regular programs including the Ready for the World Music Series and Arab Fest, community organizations will almost always supply a table or booth of exhibits for their country or region.

Another major community organization that the UT Libraries has had numerous collaborations with is HoLa Hora Latina, “the oldest grassroots Latino non-profit organization in Knoxville. HoLa Hora Latina has been providing UT with funding for the Ready for the World Music Series every year since 2014. They also contribute to the series by providing a table/display at each Latin American Ready for the World program. One of the most valued contributions to the series, however, is the access to HoLa’s roster of visual artists. For the Latin American Ready for the World programs, HoLa has provided at least a dozen artists to exhibit their work during the RFTW receptions and exhibits. This adds another wonderful facet to the already rich programs provided by the UT School of Music and the UT Libraries.

The university libraries maintain similar relationships and collaborations with other local organizations, and again, the level of participation in our programs varies among the different organizations. Additionally, the benefits and outcomes from each of the many collaborations also varies greatly.

Benefits of Collaborative Programming

It is easy to see the value of libraries in college and university campuses.  According to the Association of College of Research Libraries (ACRL), the academic library is “advancing and sustaining their role as partners in educating students…” (Association of College and Research Libraries, 2018 rev.). The library is often the intellectual center of the university, as it houses (both physically and virtually) the intellectual content that supports scholarship on campus. The library resources and scholarly content complement and enhance existing departmental programs. As Fabian et al. noted “programs can be powerful advertisements for exhibits and, likewise, exhibits can be powerful advertisements for programs. As the component of an outreach program, exhibits are most significant when they benefit from and contribute to these synergies” (2003, p. 43).

For example, when author Nnedi Okorafor came to campus as the keynote speaker for an Afro-Futurism Symposium, the sponsors (the Humanities Center, Africana Studies, and the English Department) suggested a library collaboration with the Africana Studies Librarian and an Instruction Librarian. The librarians produced a highly visible Afro-futurism display and online subject guide. The libraries added value to the event by providing background information, wider information relating to the genre, and providing ease of access to the libraries’ resources relating to Afro-futurism for attendees of the program. Comments were made before and after the keynote lecture suggesting that the libraries’ element was “awesome,” and a member of the panel discussion said he would suggest these types of collaborations with his librarian when he returned to his home university. Such displays have been produced with similar success in other area studies departments.

With the recognition that, “exhibits… can both complement and initiate formal and informal educational opportunities” (Fabian et al., 2003, p. 45), the International Coffeehouse welcomed the libraries’ exhibits and displays, including an eye-catching board containing database, music, and general country information; books, DVDs, scores, CDs; and an iPad showcasing library online resources. Faculty have commented on the usefulness of the materials for their students. “The French Department greatly appreciated what you did: the book display, the presents, the webpage with useful links and resources for our students in French, and your active participation. We hope to work on other projects with you in the future” (B. Flamenbaum, personal communication, November 10, 2017). In addition, students approached the librarians to ask questions about the materials. This casual environment helps transcend some of the more common barriers that can keep students from asking librarians for help, such as anxiety, cultural barriers, language barriers, or just not feeling sure that they should (Koenigstein, 2012; Onwuegbuzie & Jiao, 1997; Yi, 2007).

Benefits to external partners

For community partners, one of the largest benefits of working with libraries and librarians is the vital research assistance offered, particularly to non-profit organizations. Four research librarians at UT designed an online subject guide with information for non-profits and established the Accessing Academic Research (AAR): A Research Library Workshop for East Tennessee Non-Profits. This workshop teaches non-profit administrators how to find data or statistics; establish best practices for non-profit administration based on the peer-reviewed literature, as well as other evidence-gathering services that help non-profits write grant proposals and reports. UT Librarians were able to share the information contained in this guide and workshop with their community partners, encouraging workshop attendance.

One partnering non-profit organization that has taken full advantage of its relationship with the UT Libraries is HoLa Hora Latina. This organization has a UT librarian on its Board of Directors who sees to the research needs of HoLa. The librarian will often collaborate on the grant-writing and has traveled to Nashville on various occasions to defend grants used to support the main activity of HoLa Hora Latina, the annual HoLa Festival held during one of the weekends of Hispanic Heritage month in Knoxville’s Market Square and attracting audiences of nearly 30,000. This librarian has also served as Secretary of the organization in order to organize their documentation for the benefit of future boards. Finally, the UT librarian developed a program under the auspices of HoLa Hora Latina to provide bilingual story time readings for children. This particular program is conducted in partnership with the bookseller, Barnes and Noble, who in turn has assisted in hosting fundraising events for HoLa Hora Latina.

In addition to the research and administrative support offered to partner organizations, the robust marketing unit within the UT Libraries has had a tremendous positive impact on the outreach efforts of its many partners.  For example, UT Libraries’ marketing staff has been successful at engaging students through social media coverage of events through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and developing professional-quality news releases. Gow notes in the 2017 article, “Reaching out without a budget: expanding your library’s online presence using online tools,” that each platform has unique qualities and thus, the potential to reach unique audiences based on their information receiving preferences (2017). With the UT Libraries’ marketing team working diligently to reach out to a large network of users and followers, partnering community organizations have made beneficial connections to the UT Libraries’ large network of users and supporters. One example is East Tennessee for Puerto Rico [ET4PR], another non-profit organization in the area. ET4PR has used UT Libraries’ social media outlets as a vehicle to recruit volunteers and members from the UT student population.

Benefit to libraries

As previously demonstrated, there are numerous advantages to organizers in using library resources and services when creating cultural and educational programs. Likewise, libraries and librarians can improve their own services and collections through constructive partnerships. For example, integrated collaborations with academic faculty from different departments allow librarians to tailor collections and services to meet the ever-changing needs of the users. Collection development and reference services must adapt to the unique needs of the next generation. The only way for this to happen is for librarians to understand the challenges modern researchers face and devise creative solutions for overcoming those challenges. Librarians often distribute surveys, meet with focus groups, and/or individually with faculty to determine their information needs. However, the most profound insights into contemporary research and practices can only be acquired through scholarly collaborations. These insights may help libraries to offer the right services and resources needed to remain valued and relevant.

While academic libraries have suffered from a sharp decline in usage over the last two decades, public libraries have seen marked increases in usage and attendance over the last decade according to a 2014 study conducted by the federal government’s Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This same study attributes the success of public libraries to several factors including targeted efforts and spending to bolster the volume and quality of programming (classes, lectures, training, workshops, etc.) (Shapiro, 2016, p. 26). Several examples offered included partnerships among public libraries and local artists to “encourage self-expression and new directions in art” (2016, p. 28). Like many other public programs, it takes a village to put the kinds of program together that draw attention and attract a wide variety of audiences.

Working with a multitude of community associations has brought new friends and supporters to the UT Libraries. Once the public was made aware of the rich collections and substantive contributions the Libraries have had to the campus and the Knoxville community, supporters and donors increased their level of engagement with the Libraries. At the UT Libraries, the intercultural and interdisciplinary nature of library outreach programs attracted the attention of campus administrators and public officials. Recent attendees included the Mayor of Knoxville, the former Mayor of Knoxville and U.S Ambassador to Poland, U.S Senators, and City Council Members, not to mention University administrators including the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellors, Provost, Vice-Provost, Deans, and numerous department heads. For the Libraries, it has been a tremendous boost to its public profile. Unfortunately, in times of budgetary limitations, it is the unseen departments and units that suffer most from cuts, despite the essential behind-the-scenes services they provide. Often library collections and services are taken for granted until a particular database is cut, or subscription cancelled that was invaluable to a small number of users. By increasing the visibility of these resources and services, libraries can drive an increase in usage in order to protect them for the researchers who depend on their existence.

These symbiotic partnerships often lead the community organization to seek future collaborative programs, offering co-sponsorship (in other words, shared financial responsibility). Successful partnerships may even yield donations to the university libraries and/or a specific department, which allows the donor to feel part of a worthwhile cause or group (Steele & Elder, 2000, p. 33). This kind of relationship building is mutually beneficial, since the Libraries and its partners receive prestige and value from their affiliation and collaborative programming.

Challenges to collaborative programming

Much has been written in the library literature about the benefits of academic, inter-departmental, and community collaboration, however, the literature often neglects the importance of effective communication, which is essential to a well-run program and maintaining good relationships with partner organizations. Carl Pritchard noted at the beginning of his book about project management that “communication is the cornerstone of effective project management, and yet most of it is done ad hoc, driven by individuals, personalities, and preferences, rather than by needs, protocols, processes, and procedures” (Pritchard, 2014, p. 1). Communication is often considered a soft skill, but it should be approached methodically and with care, due to its significance. Many people see communication as a simple process of sending a message then having the message received– a purely linear procedure (Pilkington, 2013, p. 2). In fact, there are more levels involved in communication: a message is sent, it travels through a medium (email, voice, etc…), the message is received and interpreted. This interpretation is affected by so many variables including cultural factors, mood, perception, or other factors (ibid, p. 2). It is essential to consider these factors as communication methods are established, since each factor in communication offers an opportunity for communication to break down. If a message is sent too early, it is easily set aside and forgotten; or, conversely, if it is sent too late, the partner does not have time to act. It has been the authors’ experience that breakdowns in communication do happen; however, they can be mitigated through frequent and timely correspondence.

The role of managing a collaborative event or program requires a great deal of skill to maintain effective communication throughout the planning and hosting of the event. While the manager or organizer is usually unofficial, it is generally considered to be the one who initiates the program. Ann Pilkington notes that effective project communication “is built on clarity, but not just clarity of message, but clarity of role” (2013, p. 1). So, not only must the messages be clear, but it must be clear to all participants from the beginning who is expected to contribute what to the event. If this is misunderstood, it can lead to hurt feelings, confusion, even disaster. A sense of confidence, backed up by capability, will often establish the leader’s role; however, often there are other leaders with strong personalities involved as well. For instance, another event which was organized by the music librarian, but involved a community organization, led to a similar situation. With much enthusiasm and many natural leaders within the community organization, some collaborators began editing a program and its performers without consulting the organizer. Eventually, they did make her aware, and the situation was handled sensitively, and with flexibility, by the organizer. The community organization ended up making a financial donation to cover the costs of the performers they invited and have continued to collaborate with the libraries on various projects. By establishing a common understanding of the roles individuals and organizations play within a partnership, these barriers can be overcome to create extraordinary collaborative programs.

Likewise, when there is a committee of equal stakeholders designing a program or event, the likelihood of reaching complete consensus for every decision was unlikely. However, after years of working together, the different coordinators of the various programs and events have learned to compromise and seek creative solutions that are satisfactory to most, if not all. This is an essential skill every modern-day academic librarian needs to possess.

Documenting collaborative programs

Great programs and offerings deserve attention and recognition by the communities they serve. Unfortunately, history supports the idea that most people have short term memory when it comes to events and circumstances that occur in a single day. For this reason, it is essential to capture as much of the events as possible through photographs, video (if possible), written documentation such as programs and reports, as well as survey results. Finally, communication with partnering organizations at the conclusion of an event is essential for maintaining a positive relationship that will lead to future collaborations of equal or greater success.

At the UT Libraries, an archive is maintained with photographs of every one of the programs and events, displays, and exhibits. For the Ready for the World Music Series, there is also an archive of video and audio recordings of the musical programs on a shared, Google Drive folder. Program information, attendance statistics, and survey results are also archived and can be used for future promotion of the programs to audiences and potential collaborators. The archived information can also be used to prepare grant proposals and reports, as well as to assess the value of the programs, determining how successful they are at meeting the educational, outreach, and engagement objectives associated with each.

Program assessment

A well-designed survey facilitates future planning by addressing concerns and adhering to suggestions. For the Ready for the World Music Series, a survey collecting demographic information illustrates the general makeup of the audiences. Additionally, the survey specifically asks audience members to indicate their level of agreement for the following statements:

  • The RFTW Music Series provides opportunities to engage socially with members of diverse communities in East Tennessee
  • The RFTW Music Series has increased my appreciation for the music of the featured region
  • The RFTW Music Series has increased my appreciation for the visual arts of the featured region
  • The RFTW Music Series has increased my appreciation for the culture of the featured region
  • I would recommend the RFTW Music Series to my family, friends, and colleagues
  • The RFTW is a unique and valuable tool for cultural education and awareness

Aggregate survey results from the Ready for the World Music Series demonstrate that an overwhelming majority of participants agreed to the statements listed above. Below is a chart generated by Qualtrics to illustrate the results from the last three years from the 490 individuals that responded to the survey.

Table. 1 Survey Results from the Ready for the World Music Series, 2015-2018
Table. 1 Survey Results from the Ready for the World Music Series, 2015-2018

While survey results support the idea that the Ready for the World Music Series is successful at meeting its objectives, where the largest disagreement seemed to occur was with the statement, “the RFTW Music Series has increased my appreciation for the visual arts of the featured region.” Admittedly, this is an area that seemed to suffer the most with varying levels of participation by visual artists. These results prompted the series organizers to engage faculty from the School of Art to assist in finding artists and/or exhibits for those particular programs. Certainly, the quality of the exhibits greatly improved with the contributions from the School of Art.

Growth and delegation

The researchers find it beneficial to attract more community and academic partners for outreach programs and events. With only two librarians organizing so many programs and engaging in an increasing number of outreach initiatives, coordination and delegation becomes more vital. Often, librarians will take on more responsibility for the events and programs they are coordinating than what is possible for one person to do. At the University of Tennessee, this had been the case for several of the international outreach programs. For example, the Libraries put together elaborate displays and exhibits, as well as prepare online subject guides and music playlists for the weekly International Coffeehouses. Originally this was handled by the international education librarian who was later joined by the music librarian. With the amount of time it took to have a new exhibit prepared from week to week, it became difficult to maintain the effort without outside help. After a couple of semesters, it became quite evident that more help was needed. Fortunately, the UT Libraries’ administration was able to offer the librarians graduate student assistants who took over much of the clerical aspects of the programs. They created exhibits, gathered materials, took photographs of all displays and programs, distributed and collected surveys, and input the survey information into Qualtrics. This allowed the librarians to spend less on the time intensive tasks of pulling resources and making elaborate displays, and focus on outreach, engagement, program design and development.  It is heartening to see that the UT Libraries’ has put into action many of the suggestions Pamela A. Jackson made in her oft cited 2004 article, “Incoming international students and the library: a survey.” Among these are collaborating with the universities’ international offices, creating a librarian position for international issues, training staff, and building a more robust outreach program.


International programming and collaboration with multicultural groups is an essential component of an academic libraries engagements efforts with the community at large. Well-designed collaborations require regular communication, advance planning, periodic assessment, and reflection. Library resources and services are perceived as far more essential when programs assimilate academic librarians into multicultural outreach efforts. In doing so, not only are programs enhanced by added scholarship, but the role of the librarian evolves to provide international students and organizations with profound and invaluable contributions. As the populations served become increasingly more diverse, and students, regardless of background, engage more fully in a global society and economy, academic librarians must adapt services accordingly. To this end, collaboration and cooperation with other departments and organizations in the community is invaluable. As expressed by Ian Goldin, “[i]nternational cooperation and action requires community perspectives and legitimacy if it is to be effective. Nations are divided, but we as citizens need not be. Indeed, we cannot be if we are to address critical 21st century challenges” (2013). To build a platform for the future engagement, study, research, and service of the informational needs of a new and diverse constituency, library-led international outreach must align to this sentiment.


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