Searching for LIS Student Success at the SJSU iSchool


Published: June 20, 2019 by Dr. Anthony Bernier

It’s not that people haven’t been inclusive. It’s just… a feeling I have in myself. You feel like an imposter. Like, especially when you go back into your family life.”

In Fall 2018, the American Library Association awarded Dr. Anthony Bernier a Diversity Research Grant (the committee’s top pick from among 30 proposals) to study the experience of the iSchool’s First Generation (FG) students. The project defined FG students as people coming from family backgrounds in which neither parent earned a professional degree.

As the nation’s largest accredited MLIS program, the iSchool, in addition to being delivered entirely online, also recently discovered that 52% of graduating students reported being from FG backgrounds. Because recent research concentrates on FG undergraduates in conventional face-to-face programs these circumstances presented an important gap in the literature and a compelling question for the School.

The project, entitled “Searching for First Generation LIS Student Success,” involved iSchool students in collecting data in response to the core question: What can brief peer-to-peer interviews teach about FGS experience of MLIS graduate students in an online program? The grant funded a Research Assistant (Megan Price) to help develop, field test, administer, and then analyze 25 peer-to-peer recorded and transcribed interviews asking FG students particular questions about their experiences in the program.   

The interviews revealed on one hand, FG students acknowledge family support and pride while they try to bridge social distance and socialize into professional life, but on the other hand they feel quite on their own in lacking more rigorous academic and social capital building skills for their new profession. Some students reported that they didn’t talk about their degree with their families, either because they think their families wouldn’t understand, or because they didn’t want to further alienate them. One student stated plainly that their family lacked an “understanding of what graduate school is and what it entails.”

The study’s findings most pertinent to the iSchool’s MLIS program are, of course, connected to improving students’ academic skills as well as investigating better ways to encourage development of necessary professional networking capacities. Each of these two findings suggest that further research into a finer degree of specificity may be in order to better support FG student success.

Dr. Bernier and Megan Price delivered a well-received presentation of the project’s findings at the ALA Mid-winter conference in Seattle, Washington.  The project’s relevance promises only to grow given that an increasing number of LIS graduate programs are moving to online formats. Thus, Dr. Bernier is currently strategizing with the iSchool’s Dr. Michele Villagran, and Dr. Africa Hands of East Carolina University, to develop a nation-wide project to more broadly investigate FG experience.


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