Bridging Connections at the Library

Written by Shaima Abdullah and Leanna Campos.

This summer we joined the Library Environments department for an internship focused on exploring the meaning of library as a place in different countries and cultures, in order to help the U-M Library make its spaces more welcoming and inclusive for our international students. The objective of this project was to learn how scholars in other countries engage with library spaces: the kinds of spaces available, and norms for their use. In this blog post we reflect on our experiences in the internship.

Shaima: Do you want to introduce yourself?

Leanna: Hey! My name is Leanna Campos and I’m a rising junior majoring in economics with a minor in plant biology. You should introduce yourself as well? 

Shaima: Yeah. My name is Shaima Abdullah. I’m a rising senior with a major in Women’s Studies and a minor in Intergroup Relations. 

Shaima: So Leanna why did you approach this internship? 

Leanna: My family came to America when my parents came for graduate school at Michigan State University. Growing up, I lived in international student housing and watched my family adapt to a new culture and lifestyle. Quickly, the international student community became our second family - I spent Thanksgivings with 30 new friends all from different countries and ate Chinese dumplings, Ghanaian jollof rice, and Indian butter chicken with our turkey. My elementary school prided itself in its “Festival of Cultures” every year, as my schoolmates and I wore our traditional cultural clothes and brought in our favorite dishes. As I got older, and became more aware of the obvious and silent barriers that international students face coming to this country, and wanted to take a proactive role in helping with this transition, as so many people did for my family. This internship was the perfect opportunity for me to make a difference on my campus, as well as improve my research skills. What about you, Shaima? 

Shaima: I decided to apply to this internship during winter semester while I was in my IGR foundations class. The class pushed me to acknowledge my privilege as an American citizen. As I realized how much I benefitted from my position as an American, I felt the need to use that privilege so as to improve the experiences who do not have that privilege. That is why when I came across this internship I found it ideal for me. Not only has the internship has given me the opportunity to work with International students so as to improve their experiences on campus, specifically the libraries, but also the opportunity to develop my research skills so as to better prepare me to work on my honors thesis. 

Leanna: So what is your project? And how did you decide on it? 

Shaima: My project looked at the experiences of Chinese international students using American academic libraries, specifically at the University of Michigan. My project maps the Chinese international student’s library-use patterns. My project also discusses the cultural and language barriers Chinese international students experience. Lastly, I worked with Chinese international students so they could make recommendations on what their needs are to better enhance the use and access of libraries. I decided on this project because I want to challenge the literature by not just examining international students as a singular monolithic group, but to be culturally specific and analyze the experiences of a certain ethnic group. I decided on Chinese international students because they are the largest national group of international students on campus. I also had access to current Chinese international students who could participate in my study because I was facilitating a dialogue during the time. What’s your project, Leanna? 

Leanna: I focused on library services offered in different countries’ university libraries, and how they differed or were similar to the University of Michigan’s library services. I focused on the three countries that sent the majority of international students to this campus: China, India and South Korea and found specific libraries to code and analyze how their services supplement the unique university lifestyle and needs of the student body. I definitely feel like I’ve learned a lot by doing this research - does anything about this experience stand out to you? 

Shaima: I have learned a lot through this experience. This internship has taught me how to not just conduct research, but to plan for it. I’ve learned the steps on how to create research. After familiarizing myself with library jargon, I began reading secondary literature so as to find gaps I wanted to fill in with my research. As I struggled with what methods I wanted to use, I used library resources such as librarian specialists and my supervisors to help me navigate this process. I learned how to use Zotero for citation management, Qualtrics to make my survey, and Dedoose to code my interviews. I also learned to reach out to my supervisors when I needed their guidance. My supervisor Kat really helped me learn how to structure my survey in a way that made it easier for participants and less repetitive. She also helped me learn how to move data from Qualtrics to excel and create graphs. My other supervisor Denise really helped me learn how to organize my time. She helped me set deadlines for my literature review, surveys, and coded transcriptions. After, each deadline she would meet with me in person to give me feedback. This internship taught me not only how to do my tasks, but how to develop a supervision relationship that is productive and effective. I really appreciate coming out of this internship with new skills. 

Leanna: I can definitely agree with that. I think that the most important thing I’ve learned from this experience, is that your research focus doesn’t always stay the same as you learn more information. For me, I had a hard time with this because I’m a very methodical thinker, and love to make plans way ahead of time. Having to adapt to not having certain resources, or discovering new, exciting aspects about the proposal made me work hard at being flexible to change. I also was able to learn about valuable resources in the library, and made me realize how much work gets put into providing relevant services to an ever changing student body. But I definitely still faced some challenges. For example, I had a hard time understanding the current design proposal of the library services, as well as understanding some of the technical frameworks and theories about space design. How about you?

Shaima: I agree - In the beginning, I struggled with learning about space design and frameworks. However, our supervisor, Kat, had us do space observations and then mapped it out. This really helped me visualize and connect the words and their meanings. Another challenge I experienced was when the office space we were using became an office space for another library worker. This was a challenge as I had built a habit of working in that space so moving out of it to the middle of the Hatcher room was disorienting. My supervisors again helped break down that challenge as they gave us the opportunity to work remotely. This allowed me to work where I felt most comfortable and productive. 

This is a diagram of space design terms mapped in connection to one another.
This is the map we created together after doing Space Observations

Leanna: It’s amazing how much we’ve learned about the library this summer. I’m almost excited to go back to school and use these resources for my classes’ research and papers!

Shaima: For sure. Before, I used to think of the library has a passive place that just holds books and quiet study spaces. However, now I see the library as a dynamic space that is constantly changing and has been utilizing a social justice lens to inform their services. I think its this library’s orientation towards social justice that has allowed me to research and create a space to center the experiences of Chinese international students. The library seems committed to improving the overall experiences of students and break down barriers. I have a deeper appreciation to the library and the people who make the library.