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The Role of Librarians in Supporting Transfer Student Success

Written by

Peggy L. Nuhn, University of Central Florida

Karen F. Kaufmann, Seminole State College of Florida

Note: NISTS associate director, Judith Brauer, recently interviewed the authors for the Transfer Nation Talks podcast. You can listen to their conversation here or via your favorite podcast platform. Also, the book publishers are offering a 20% discount to the NISTS community through September 30, 2021. Use Promo Code: Q32120

blog cover image picturing a female librarian assisting a male student at a computer

As transfer student populations are growing on our campuses nationwide and may comprise as much as a third of our student body, particularly at baccalaureate and associate-degree granting institutions (Chronicle of Higher Education, August 15, 2021), it’s becoming increasingly important for all campus partners to both recognize and mitigate the specific challenges these students face in obtaining their degree. These mitigation initiatives will benefit by including libraries as partners, a perhaps overlooked, but nevertheless essential, source of transfer champions.

Student affairs professionals have recognized the unique challenges of transfer students for some time, and institutional administrators are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of transfer students on retention and graduation rates, particularly as more states, including Florida, include a Performance-Based Funding (PBF) model which may comprise a significant portion of institutional operating budgets. It’s high time for libraries to be central to supporting these institutional efforts, and for discipline faculty to actively collaborate with librarians as change agents to ensure our students are prepared to be successful in upper-division research assignments.

cover of the new book, Supporting Transfer Student Success: The Essential Role of College and University Libraries; the background is a greenish-navy with teal triangle accents and a red graduation cap on the side next to the book's title

Why are we advocating for greater involvement of libraries in transfer student success? Possibly no other facet of higher education is more transdisciplinary than information literacy – which is, simply put, the ability to locate and ethically use information. Students in all majors need to be information literate and institutions need graduates to be information literate adults, perhaps in this age of information overload and rampant misinformation more so than ever.

Information literacy is essential to developing critical thinking – the ability to determine the legitimacy of information based on the source, the context, the author’s credentials, determine whether the author has an agenda and whether the author’s sources were taken out of context. An informed society is dependent upon this competency, and more often than not, important research begins not in the laboratory, but in the library with a literature review.

Librarian interaction with students is often woefully limited to a “one shot” instruction class at best, and dependent upon a student’s awareness of what librarians can help them with in order for students to reach out to us. Discipline faculty are the essential connection between students and libraries, and as transfer students navigate a new institution and culture, library support is particularly important to their success.

It is unrealistic to think that new transfer students will seamlessly apply whatever information literacy competencies they have to their new institution and build upon those for upper-division research assignments. The vertical transfer student (A.A.-degreed to university transfer) is at the most critical juncture in their journey as they begin major-specific courses, but often and understandably without knowledge of deeper and discipline-specific library resources. This is not the student’s fault, but rather a classic case of “you don’t know what you don’t know” a potential contributor to “transfer shock” but also an opportunity for librarians to be change agents in a practical and meaningful way.

For example, discipline faculty and faculty librarians can work collaboratively to ensure students have the opportunity to learn how to navigate these deeper, discipline-specific resources. This can start as simply as including the subject librarian’s contact information on course syllabi, inviting the librarian to an in-person class or Zoom session, grow to embedding librarians in online courses with a research component, and working with librarians on textbook affordability initiatives. Granted, the skyrocketing cost of textbooks presents a challenge for all students but even more so for transfer students who are often no longer receiving parental financial support, instead balancing their classes with employment and possibly their own family responsibilities.

Students frequently come to the library hoping to find at least an older edition of a course text to borrow. If the high cost of textbooks means students will defer a class based on their limited budget, think of the impact on the students’ Satisfactory Academic Progress which determines their ongoing eligibility for federal financial aid, and ultimately the impact on graduation timelines, which falls at the potential intersection of PBF metrics and institutional funding. Now multiply this exponentially. Librarians can often connect discipline faculty with library purchased eBooks which may be suitable as course texts, thus saving students a significant expense (as well as supporting online students), and in some cases work together with discipline faculty to develop entirely new course material from Open Educational Resources (OER).

Consider the notion of library infusions – introducing a new or nuanced way of thinking or element - to support transfer students.

5 Library Infusions to Support Transfer Students

  1. Infuse elements of information literacy across the curriculum

  2. Infuse teaching partnerships with faculty librarians across disciplines

  3. Infuse student research assignments explicitly identifying elements of information literacy

  4. Infuse asset-based student engagement so students more readily identify their knowledge base

  5. Infuse formal and informal librarian teaching moments with students in various modalities

Finally, as librarians, we encourage colleagues and administrators to ensure there is librarian representation on all important committees and initiatives for transfer student (and all student) success since students will often reveal their struggles, academic or otherwise, to a librarian. Thus, the role of librarian as change agent again comes into play, as we build relationships with other academic and student services in order to proactively make appropriate referrals. Committee work provides us all with a great opportunity for increased understanding and relationship building.

There is a saying that “team” stands for “together, everyone achieves more”. If we work collaboratively and as a team, our transfer students will benefit, our institutions will benefit, and ultimately, our society as a whole will benefit.

Let’s get started.


Peggy L. Nuhn, Associate Librarian, University of Central Florida, and Karen F. Kaufmann, Professor, Information Literacy, Seminole State College of Florida, are the authors of Supporting Transfer Student Success: The Essential Role of College and University Librarians (ABC-CLIO).

The publishers of the book are offering a 20% discount to the NISTS community through September 30, 2021. Use Promo Code: Q32120

Chronicle of Higher Education. “Transfer students as a percentage of total enrollment,

Fall 2019”. August 15, 2021


The views and opinions expressed on the NISTS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NISTS. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.


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