Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Lloyd Sealy Library

Lloyd Sealy Library

John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Academic Libraries and Student Success: What Research Tells Us

By Marta Bladek

Excerpted with permission from “Latino Students and Academic Libraries: a Primer for Action” in The Journal of Academic Librarianship (2019, Vol. 45.1: 50-57).


A growing body of research presents evidence of the various ways in which academic libraries support students’ learning, generally captured through measures such as course grades, cumulative grade point average, term retention, and degree attainment. In her review of studies documenting libraries’ unique contribution to students’ academic success throughout their college careers, Oliveira (2017) identifies three key areas of impact: library instruction, library space and the use of library materials.


The following review briefly highlights positive and statistically significant correlations between student academic achievement and their use of libraries. Importantly, a number of researchers have documented these relationships while controlling for students’ demographic characteristics, including gender, socioeconomic, first generation and Pell Grant recipient status, high school GPA, and concurrent college experiences (LeMaistre, Shi, & Thanki 2018; O’Kelly 2015; Soria, K. M., Fransen, J., & Nackerud, S. 2013).


One of the largest studies focusing on academic libraries is the Library Impact Data Project conducted at the University of Huddersfield in the UK and its seven partner institutions (Stone, Pattern & Ramsden 2011; Stone 2015). Preliminary and subsequent analyses have shown that library use, measured by three distinct indicators (the use of online resources, print book borrowing and visits to the library) bears a relationship to how well students do in college. While no definitive relationship was determined between the number of a student’s visits to the library and their academic standing, the use of electronic resources and borrowing of materials have been shown to relate positively to their GPA, term retention and degree completion (Stone, Pattern & Ramsden 2011; Stone 2015). At the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Allison (2015) focused her two-year study on electronic resources usage and book borrowing, the two indicators Stone (2015) has found positively linked with GPA and retention. She found that undergraduate and graduate students with higher-than-average GPA rely on these services more often than other students (Allison 2015).


While the Library Impact Data Project (Stone, Pattern & Ramsden 2011; Stone 2015) and Allison’s (2015) showed how the use of online resources and book borrowing relates to GPA and retention, other researchers examined how additional multiple library service points affect academic attainment across the college span. Examining first-year student library data usage across a variety of service points at the University of Minnesota Libraries--Twin Cities, Soria, Fransen, & Nackerud (2013) found that new students who use the library have a higher first-term GPA and higher retention Fall to Spring than non-users. At Indiana University Kokomo, Thorpe, Lukes, Bever, & He (2016) looked at data at multiple services, including reference consultations (in person, by email, chat, and phone), book borrowing, interlibrary loan requests, library instruction and electronic resources. Overall, for all cohorts, they

found that students who use the library more often have higher GPA and are retained at a higher rate than nonusers (Thorpe, Lukes, Bever, & He 2016). A study at a small Catholic university, used library user surveys to investigate the library’s impact on GPA, retention, and degree completion (Stemmer & Mahan 2016). The findings revealed that although students engage with the library differently at different points in their college career, moving between valuing library for its services, resources and physical space, for all years there is a positive association between library use and GPA and retention (Stemmer & Mahan 2016).   


Among studies looking at single variables in library use and their impact on academic attainment, studies exploring the use of online resources and library instruction are most common. Student use of online resources and cumulative GPA are positively correlated for all cohorts (Cherry, Rollins, & Evans 2013). LeMaistre, Shi, & Thanki (2018) found the same pattern when they looked at online resources use and one-semester GPA and retention across all cohorts. Gaha and Pellegrino (2017) found a correlation between attending library instruction and higher cumulative GPA, while O’Kelly (2015) reported four years in a row on a positive statistically significant impact of library instruction on retention. 


It should be pointed out that the above studies do not demonstrate a causal relationship between library use and students outcomes, and, as Allison (2015) puts it, “it is difficult to say whether library use makes good students, or library use is a characteristic of a good student” (37). What emerges from research, however, is that the library, its services and resources, are integral to the institutional mission of offering support services that promote student success across all kinds of institutions, including public, private, small and large colleges and universities.






Allison, D. (2015). Measuring the academic impact of libraries. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 15(1), 29-40.

Cherry, E., Rollins, S. H., & Evans, T. (2013). Proving our worth: The impact of electronic resource usage on academic achievement. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 20(3-4), 386-398.

LeMaistre, T., Shi, Q., & Thanki, S. (2018). Connecting library use to student success. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 18(1), 117-140.

O'Kelly, M. (2015). Correlation between library instruction and student retention, presentation at the Southeastern Library Assessment Conference, Atlanta, GA, November 16–17, 2015, accessed August 29, 2018, http://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/library_presentations/55/.

Oliveira, S. M. (2017). The academic library’s role in student retention: a review of the literature. Library Review, 66(4/5), 310-329.

Soria, K. M., Fransen, J., & Nackerud, S. (2013). Library use and undergraduate student outcomes: New evidence for students' retention and academic success. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 13(2), 147-164.

Soria, K. M., Fransen, J., & Nackerud, S. (2017). Beyond books: The extended academic benefits of library use for first-year college students. College & Research Libraries, 78(1).

Stemmer, J. K., & Mahan, D. M. (2016). Investigating the relationship of library usage to student outcomes. College & Research Libraries, 77(3), 359–375. Stone, G. (2015).

Stone, G. (2015). Library impact data: investigating library use and student attainment. In: Library analytics and metrics: Using data to drive decision and services. Facet, London, pp. 51-58.

Stone, G., Pattern, D., & Ramsden, B. (2011). Does library use affect student attainment? A preliminary report on the Library Impact Data Project. Liber Quarterly, 21(1).

Thorpe, A., Lukes, R., Bever, D. J., & He, Y. (2016). The impact of the academic library on student success: Connecting the dots. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 16(2), 373-392.


More from the Fall 2019 newsletter 

December 10, 2019