Joan Petit, Portland State University Library

Poster Presentation
American Library Association Annual Conference
Orlando, Florida
June 25, 2016

"Student-Parents in the Academic Library," a poster by Joan Petit


Literature on student-parents and parents in higher ed generally focuses on graduate students and faculty with kids. However, non-traditional students are growing in number across the campus, including at Portland State University, an urban, public university in Oregon. Our campus includes many undergraduate students who have children. In 2009, results from a campus survey suggested that more than 21% of PSU students were parents. In an effort to serve this group, then-AUL for Public Services Tom Raffensperger collaborated with the PSU Helen Gordon Child Development Center to create a study room stocked with essentials for kids--books, toys, small furniture--and their student-parents. In 2013, Library Development Director Jennifer Wilkerson won a grant from the Juan Young Trust to refresh the room, updating the furniture, paint, and toys. 

The Family Study Room isn't the busiest study room. Students can only borrow the key when their kids are at the Library with them. But it does have a loyal following, including 157 repeat users over a two-year period. 

Student-parents are not a well-researched population in higher education. Indeed, the NCES does not identify a specific number of student-parents. We do know that student-parents face more barriers to graduation than students without children; they are less likely to graduate than their peers. This poster is an attempt to bring awareness of this population to other academic libraries.  

Librarians interested in supporting student-parents on their campuses should consider contacting the campus daycare center as well as student affairs, to see if there are any services they could offer to this underserved group.

Data Sources

  • Number of student-parents at Portland State: estimates from 2009 PSU campus child-care survey. Published as Presidential Task Force on Child Development and Family Support, dated 2011. No longer available online. 
  • Challenges for student-parents at Portland State: data from May 2016 survey conducted by PSU Resource Center for Students with Children. Results not yet published.
  • Comparison of students with and without kids: Brown, V., & Nichols, T. R. (2012). "Pregnant and Parenting Students on Campus: Policy and Program Implications for a Growing Population." Educational Policy, 27(3), 499–530. 
  • Statistics on use of Family Study Room at PSU Library: data via Mike Flakus of PSU Library Technologies. Not published. 

Photo Credits

Additional Resources & Selected Bibliography