First Impressions as a New Community College Librarian

A few weeks ago I jumped ship and became the E-Resources and Instruction Librarian at Germanna Community College. For four and a half years I was the E-books Librarian at Liberty University, a private Christian university with over 100,000 students, most of whom are online. Community college librarianship has always been appealing to me, though, having been a community college student once myself. I received my A.A. from Northern Virginia Community College in 2007. I am also the daughter of a community college student. My mother earned her A.A.S. in nursing from Piedmont Virginia Community College in her 30s and has been a full-time nurse ever since. I come to the community college setting having had a very positive experience with it in my family. I believe community colleges at least have the opportunity to provide access to higher education and useful degrees to people who otherwise could not afford it. The mission is powerful.

I expected to notice a lot of differences coming to the public sphere from the private and coming to two year from a graduate level institution. I have indeed seen some of those differences already, but there were a number of things I didn’t expect even though I should have. Or things that were complete surprises to me. Some of these may not be true of all community colleges but at least in my experience so far this is what I have seen.

1. Organizational Culture

Right away I found the organizational culture surprising. While technically the organization is not flat I was surprised by how flat it felt. In my previous organization I rarely saw some of my coworkers never mind the dean or anyone else above that position. At Germanna because there are fewer people and fewer layers of hierarchy I have easier access to authorities I normally would almost never see or talk to at the university. Also because of the small size of the college all of the committees are at the campus level. I’m used to many committees within the library and very rarely being involved at the campus level. At Germanna the only way to be involved in a committee is at the campus or Virginia Community College System (VCCS) level. The main disadvantage to the small flat structure I see is that the institutional memory is a problem. At Germanna the library is staffed by four librarians and two full-time staff people. We also have four part-time staff members. There have been some new positions recently and some turnover so that coming to an understanding of the collection can be a challenge.

2. Resources

When I came to Germanna I was anticipating more of a dip in resource budget than was actually the case. I anticipated fewer professional development opportunities, but in fact it’s still as generous as it was as my previous institution. Which is to say you can’t go to everything  – but a few important conferences or events are fine. I also found that Germanna has subscriptions to products beyond what the consortial agreements provide and I hadn’t expected that. So in the case of resources I actually had too negative a view of what I was coming to. Decisions about resources do mainly come at the system level, however. The ILS, the e-resources and the cataloging come from the system level. Many other aspects come from the state level. I knew that that would be true but it was still a shift to start thinking in that way.

3. Types of Work

What I did expect and did end up to be true is that my work would be much more varied than it had been at the university level. At the university I had a very specialized role. Not only was I e-resources, but e-books specifically. The committees in some ways provide variety in the work but not to the level of a community college. I had the idea that there was more instruction at the community college level but it’s much more than I thought. That aspect probably depends on the college, but I have taught more in the past few weeks than I did in the past year at my previous institution and that as backup instruction to another librarian whose main role is instruction. At the university level it’s often a fight to try to get into the classroom. It takes a lot of time to gain the respect of faculty and for them to want to invite you into the classroom. I had very sporadic success with the various departments I was liaison to. Of course, at community college there is no liaison program and we’re all liaisons to everything.

As time goes on I will probably begin to miss parts of what the work was like at the university level. For instance, I enjoyed working with scholarly publishing, Digital Commons, and graduate research level activities. However, those sorts of activities do occur on a smaller scale at community college. They are just not as high priority. Overall I  have been really pleased with the change and excited about the community college setting.

Revitalizing the blog!

Happy Thursday! This blog has been fairly quiet for a few months. I’ve put out a call for contributors and gotten many responses. Hopefully you will see regular posts that are relevant to community and junior college librarians soon!!

If you are a reader of the blog that has something to say – please let us know! We’re always looking for new voices!

Equity and the new ACRL Framework for Information Literacy

I’ve been involved with my college’s student success and equity efforts over the past few years. Our focus on these isn’t new, but a couple of years ago we joined the Achieving the Dream (ATD) network and committed resources more intentionally to student success and student equity initiatives. Our involvement with ATD (specifically looking at success and completion data disaggregated by ethnicity, age, gender, etc.) primed us for completing our first Student Equity Plan—required via the Board of Governor’s Student Equity Policy.

I’m grateful that our administrators thought to include me in this work, as I’ve been able to advocate for the Learning Resource Center in the planning documents and to explore the role of the library in equity efforts. The most concrete way that our students will benefit from the library’s inclusion in the Equity Plan is through expanded collections and resources. Additional funding has been secured for the purchase of textbooks for our ever-popular RESERVE collection, which improves access for students, many of whom are from lower income brackets. Other collections will be expanded as well, including materials for Basic Skills, ESL, college success, professional development titles, and materials that reflect the diverse backgrounds of our students.

So, this issue of equity has been shaping my work these days. It was no surprise, then, that when I read through the new ACRL Framework, I noticed how central the concept of equity is to Information Literacy. Frame 1 (Authority is Constructed and Contextual) expands what it means to evaluate information sources. Learners are encouraged to develop dispositions that recognize and value the plurality of voices in the information landscape. Some examples of these dispositions:

  • Question traditional notions of granting authority and recognize the value of diverse ideas and worldviews;
  • Develop and maintain an open mind when encountering varied and sometimes conflicting perspectives.

Frame 3 (Information has Value) touches on a concept I learned about reading Char Booth’s informative blog—that of Information Privilege. Two key dispositions listed under this frame are:

  • Recognize issues of access or lack of access to information sources;
  • Understand how and why some individuals or groups of individuals may be underrepresented or systematically marginalized within the systems that produce and disseminate information.

Frame 5 (Scholarship is a Conversation) also has the thread of equity running through it. One of the knowledge practices in this frame states that information literate learners are able to:

  • Recognize that systems privilege authorities and that not having a fluency in the language and process of a discipline disempowers their ability to participate and engage.

Our library department will be revising our student learning and program learning outcomes this year to align our instruction with the Framework. We want to encourage students to view themselves as producers as well as consumers of information and to reflect on their role in the construction of authority. We want them to develop open minds when locating and using information sources.

Is adapting our library instruction to the new framework enough to adequately tackle this issue of equity in a meaningful way for our students? How are other librarians involving their campus communities in adapting the framework? What are other librarians doing to address equity planning at their institutions?

Balancing the needs of students in the community college library space

As I write this, I’m sitting at the main service desk in my library. I can see all of the computers in the library from my viewpoint. We’re a small library on a small campus – but each of my 22 computers is in use.

Here’s what the students I can see are doing. There are students working in pairs, talking and discussing what they’re doing. There are students working independently on their classwork. There is a small group of students having a great time at the computers in the corner.

With all of this comes noise. Lots of noise.

In the rear of the library we have study carrels and tables. Many students are currently using these – they are attempting to use the library as a reprieve from the chaos elsewhere on campus and at their homes – yet I wonder how it’s working for them. Do they notice the noise? Is it bothersome?

How can we balance the needs of these varying groups of students in our very small libraries? We have no funding (or space) to build additional study rooms – we already have a small conference room (with no computers) and a very tiny “quiet” study room (that’s adjacent to my very noisy library instruction classroom).

It’s exciting to see so much activity in the library – but as a person that needs quiet to study, I cannot see how many of the students in the back are managing to get their work done.

How do you manage the different needs of different students in your library?