A Place at the Table

I came away from ALA with many great ideas, a renewed enthusiasm for the profession, and a general sense of excitement about all the possibilities.  However, I left with one negative.  There are many conversations and projects taking place regarding higher education.  Information literacy standards are being revised.  People are looking at skills librarians need now and in the future.  These are all great things and there are intelligent, forward-thinking people involved; except for community college librarians. This desperately needs to change.  Nearly half of the students enrolled in United States colleges are at community colleges.

Community colleges are no longer (if we were ever) the sole domain of students who would not survive a four-year school or those just looking for education in a specific trade.  In the current economy, community colleges are becoming an economical choice for students who will eventually go to a four-year school.  Why spend money on room and board or a much higher tuition, when you can take a year or two close to home and get those general education requirements out of the way? Sure, we still have a lot of students who are here for a certificate or an Associate’s Degree.  But that doesn’t make those students less worthy of skilled librarians, high standards of library services, and useful print and virtual library resources. Additionally, our students are not primarily “non-traditional” students.  In 2011, 71% of full-time students enrolled in 2-year colleges were below the age of 25.  In four-year colleges, the percentage is 88%.

“Without community colleges, millions of students and adult learners would not be able to access the education they need to be prepared for further education or the workplace. Community colleges often are the access point for education in a town and a real catalyst for economic development.” (http://www.aacc.nche.edu/AboutCC/Trends/Pages/default.aspx)

It’s time ALA, ACRL, and others involved in higher education stop looking at community college libraries and librarians as lesser.  We are as dedicated to the ideas put forth in ACRL’s 2008 Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.  If you look at mission statements for community colleges, you will see something like “developing lifelong learners is central to the mission of higher education institutions.”  My college’s mission statement reads like this – “[the college] mission is to provide the environment and resources for individuals to become lifelong learners.”

It is time for community college librarians to have a place at the table.  It is time for community college libraries to be recognized by everyone in higher education for the outstanding work we do in our colleges and communities.


Characteristics of Postsecondary Students

Community Colleges Trends and Statistics

Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education


7 thoughts on “A Place at the Table

  1. Jill – I agree; the marginalization of community colleges is something that has been on my mind for quite a while! I would add to your comment about the quality of the work we do that community colleges should also be recognized for the amount of influence we have on students and subsequently on the higher education landscape in general.

    Also you’ll probably be glad to hear that there is a community college librarian on the on the ACRL Task Force that is currently revising the information literacy standards. His name is Troy Swanson, and he is from Moraine Valley Community College: http://lib.morainevalley.edu/TroySwanson.aspx


  2. Thanks for putting your thoughts forward and identifying the leadership and role of community colleges and their librarians. I know that it can appear that we’ve been marginalized, and I’m not questioning your experience, but that hasn’t been my experience within the Association except in a few individual cases (and these cases do exist!). I’ve learned that showing up, being outspoken, and calling out the role of CC librarians has helped place us into the conversation on numerous ocassions.

    In my years serving in ACRL, originally in CJCLS on many committees and as section chair, we were often called upon to be engaged and included with the work of ACRL. This past year I was chair for the ACRL Appointment Committee and that allowed me to keep the voice of CC librarians present on our committees. Unfortunately, I have often ran into difficulty in finding people willing to serve. A decade ago, virtual participation wasn’t really an option but that has changed significantly since then and so we can be more involved. I think our involvment isn’t for a lack of interest (by CC librarians) nor a lack of inclusion (by the Association) but rather a reality for many of our campuses. Few librarians. Few resources for travel. Thousands of students. Here in California, we have many CC libraries that are operated by a single librarian.

    I’ve learned a few methods for being included. Talk to the CJCLS section chair and volunteer to serve, just start showing up at meetings and committees, talk to the ACRL president about our role, and maybe most importantly, get to know and talk with ACRL staff. If you’re not engaged with ACRL yet, start with CJCLS because it’s an easy entry point and provide a groundwork to move through the association.

    We can and should be present and so I thank you for this post.


  3. Hi Kenley,
    I myself don’t feel particularly marginalized. This was the feeling I was getting from other people in CJCLS. Being relatively new to the community college scene, I have yet to form an opinion either way, although it does seem that two-year colleges and smaller four-year colleges are often not considered in big picture discussions in groups like ACRL and ALA. Your involvement over the years has given you a different, and valuable, perspective.

    But I do agree we need to be more involved. I finally got an ALA committee last year and started serving on an ACRL committee this year. I realize I’m fortunate in being able to attend Annual and Midwinter. However, there are many other options open to people who may be able to participate virtually. The same situation exists with many of us being the only MLS librarian or even the sole librarian at our institution. I understand the difficulties of balancing your regular job duties. Adding in committee work can seem impossible. I don’t know how to encourage people to be more involved. I wish I had that answer.

    I wish I could remember who tweeted this at ALA 2013, but the thought has stayed with me. ALA is not our organization as much as WE are ALA. Ultimately, we have to continue speaking up for ourselves. There are those who are doing it. Having someone like Troy Swanson on the information literacy committee is fantastic.

    I challenge everyone to answer the call this fall when you can volunteer to be more involved with CJCLS, ACRL, and ALA. Even if you don’t get appointed, there are still ways you can help.


    • And I just received the slate for ACRL leadership positions and there are two community college librarians and one former community college librarian. One in each slot:

      Director At-Large
      Kim Leeder: Director of Library Services, College of Western Idaho
      Director At-Large
      Rodney Lippard: Director, Learning Resource Centers, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College
      Ann Campion Riley: Associate Director of the Access, Collections, and Technical Services Division, University of Missouri


  4. Sorry that I am late to the conversation, but I would echo Kenley’s remarks. I think that community college librarians have been quite active over the years. I think Kenley (and many others) have provided a great example and great leadership. I would add three thoughts.

    First, I think that some academic snobbery does exist within ACRL, but that snobbery isn’t just directed at community colleges. I would say that it is a rare case where individuals in community colleges are marginalized. There is definitely a culture of competition within different sectors of higher ed that can be felt in ACRL.

    Second, I think that the major factor limiting the participation of community colleges in ACRL are the support that community college librarians get from their home institutions. (As Kenley noted above.) Most community college libraries have fewer staff members and small budgets for the size of their institutions. Travel monies are limited.

    Finally, the currency of higher education remains publication and idea sharing. I know that the people on the ACRL Info Literacy Task Group with me are all people who are writing and researching about the information literacy standards. I know there are community college librarians (like me) who continue to write and publish, but I also know that the institutional support for publication is not the same in community colleges. It can be more difficult to find the time to write and publish when you are part of a smaller staff and you do not get institutional support.


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