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 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 if difficult to achieve.

I expected to notice a lot of differences coming to the public sphere from the private sphere and coming to a two year institution from a graduate level institution. I have 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 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 co-workers 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 setting. 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, two full-time staff members, and four part-time staff members. There have been some new positions recently and some turnover which has made coming to an understanding of the e-resources 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 also thought there would be fewer professional development opportunities, but in fact it’s as generous as it was as my previous institution. Not that you can 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 at a community college. Decisions about resources do mainly come at the system level, however. The ILS, systems, and the e-cataloging all come from the VCCS level. Many other resources 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. Another workload change was in instruction. 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 Germanna 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. I enjoyed working with scholarly publishing, the Liberty University 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 or as prevalent. Overall, I have been really pleased with the change and excited to work in the community college setting.