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.


Re-Writing the Research Process

Happy New Year, dear readers!

In the month I’ve had off between semesters, I’ve reflected on “The Research Process”—the foundational process that informs most of what we teach our students. Here and here are sample versions. For several years now, I’ve made minor tweaks to the “Seven Steps in the Research Process” lecture I inherited from my mentor because I feel it is outdated and missing something integral. Why must students wait to look for web sources only after they’ve located books and database articles (especially when preliminary research on the Internet can be so useful for topic development and more)? Shouldn’t evaluation of sources happen at all steps of source location? Shouldn’t it be stressed that the process is iterative? Also, and this is what has been keeping me up at night over break: Where does writing come in? Doesn’t it have a central place within the research process?

When working with students writing research papers, I’ve noticed that they typically approach research and writing completely separately. The daunting task of research comes first and, only after locating all the sources (that they think they need) does the actual paper writing begin. I tell students that it takes some research to begin writing and it takes writing to discover what (else) to research—that the two go hand in hand. I tell them that they likely will continue their research well into the writing of their paper.

My latest version of “The Research Process” lecture includes some pre-writing strategies, specifically outlining. I’m not sure where creating an outline would fit most perfectly into the process but it occurs to me that it should happen early on, near the first step of topic development. Having students create a short outline of what they think their paper is going to cover would greatly assist them in knowing what direction to research and what areas of their outline need additional sources.

Do any of you intertwine writing into teaching the process of research? What writing or pre-writing strategies do you include? Have any of you encountered cool “Research Process” lectures, guides or infographics that you use? Please enlighten me!

Open Educational Resources and the Community College

OER (Open Educational Resources) is the new buzzword whizzing around college campuses these days.  The term was “born” at UNESCO’s 2002 Forum on Open Courseware, where it was defined as:

“…teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.  Open licensing is built within the existing framework of intellectual property rights as defined by relevant international conventions and respects the authorship of the work.”

So what does this exactly mean for a community college? It makes total sense for community colleges to really look at OER as a way to make college even more affordable for our students.  Recently, my school was lucky to have Marilyn Billings, who is the Scholarly Communication Librarian (my dream job) at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She came down to talk to us about how UMass has really invested in this initiative, and the joys and pitfalls they encountered along the way.  She shared with us some statistics on the cost of text books that were pretty startling:


According to the BLS, the cost of textbooks have risen 802%. As a librarian, this isn’t really new “news.”  How many times do students walk into your library looking for textbooks because they simply can’t afford them?  I just had a student the other day walk in looking for a psychology book for her PSY 101 class because it was $265.  Most of our students at community colleges simply can’t afford these really expensive books that have no buy-back value.  The worst offenders are the professors who order custom text books.  They have zero buy back value from our book store.

UMass Amherst decided they wanted to seek out cheaper alternatives, so in 2011 they launched a pilot program for faculty to redesign their courses using only OER.  At the end of this program, Billings shared her results with us:

  • Over 30 faculty participants, 44 courses (Gen Ed through Graduate level)
  • Humanities
  • Social Sciences
  • Sciences
  • Professional Schools
  • $39,000 invested, over $1 million in savings for more than 5000 students

The feedback was positive, with comments that student grades had actually increased.

Some of the pitfalls were:

  • Time consuming to find high quality OER resources
  • Time consuming to create OER
  • May lack prepared tests/quizzes that commercial  textbooks offer
  • Student preference for reading offline
  • Longevity of file formats
  • Lack of knowledge by faculty
  • Resources
  • Licenses, copyright
  • Support

Here at my institution, we also started a pilot program with faculty.  It involved the librarians, distance learning team, and instructional designers. Out of the group who were interested  at our initial informational meeting, only a handful actually completed the turn over to OER. Many found it was simply too time consuming, and some were not comfortable having their syllabus turned over to the “public domain.”  Another drawback is that students still like to print everything out.  We see this with our on-line courses and the PowerPoints professors use.  Also, many of our students receive book vouchers.  This means that if an instructor wanted to use a textbook from Openstax  for their text book, to print it out would be $70. This is cheap by text book standards, but not so much if you are a student who relies on a book voucher. You could download the PDF for free, but as I wrote previously students tend to want to print it out, establishing more of a cost burden on them.  We will be running another pilot program soon, but this time following UMass Amherst’s lead by having faculty apply (instead of a free for all) and having them in cohorts.  This seems to be the better practice when facilitating a pilot like this.

I also should mention as a librarian to brush up on your copyright knowledge. There are a lot of great resources out there and MOOCs. I just took a fabulous course run by Duke University, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Emory.


Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER)
a joint effort by individual community colleges, regional and statewide consortia, the Open Courseware Consortium,  the American Association for Community Colleges, the League for Innovation in the Community Colleges, and many other educational partners to develop and use open educational resources,  open textbooks, and open courseware to expand access to higher education and improve teaching and learning.

OER Libguide from Bristol Community College adapted with permission from Umass Amherst:

OER Libguide


The following guidelines are excerpted from the Conference Report to the 1976 Copyright Act. They apply to classroom copying in a non-profit educational setting.

Draft Framework for Information Literacy: Some Thoughts

In 2000 the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education were adopted by the Association of College and Research Libraries.  In this same year I was a freshman in college and the internet was a new thing.  Most students were still using desktop computers, and the coffee shops were not yet full of people searching for outlets to plug in laptops.  I freely downloaded music from Napster with few thoughts of copyright issues because that was a conversation that was just getting started.  By the time I graduated there were more laptops at the coffee shops and Napster had filed for bankruptcy.  14 years later I have a powerful computer in my pocket and the time has come to rethink those 2000 standards.

The Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education will soon replace the Standards for Information Literacy.  A draft of the first part of this new document was recently released, and the changes are significant.  It is clearly designed to address the changing information ecosystem by addressing trends such as the role of active learning and participatory culture in today’s learning environment, increased collaborative assignments that might require the use of multimedia resources and the role of student as creators (Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education FILHE, 2014).  In my personal experiences as a librarian I can attest to the rise of participatory culture and incorporation of active learning.  I’m seeing students work on more group projects and am seeing elements of the “flipped classroom” in the curriculum.  More students are asking about citing new media sources like YouTube and Twitter.  Given the vast changes that are going on, it seems a perfect time to revisit how we can best provide information literacy to the 21st century two-year college students.

What is changing?  The framework presents a new definition for Information Literacy that is expanded to include the value of critical thinking and the importance of collaboration.  The standards have been replaced by threshold concepts which are defined in the document’s glossary as “core or foundational concepts that, once grasped by the learner, create new perspectives and ways of understanding a discipline or challenging knowledge domain” (Draft FILHE, 2014).  For an idea of how the standards and thresholds compare, see the chart below:

Framework vs. Standards Table

Whereas the standards were broken down into performance indicators and outcomes the Thresholds are broken down into :

  • Knowledge practices (abilities)
  • Related metaliteracy learning objectives
  • Dispositions
  • Self-Assessments
  • Possible Assignments/Assessments

To get an idea of how the Threshold Concepts might work, let’s take a close look at the first Threshold Concept.  First of all, it steers away from the idea that there is one correct answer to a research query.  Instead, it encourages students to think critically about information.  The framework states, “While many questions can be answered by appeal to a single, authoritative source—the capital of a country or the atomic number of an element, for examples—scholarly research resists simple answers” (Draft FILHE, 2014).  The framework goes on to suggest the following in the dispositions section: “Learners who are developing their information literate abilities see themselves as contributors to scholarship rather than only consumers of it” (Draft FILHE, 2014).  I like this disposition for two reasons.  First of all, it focuses on collaboration and active learning.  Secondly, it ties into something I already discuss with students.  I am frequently asked why citations are important, and when this comes up I answer that writing papers is a way to share information and that the uniform style of citations makes it easier for those who are consuming the information to easily locate more information on the topic.  The new Framework gives me a better structure for working these kinds of teachable moments into my classroom sessions.  I feel like the simplicity and flexibility of threshold concepts will be helpful when working with non-traditional students who might be intimidated by the academic library.

Another addition to the new Framework is assignment suggestions.  I have previously written about the role of the librarian as teacher, and my hope is that including these suggestions will give us more opportunities to show administration and faculty our strengths as members of the academic team.  I’m also pleased that the assignments seem to be appropriate for all levels.  For example, an assignment suggestion for the first Threshold concept is: “Assign an entire class to conduct an investigation of a particular topic from its treatment in the popular media, and then trace its origin in conversations among scholars and researchers” (Draft FILHE, 2014).  I can easily see students benefiting from an assignment like this.  Rather than standing in front of them and lecturing about how there is a difference between popular and scholarly research, which is something that I regularly do, this gives them a chance to be an active participant.  I also think that including assignment ideas is helpful to new librarians.  Library school does not always prepare librarians for teaching classes, so including assignment examples in this document could give new librarians a place to start.  Finally, my most optimistic hope is that the inclusion of assignments and self-assessments is that it will help us make better arguments away from the one-shot information literacy sessions and provide a framework for faculty and administration to embrace more embedded librarianship and to be more collaborative.

So where do the unique needs of two-year college librarians come in?  In the introduction to the new threshold concepts, I was drawn to this quote: “An area that has not received much attention in the context of information literacy is the rise in professional master’s degrees at many institutions.  Students in these programs, who may have full time employment while completing their programs, have particular needs for efficient mechanisms for accessing and producing information” (FILHE draft, 2014).  Students who have full time employment while completing their program?  Sounds to me like this could apply to many two-year, non-traditional students equally as well as it applies to students in professional master’s degree programs.  As a matter of fact, we have written on this blog about how we teach and serve students whose lives are already busy trying to juggle the demands of family, school, and work.  The good news is that I think that the new Framework shifts away from teaching students how to use information only in the context of a formal research paper, and it takes into account different ways of information usage.  Two-year college librarians stand to benefit greatly from this change.

The draft Framework is not complete by any means, so I encourage you to take a look at it and give the committee feedback.  I think it is especially important that two-year college librarians be represented in this document’s creation (as the previous blog post reminds us), so I hope many of you read the Framework and fill out the survey.  The deadline for feedback is 5 p.m. Central on Tuesday, April 15, 2014, and the committee is asking that feedback be provided by filling out the form available at  The next part of the draft will be released in April and will include more Threshold Concepts, Scenarios, and information on how to participate in a live online forum.

For more discussion on the new Framework check out the following:

Jacob Berg wrote about the Draft Framework in his blog: Beerbrarian.  He brings up some good discussion points regarding the appropriateness of including metaliteracy.

Barbara Fister wrote about the Framework on her blog: Library Babel Fish.  She makes note of how important it is that the new framework be inclusive and not privileged towards more traditional four-year college students.

Kulthau, C.C. (2013). Rethinking the 2000 Information Literacy Standards: Some Things to Consider. Communications in Information Literacy. 7 (2).