What We Don’t Talk About Enough: Community Colleges

I think about community colleges a lot. This might sound like an obvious statement considering I work at one. But I think about how we, as a society, talk about and respond to community colleges—or don’t. They are institutions that serve people of all ages, interests, and backgrounds, which I consider to be one of the most exciting parts of working at a reference desk at a community college library. Having said that, I also consider how college is ingrained in the public imagination. 

There is an assumption that community colleges are for people who do not get into “real” college, ignoring the fact that community colleges are, in fact, real institutions of higher education. There is also the myth that the quality of higher education a student receives at community college is substandard, ignoring the fact that many professors who teach at community colleges also teach the same exact course, or a similar course, at four-year institutions. There is a misconception that people who graduate from community college will not succeed in life, even though we have seen time and time again that myth is unfounded. 

I reflect on the reactions I receive when I tell people I am a librarian, and one of the places I work is at a community college. Sometimes the conversation ends right then and there. Other times, there is a brief “Great” or “Good for you,” which often comes across as patronizing, whether the person saying it meant for it to be intended that way or not. Occasionally, there is a story about how a friend of a friend went to community college, but they are doing fine now, as if community college is a condition that people must overcome or endure. 

In TV shows and movies, books and magazine articles, college is often portrayed as students exploring the amenities of a four-year college or experiencing dorm life for the first time. The college experience is not often portrayed as a student who is still living at home while juggling coursework and a full-time or part-time job. It is rarely portrayed as someone returning to school as an older adult to further their career or learn a new skill. Yet, these are the faces of community college students, and their experiences are no less valid than students who attend four-year institutions. 

We can go ahead and say it: The stigma surrounding community college is rooted in classism and elitism, and we cannot talk about either of those subjects without talking about racism. How does this relate to librarianship? The same assumptions people have about community college students are often the same assumptions people have about those who work at community colleges. And it is up to us, as library staff, to counter those assumptions.

One of the joys of working with community college students is working with students who look like myself or my family. I can relate to the student who is living at home while working full-time and attending school-part time because that was my cousin. I can sympathize with the student who takes two buses to campus to find a quiet place to study because that was my other cousin. I can connect with a mom returning to school as an older adult, worried about balancing childcare and homework, because that was my aunt. 

It is often thought that those who work at community colleges should be taking advice and seeking guidance from those who work at four-year institutions, and that four-year institutions have little to learn from community colleges. But, as Meredith Farkas mentions in an older, yet still relevant post:

“Community college libraries have longer been scrutinized by outside entities and so have longer had to play the accountability game. Their more singular focus on student success and learning encourages a focus on assessment for and about learning. And I’d argue that their long history of being resource-constrained (by-and-large) has led in many cases to real creativity…There’s a lot we could learn from the approaches community colleges have taken to engaging in assessment practice.”

Meredith Farkas, You could learn a lot from us: community college librarians at ACRL

As Meredith aptly points out, it is most often other community college staff who are interested in the future of community colleges. If your institution receives a lot of students who are transferring from community colleges, why wouldn’t you want to learn more about those schools and their student bodies?

As academic librarians, we often move and work in silos. We, as library staff, must change that. That said, instead of arguing that we should do a better job of communicating with each other, I maintain that academic librarians at four-year institutions should be aware of and appreciative of the work that their colleagues at community colleges are doing under tight deadlines, budgets, and scrutiny.

In a time when institutions of higher education are continually being examined by outside parties, four-year institutions have much to learn from community colleges on how to succeed when others are questioning your right to exist in the first place.

Physical data visualization 2: The email data scarf returns

Emily’s email data scarf draped over the back of two chairs.

In December last year, I made a post about tracking how many emails I sent every day from July 27th 2022-July 27th 2023. This encompasses my entire first year as a professional librarian, and I’m really happy to say that the scarf I was making to embody this data is now finished! Well, I need to weave in the ends (crafters know the dread), but the actual crocheting part is finished. 

Looking back on my initial post about the project, it’s funny that I mentioned it being a weekly routine to do my five rows… that responsible way of doing things did not stick. I crocheted from about March-July all in the last two weeks or so. I did keep up with entering my data into an excel sheet during that time, but between some traveling, moving, and life in general, I had to play some catch-up with actually crocheting the scarf.  

I was also motivated to finish this project because I’m presenting it at the International Visual Literacy Association’s conference in just a few short weeks! The scarf and its color key will be part of a poster presentation. It’s also a chance to really dig into why I did this – and what changes, if any, it led to in my email behavior more generally.  

At first glance on the scarf, the beginning of my year at Salisbury had a lot more emails. I used mail merge twice over the first few months (indicated by bobble stitches as opposed to single crochet), and there are two additional rows of red indicating that I sent over 12 emails that day. There’s also more pink tones in the first semester, which indicates 6+ emails being sent on any given day. After winter break, though, the color clearly shift more towards the purples, which stand for 5 emails or less in a certain day.  

There are two long stretches of grey, which indicate when I was off: during winter break at Christmastime and at the end of May, early June. I sent at least one email while I was off both times, which you can see by the row of white in between the grey. White isn’t a common occurrence throughout the scarf – I’d say based off my own feelings that my work-life balance is generally quite good, and this visualized data proves that! I do have to send an email or message occasionally while out of the office, mainly due to the fact that I supervise student workers who are here in the evenings and on weekends.  

On workdays, the average amount of emails I sent per day was 3.8. My counts were as follows, where the left is the number of emails sent in a given workday, and the right is the number of days that number occurred. The color it represents is in parentheses.  

Number of emails Number of days 
0  (Brown)15  
1  (Brown)22 
2  (Dark purple)40 
3  (Dark purple)37 
4  (Medium purple)32 
5  (Medium purple)34 
6  (Light purple)11 
7  (Light purple)
8  (Light pink)
9  (Light pink)
10  (Bright pink)
11  Bright pink)
12+  (Red)

This is based on email threads. The data quickly got unwieldly when going by the strict number of emails (not to mention Outlook makes this sort of counting difficult), so I chose to do threads instead. If I replied twice in one day to a thread about finals week, for example, that would only be counted once.  

I’m in the process of creating the poster now, and I’m really excited to talk to more folks about it at UIUC on October 6th! I was too excited to have actually finished the data object to wait to post until I was totally finished with the poster. 🙂

ALA’s 2023 Emerging Leaders Program

Over this past year, I have been in ALA’s Emerging Leaders’ program, for the class of 2023. I consider myself very fortunate to have been selected to be a part of this year’s Emerging Leaders; it’s been a transformative experience. The people involved in putting this program on do an amazing job, and the people I met through the Emerging Leader program show me the future of librarianship is bright. I wanted to write a reflection on Emerging Leaders so others can think about taking part in a program to increase their library community of peers and enhance their leadership skills.

ALA Emerging Leaders, Class of 2023

Overview

The ALA Emerging Leaders program is a leadership program for librarians with less than five years professional experience, intended to gain leadership skills through working groups and introduce participants to the ALA governance structure to use leadership skills through future ALA volunteerism.

ALA Emerging Leaders attend LibLearnX (previously called ALA Midwinter) and ALA Annual to meet with their group and the other leaders, work on projects, hear from guest speakers, make connections, and ultimately present their project work with a poster presentation at ALA Annual.

I found the program useful for three main reasons: leadership development (ALA-specific and librarianship more generally), working on an ALA division or section-sponsored project, and making lasting connections.

Leadership Development

The motivation for my application to Emerging Leaders was to develop my leadership skills. I want to continue to develop as a librarian and as a leader, both formally and informally. While the program does not offer in-depth leadership training, you develop leadership skills through collaborative working groups and other settings throughout the program. You work closely with your group throughout the first-half of the year, working as a team to accomplish the goals of your group’s project.

Through this collaborative working group, there’s the typical leadership skills you’ve likely encountered while working in groups throughout grad school or at your library—things like organizing, delegating, time management, communication, and ensuring group members are meeting their deadlines.

There are also guest speakers that present to the Leaders at both LibLearnX and Annual, and webinars between the conferences. These speakers address a variety of topics, but you can learn a lot about what it takes to be a library leader, both at their library and throughout ALA. While some speakers were more relevant and engaging than others, I appreciated the time they took to speak to our group, and I took away something from every speaker.

Group Project

One of the main goals of the program is for participants to contribute to projects proposed by ALA divisions and sections. Between LibLearnX and Annual, Leaders are put into working groups and work on one of that year’s projects. In this way, the Emerging Leaders give back to ALA throughout the program. There were ten projects to choose from for 2023, some examples were examining censorship to update statistics and informational material, developing new membership onboarding, documenting forty years of the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), and engaging library community members to vote.

Group B: Chris Vaughn (Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), Justin Fuhr (me!), Kelli Anne Gecawich (Georgia Southern University), Julia Martyniuk (University of Toronto), and Lee Bareford (Georgia Southern University) (L-R)

I selected a project by my sponsoring section, ACRL’s Distance and Online Learning Section, to develop and publish a survey to gain insight into accessible online learning tools that academic librarians are using.

This involved:

  • Scanning the literature to find research on accessibility issues and universal design,
  • Developing survey questions and creating a draft in Qualtrics,
  • Piloting the survey and implementing feedback, and
  • Presenting our work through a poster, video, and written report.

To see our group’s work, it’s available at http://hdl.handle.net/1993/37407.

Lasting Connections

One of the greatest benefits of the program, at least for me, was meeting people: meeting my working group members, meeting the program coordinators and hosts (special shout out to Beatrice Calvin, Christina Fuller-Gregory, and Libby Holtmann!), meeting Chimene Tucker and other members of ACRL’s Distance and Online Learning Section, and attendees of ALA LibLearnX and Annual.

But along with this great group of people, there are the other Emerging Leaders. The 2023 class of leaders were an eager, productive, fun-loving group of future library leaders. These are people who I believe will end up leading our libraries and leading ALA; they’re inspirational and you know they’re headed towards great things in librarianship. We came from all corners of the continent, from all types of libraries.

I can remember in the week leading up to LibLearnX, one of the members of our cohort created a collab Google doc to arrange carpooling from the airport. I put my name on there, along with when I was arriving, and I got a text in the week leading up to LibLearnX asking if I wanted to share a ride into the city, with a couple other people. I didn’t know it at the time, but the two people I shared a ride with – we spent nearly the entire conference together, along with others from our cohort.

After walking down Frenchmen Street in New Orleans with daiquiris in hand, well, I like to think we’ve solved librarianship. Not quite, but I did bond with my cohort and now have a strong network of inspirational future library leaders who are so fun to talk with and very, very supportive.

Beth Jarrell (Sanibel Public Library), Stacey Akahoshi (Maricopa County Library District), Justin Fuhr (me!), and Laura Tadena (Austin Public Library) (L-R) at Jackson Square, New Orleans, LA

While the Emerging Leaders program consist of librarians from all types of libraries, these were mainly public librarians that I was talking to and walking around New Orleans with. This was so nice because I’m often stuck in academic libraryland, talking with other academic librarians about very important and very serious issues in academic librarianship. It is nice to have a close group of friends who are public librarians, to expand our connections throughout librarianship, and hear new perspectives. To hear from these librarians about their experiences both inside and outside the library, from their personal and professional lives, I can say these people are role models. I’m so thankful to have met them.

Then there was my working group, a group of academic librarians working on our project. Unlike some projects I encountered while at library school (so sorry, University of Alberta SLIS alumni!), this was a highly motivated group, eager to meet our goals with work that we’re all proud of. Our group of academic librarians met regularly between the conferences, and before and after our working meetings, we’d chat about the weather (who knew it varied so much across the continent?!) and catch up with what’s going in in our lives. These were great moments, and it was an honour to work with the others in my group.

The Memory of The Time

Overall, the Emerging Leaders program is a fantastic leadership development initiative and one I took away a lot from. With elements of leadership development, ALA volunteerism fast-tracking, creating deliverables for ALA’s divisions and sections, and making lasting connections, there’s so much to the Emerging Leaders program. I’ve enriched myself and set myself up for future stages of my library career. This was a group of future library leaders who—knowing nothing about each other—left the program as friends.

I am so thankful I was accepted to the program, that my library, supervisor, and library director were supportive of my attendance, that I was sponsored by ARCL’s Distance and Online Learning Section, and that I was privileged enough to attend conferences in New Orleans and Chicago.

If you’re able and eligible, I highly recommend considering applying. Applications are now open for the Class of 2024 Emerging Leaders program. The deadline to apply is September 9, 2023. If anyone has any questions about Emerging Leaders, or is considering putting together an application and wants some advice, please reach out to me! I’d be happy to share.

Being a Liaison Librarian: Lessons Learned

When I started as a medical academic librarian four years ago, I have to admit that I was a little intimidated in the face of the list of departments I would serve as liaison librarian. It’s an access services & instruction position, which I felt prepared for… but what did I know about dermatology, or pathology, or… all the surgical specialties???

Of course, I have since learned that being a liaison librarian does not mean having to know the ins and outs of the department’s specialty area. I’ve also picked up several more liaison areas as we’ve needed to redistribute departments among the librarians for various reasons. I’m no longer concerned that I don’t know enough about nephrology or otolaryngology to be effective in serving those departments, but I have encountered other concerns along the way.

Playing Favorites

My husband is a resident in one of my liaison departments, which means I go to parties, golf, and have group chats with people in that department. Do they get too much of my attention? Realistically, they don’t come to me for any more or less research help than my other departments. It’s easy to fall into the trap of playing favorites, though, if you have a department that’s easy to work with, or one where you have a personal relationship with someone. Sure, I have a photo of all the urology residents up on my office wall, but to be fair, they’re the only ones who offered one.

Neglecting Other Departments

I frequently worry that I’ve let general surgery – and its twelve subspecialties – fall by the wayside as far as my liaison duties go. The most important lesson I’ve learned about being a liaison is that each department has its own personality, needs, and ways of doing things. Surgery finds me when they need me. They are a behemoth of a department and interacting with them the same way as a smaller department would be difficult and ineffective. My shift to a primarily hands-off approach for surgery has taught me the important lesson to meet departments where they are and when they’re ready.

Timing

Each specialty rotates residents at different rates (urology residency is five years, ob/gyn is four, and nephrology is three, for example). Faculty and attendings also come and go, though not at nearly the same rate as residents and fellows. It’s hard, therefore, to determine how often I should try to be invited back after presenting to a department. In some areas, an annual visit is appropriate, to update everyone on what’s new and answer questions from newcomers. Others may prefer sending their new faculty to me one by one as they’re hired. Several like the idea of a yearly new residents’ orientation. Still others might rely on regular library offerings that are open to all, instead of scheduling department-specific sessions. Keeping track of all the preferences of nearly two dozen departments is difficult, but doable. (A good spreadsheet can solve a lot of problems.)

Names & Faces

I don’t have prosopagnosia (face blindness) but I’m really bad at remembering faces. (I’ve had a three-year reprieve where I could say, “Oh I didn’t recognize you with the mask!” and I think I can rely on the opposite, “Oh I didn’t recognize you without the mask!” for another year or so.) When I walk through the hospital, I run into people from my liaison departments, and I work very hard to recognize them and engage with them (even a quick “oh hey, how have you been!” lets them know I remember them, without slowing them down on their way to save a life… or get coffee, equally important). Bonus points when I’m quick enough to ask follow-up questions about research I know they’re working on – as simple as, “how’s that imaging project going?” – to show I really do remember them and care about their work.

Content Knowledge

I know, I started this post by saying you don’t have to know everything about a specialty to be their liaison librarian. But it’s helpful to make an effort to be aware of major developments in the areas you liaise to. When I was hired, my liaison departments were determined by what other librarians were willing to pass on to me to lighten their own load. It is, therefore, a bit of a “miscellaneous” pile. I have volunteered to pick up departments that make a little sense: when nephrology was available, I grabbed it because I already have urology, so I’m already keeping an eye on what’s big in kidney news. I still have a wide range of topics to be on top of, though. Saved searches or search alerts can be handy, if you check them every once in a while. Newsletters from professional organizations are also useful, although the email deluge is real, and I can’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to add to that problem. (There is no reason to try to read every article! Browsing the results is sufficient.) Even skimming through the emails you already get, like institutional newsletters, with your departments in mind, can be helpful. I get a little “ping!” in my head whenever I see something from any of my departments in the news, on the digital signage throughout the building, etc. I can tuck it away for later, like using the topic of a big research grant awarded to someone in dermatology as a sample search when demonstrating a resources the next time I talk to the dermatology department. You aren’t expected to know it all, though, so never be afraid to ask someone to tell you more about the topic you’re helping them search. In my experience, they usually love the chance to explain their research passions to someone who wants to hear about them.

 While being liaison to all these departments is not nearly as scary as I originally thought it would be, it is still a lot to keep track of, while being very rewarding. I have learned a lot about things I never thought I would encounter; I’m even a co-author on an article in a digestive diseases journal. (I’m hanging on to that one for the next time I have to play Two Truths and a Lie.) I have met great people all over this College of Medicine and hospital system, just because they had a hard time finding an article in full text or needed to know a better search strategy for their literature search. Being a liaison librarian is great fun, a wild educational ride, and a really effective way to develop your search, instruction, and reference skills.

New Year, New Weed

I think a lot of us have New Year’s resolutions or goal-setting on our minds as we start the spring semester, but this time of the year has me thinking more about our fiscal year goals. Heading into January means that we’re wrapping up the second quarter, and we can evaluate how the collection is measuring up to goals that were set before I started. The best way for me to determine progress is by looking at the data, and the most effective way to share that with my colleagues is through data storytelling. I’m still growing my data literacy, but narratives (the storytelling part) I can do.

One of the action items for our strategic plan is to incorporate new tools for assessment. I recently found out about Dossiers from BLUECloud Analytics, a SirsiDynix tool that is powered by Microstrategy to pull data and create visualizations. Using knowledge I gained from a Learning Analytics course at Mizzou during my MLIS, plus from consulting books like Storytelling with Data, Data Science for Librarians, and Data Visualization: A Guide to Visual Storytelling for Libraries, I crafted a brief presentation as an update to the annual collection report. Honestly, compared to other programs like Tableau, this Dossier was tough to make. Although, between creating it and writing this post, they have upgraded their system to include new features that I would have loved to use. I spent a lot of time figuring out the system, making the visualizations, and creating a visually appealing template. Besides finding out how extra I am, I think my colleagues had an easier time understanding the data, and gained a better understanding of where we stand. This is a small start towards incorporating data storytelling into our work culture.

Page of BLUECloud Analytics Dossier from ERAU

The biggest takeaway from this project was that deselection of materials had a largely positive impact on the age of the collection, greater than just adding brand new materials could. It’s like trying to mix a grey paint; you’re going to need to dump a whole lot of white onto your black paint to get it to lighten up. It’s so much more effective if you take all the old, unused stuff away first. Committing to keeping up with how we are progressing towards our goals is the only way I would have found out that the time invested by liaison librarians into collection development has been paying off – and more importantly, just how much of an impact their actions made. I think it is so much more valuable to see that quantitative comparison in the data than to simply say “good job.”

There is an IMLS project coming out of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for a “Data Storytelling Toolkit for Librarians” that I am really excited to learn more about. With a resource like that, we can all learn more on how to gain insights from our data, and especially how to share our impact with our stakeholders, whether they be internal or external. When people ask me what the most beneficial classes during my MLIS were, I always list Learning Analytics among them. We live in a data culture, and in my first year as an academic librarian, I am definitely seeing how it is starting to seep into my everyday work.