Advocacy means many things: promote, support, champion, recommend, defend. All these words represent strategies academic libraries employ to advocate for their users, their libraries, their resources and their services. For community college libraries, like their private college and public university counterparts, advocacy efforts encompass a broad range of activities and interests. How advocacy by community college libraries differs from other institutions relates to the mission and purpose of community colleges, the population they serve and the communities where they reside.
The community college movement in Michigan dates back to 1914. A resolution by the faculty at the University of Michigan endorsing the establishment of community colleges motivated the Grand Rapids Board of Education to found Grand Rapids Junior College. Today there are 28 state-supported community colleges in Michigan, ranging from large urban institutions like Oakland Community College to small, locally-centered institutions like Bay College in Escanaba. In addition, Michigan has three tribal community colleges, not included in the above number since their charter is federal (Grand Rapids Community College, 2013-2014; Michigan Community College Association, 2018).
While community college missions vary from one institution to another, the foundational purpose of community colleges is to provide educational opportunities for members of its community. This translates into undergraduate courses leading to associate degrees, certificates and/or transfer credits to four-year institutions for college students, workplace development for local businesses and lifelong educational opportunities for members of the community. For libraries, this broad span means providing services for a wide range of purposes and users.
Students and faculty represent the key community college constituent, however, and the work of the community college library focuses on meeting their information needs. Community colleges are the higher education launching pad for many students nationally. Currently, 40% of college students in the United States attend a community college. In Michigan, there are 411,764 students enrolled in community colleges. Of that number, 67% attend school part-time. Their average age is 25.7 and 27.9% of those students are minorities. Nationally, 36% of the students attending community college are first generation college students. The opportunity for community college libraries to impact students is significant. Now that many high schools do not provide library services, the community college library may represent a student’s first exposure to the world of libraries and it serves as the introduction for those transferring to other institutions (American Association of Community Colleges, 2017; Michigan Community College Association, 2018).
To do this work successfully, community college libraries, like all libraries in higher education, need resources (money and people). Funding constraints make the community college budgeting process challenging. Advocating for funds to build collections and provide services is an ongoing endeavor. While this advocacy role falls primarily on the library director or dean who develops the budget and seeks to convince college administration to supply the funds, this is only possible when the library, as a whole, shows how their work advances the college mission. Today the emphasis in community colleges is on student success and libraries aligning themselves with this focus are getting great results. A current example involves OER (Open Educational Resources). Many community colleges in Michigan are demonstrating their relevance by leading and supporting OER. These translate into concrete results for students. At Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, for example, OER efforts are saving students money, according to Library Director, Tina Ulrich, “Forty faculty are teaching one or more of their courses with free or low-cost (<$40) textbooks saving students $129,000 this semester. Our total textbook savings since Fall 2015 is $809,600,” (personal communication, February 6, 2018).
Community college libraries are also showing their relevance through their collections, information literacy efforts and day-to-day interactions in the library. Integrated information literacy efforts based on the ACRL framework, embedded librarians, one-shot instructional sessions, reference desk encounters, targeted LibGuides and relevant online resources are all examples of how community college libraries are seeking to assist students. These resources and services help students succeed in their current courses, learn information skills for future employment and prepares them to succeed as students at four-year institutions (McCarthy, 2017; Lance, 2017).
Finding ways to support community library users is important as well. These folks help fund the institution through local taxes. At my own library at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey, there is a core of library regulars from the community. They read our magazines, use our computers, check out our books and seek our help when completing online forms and searching for information. While they are not our primary users, their needs inform our work. Recently, we dropped several print subscriptions. Among them was a title frequently used by a community member. I took a second look at the subscription, decided to keep that title and drop another. Through this small effort, I built rapport with a user and engendered good will.
As these examples demonstrate, advocacy in the community college library is both art and science. To succeed, the community college library must demonstrate clear value through programs like OER and information literacy instruction, but it also must embrace opportunities to show value in small, less tangible ways like offering a community book club or keeping a magazine valued by community user. With its broad range of users and its potential to affect many, community college libraries must be ever diligent in their efforts to promote, support and advance their work.
Stephanie DeLano Davis, Librarian/Director
North Central Michigan College
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