How Can the Library Best Support Student and Institutional Success?
Perspectives from a National Survey of Community College Library Directors
For the past three years, Ithaka S+R has explored how student-facing service departments—including academic libraries—are organized, funded, and staffed at community and technical colleges across the country. As part of this ongoing IMLS-funded Community College Academic and Student Support Ecosystem (CCASSE) research initiative, we surveyed community college library directors this past February. Today, I’m pleased to announce the publication of our findings from that national study. In Library Strategy and Collaboration Across the College Ecosystem, Christine Wolff-Eisenberg and I describe how library leaders are navigating the COVID-19 crisis, setting priorities, and supporting their institutions’ missions.
We note that the library is well positioned to play a key role in supporting student success—helping to increase student learning, develop a sense of community, provide technological resources, and act as a hub for many other services. And yet it is clear from findings across our research that the role of the library is often misunderstood, as other campus administrators are not always aware of what the library offers or what opportunities for collaboration are possible.
While library partnerships with IT departments, writing centers, and tutoring centers are strong, collaborations with student affairs departments—like student life, academic advising, and basic needs resource centers—have not yet been as fully realized. Student affairs departments focus greatly on helping students develop a sense of community and addressing social justice imperatives—much like libraries—but institutional structures may prevent libraries and their student affairs counterparts from fully realizing the benefits of cross-departmental collaboration.
To counter this, library leaders must continue to communicate with other institutional leaders about their multifaceted roles. As libraries want to be recognized for their contributions to key institutional outcomes like retention, graduation, and enrollment, then articulating the role of the library and the direct contributions it makes towards these outcomes is especially important. And the library should not only communicate existing efforts but seek to maximize new contributions to these outcomes. Recent collaborations with IT departments toward emergency technology provision during the COVID-19 pandemic serve as one strong example of such efforts.
Additionally, as community college libraries continue to move from relatively traditional roles such as supporting curricular success to supporting a more holistic set of student outcomes, administrators outside of the library may need to rethink their own assumptions about the current and potential roles of the library. Today’s students face increasingly complex challenges inside and outside of the classroom, and it will take all leaders across the college working together with a deep understanding of each other’s contributions to achieve the most positive outcomes for their students.
It is our hope that this report can play a small part in facilitating these conversations and collaborations. We look forward to hosting several convenings in the coming year to move from research to solution-building with members of the community. In the meantime, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments about our ongoing work.