Community College Librarian: A Job Description and Intro to the Field

Although their job market is far from perfect these days, librarians do have a wide variety of work environments to choose from, including public libraries, academic libraries, special libraries, school libraries, corporate libraries and more. But even within those categories there is still a staggering amount of diversity.

Academic libraries are one example where the type of institution plays a major role in the type of job to expect. The same type of librarian, say reference and instruction, will usually have much different duties if he or she works at a Research 1 university, a small liberal arts school or a career college.

Community colleges in particular are a sector of higher education that is growing in importance, and librarians there play a key role.

An Intro to Community College Librarianship

In general, the librarian positions at community colleges are less focused on research and scholarship in favor of teaching and front-line service. (Although in many cases library positions are tenure track-faculty.) Librarians’ duties are much more focused on students, as community college faculty do less research and scholarship. Collection development, of course, is still a major collaboration between the library and faculty. And at some institutions faculty do indeed conduct research and librarians also might help professors during the process of writing grants or similar proposals. But overall, everything is done in direct support of the student.

Community college curricula are often very textbook-driven, and the library’s mission is often to supplement these with appropriate print books, ebooks, journals, databases and media. There aren’t as many “upper-division” classes due to the schools being two-year, so library instruction programs often focus more on introductory level courses and researchers who may be experiencing such lessons for the first time. The available programs at community college are often highly technical in nature, which can significantly alter the ways that librarians can add value.

By their nature open door institutions, community colleges attract an incredibly diverse group of students, which can be a challenge when teaching. But librarians can turn this into a benefit by taking extra effort to listen to the needs of all students and design instructional experiences that will benefit everyone.

The library staff at a community college is typically smaller than you would see at a research university, even when the school is quite big, and as a result librarians often have a variety of responsibilities. Salaries, however, are often higher, often due to the fact that community colleges can be more valued by state and local governments due to the close connection to workforce needs.

Another challenge for community college librarians is the fact that there is often high turnover among a faculty made up a significant percentage of adjuncts. This can make outreach much more challenging, even merely making all faculty aware that there is a library there to support them. (It also should be noted that community colleges aren’t the only place where this is an issue.) With regards to outreach to students, most community colleges are commuter rather than residential, so students often leave right after their classes. By designing and maintaining an attractive, comfortable space, however, librarians can make their building an attractive spot for students to camp out at during the day.

Often there is less financial support for librarians’ professional development than at four-year schools. Some options around this include getting involved on a local level; it is wise check to see if there is a state-wide consortium or nearby city where there are organizational meetings.

Despite some of these challenges, community college librarianship can be incredibly rewarding. Many times students are motivated by the opportunity to change their lives and you can truly see the impact of your work. I’ve found community college students of many different types–some the first in their family to attend college; others older and working or hoping to regain employment; still others completely new to the United States–who were incredibly appreciative of the library’s efforts to provide personalized assistance and help them navigate the often messy world of academic research.

Spending Time On Other Academic Library Websites to Make Yours Better

As librarians we constantly strive to ensure that our websites are easy to navigate and our language is relatively jargon-free. This can be a challenge when there are so many resources and services to highlight and also a wide variety of users such as underclassmen, grad students, research faculty and members of the wider community.

We are constantly tweaking and improving our sites in accordance with best practices, but an objective look at our own pages is often impossible because repeated use has conditioned us to behave in a certain way. We know exactly where to look for what we want. This is one reason why focus groups with new users are crucial for website redesigns.

I was reminded of these points as I perused another library site and came across a sentence that casually referred to the name of the the local catalog, the state-wide consortium and a local FAQ-type help service. Our website has nearly identical pages explaining our corresponding services, and as a librarian I was able to quickly understand what it was about, but seeing acronyms that meant absolutely nothing to me still made me step back and scratch my head for a second. It seemed foreign to me in a way my own library’s pages never could be, no matter how objective I tried to be.

And what if I were a student at that school? Would those acronyms lose me forever? In the age of apps and bite-sized pieces of content, research is increasingly showing that users take a quick scan of a new site and decide almost immediately if they want to stay or go. And if they go, they most often don’t return.

Also, what about navigation? On my own site I know all of the quick clicks to our catalog, to the research guides, to the A-Z Databases list. But many users not only don’t know where those links are, but even what the various services mean?.

This also had me eager to explore other “foreign” sites and try to approach them as I would as a student.

I don’t propose any grand suggestions to these major issues, but I do suggest that spending more time on “foreign” library sites can make a big difference; for helping break you out of the habits you’ve developed on your own site; for putting you in the shoes of a novice user; and for exposing you to a wide variety of possibilities for organizing an academic library website (or public, special, etc.).

Here’s an academic library game you can play to start to do this.

1. Go to a random university homepage. Get to library site as fast as possible. (Sometimes more difficult than you might assume!)

2. Once on the library site, see how quickly you can navigate to a series of pages. Suggestions:

  •         The local catalog
  •         The research/subject guides
  •         The state-wide consortium catalog
  •         The A-Z database list
  •         A list of databases by subjcect
  •         An email address for subject liasons
  •         etc. etc.

You can also ask yourself, what’s on this front page that I don’t care about/doesn’t seem necessary? What should be more prominently displayed? What jargon (local or otherwise) isn’t adequately explained. With these questions you’ll also be much more open-minded than on your own website.

This type of game can help you view a library site as a student and find barriers, which is impossible on your own site due to the fact that you use it every day, and it also makes you more well-versed in online systems and might give some fresh ideas as to what works and what doesn’t when you’re talking academic library websites.

How Four Databases Index Articles (Part 2)

This is the second part of an article about database indexing practices. View part one

Finally, the ERIC database serves a very different user group, so it features a fundamentally different indexing scheme. ERIC is the largest database of educational literature, so it focuses on issues in education research and policy instead of library and information science. It indexes many of the same journals as LISA, LISTA and Library Lit, but it often does so selectively, so as only to include articles that are specifically relevant to education. As such, the descriptors used are much different than both the library science databases and my own keyword terms. In addition to subject differences, the ERIC indexing staff has provided a much more thorough and detailed system of subject headings. Compared to LISA (3), LISTA (4) and Library Lit (2), ERIC features 18 descriptors. Interestingly, some of these keyword phrases are specific to education (class activities, teacher attitudes), but others are the same as the descriptors in the library science databases (information seeking, library instruction). This is most likely due to the overlap in education and library services and the importance that each plays in the other’s field of study.

As well as having more descriptors which lead to more subject entry points into the article, the language used in ERIC appears to correspond very well to likely user queries and some test searches helped confirmed that the system was effective for leading user s to relevant material through subject headings. A subject search for “information seeking” returned 2780 results, which is appropriate due to the broad nature of the phrase. Combining it with the subject phrase “undergraduate students” narrows the results to a very manageable 74.

All of this said, the effectiveness of any of these retrieval systems assumes a certain level of competence by the user. He or she must know the basics of how indexing works, how to search by subject headings, and what, if any, faceted search mechanisms are offered by the particular retrieval system. Any search system which features human chosen subject keywords is going to be different from all others; this is a result of both subtleties inherent in language as well as the various ways of interpreting an author’s intentions. The important part is that the retrieval systems strive to offer additional mechanisms to guide their users to the material that is most useful to them.

Works Cited

Leckie, G. J. “Desperately Seeking Citations: Uncovering Faculty Assumptions about the Undergraduate Research Process.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 22.3 (1996): 201-8. 16 Nov. 2010

An Investigation into the Indexing Practices of Four Databases: Part One

After reading a paper by Gloria Leckie titled “Desperately Seeking Citations,” I assigned it three keyword terms I thought were representative of the subject matter. These terms were “information seeking behavior-undergraduates,” “scholarly research” and “academic libraries-role.” [1] After comparing these to four databases, LISTA, LISA, Library Lit and ERIC, results showed five very different systems of subject headings.

My own terms were most similar to those of LISA, but the simple fact that the article’s message is inexact and can be interpreted in multiple ways means that no two systems will ever be exactly the same as long as the terms are applied by human indexers. In addition, some of the differences can partially be explained by the subject coverage of the databases, while others are simply due to individual indexing behavior and preferences by the organizations. Overall, they correspond to varying levels of effectiveness for their user groups, and Library Lit and ERIC were observed to be the most useful.

First, the LISTA and LISA databases featured rather similar descriptor systems, and initially seemed to be more effective than Library Lit; however, upon further investigation, Library Lit’s mechanisms for user discovery by subject appear to be superior. LISTA’s keyword terms were “information retrieval, report writing and library orientation for college students,” while LISA featured the descriptors “libraries, undergraduates, information seeking behaviour, and Faculty.” The subject coverage of the three databases is quite similar, but LISTA’s focus on technology may be reflected in their choice of “information retrieval.” Library Lit, on the other hand, used the keyword terms “bibliographic instruction/college and university students” and “college and university libraries/relations with faculty and curriculum.”

I initially thought that these terms made Library Lit less effective because they were not likely to correspond to search terms users would actually use. For example, I found it much less likely for a user to come up with terms like “bibliographic instruction” or “libraries/relations with faculty” on their own in a subject search than “undergraduates” or “information retrieval” which I thought were quite plausible. After performing some test searches, however, I changed my opinion. Regarding the LISA descriptors, the article only comes up if “behaviour” is spelled in the British manner including the “u,” a search query which returns 1176 peer-reviewed articles. However, a search for “information seeking behavior” returns two article citations containing that descriptor. This suggests that LISA has problems with indexing inconsistencies.

Also, after a closer examination, LISTA’s keyword phrases do not appear to be very effective. Users are not likely to use the term “library orientation” to describe the research process described in the article, and it did not appear to me that “information retrieval” was as significant a part of its subject matter as “faculty” or “information seeking,” two terms which it did not include in their indexing. Also, the subject phrases included are very broad, leading the user to over 20,000 articles and there does not appear to be an effective way to narrow your results if you begin with a subject search. Because of this, the effectiveness of subject headings for resource discovery is low.

On the other hand, Library Lit’s descriptors, which initially appeared to correspond poorly with actual user queries, actually function quite effectively in the context of the content discovery keys they provide. For example, a search for “undergraduate students” a likely user query which does not appear as a descriptor in the Leckie article citation, brings up several relevant subject phrases in the left sidebar of the page. One of these is “Bibliographic instruction/College and university students” from earlier, which takes the user to a less intimidating 1301 peer-reviewed articles including the Leckie piece. Their system also allows for easy further narrowing.

Continue Reading this Paper

[1] For my keyword terms with dashes, I envisioned them as part of a hierarchy. In my hypothetical search system, the Leckie article would show up under a more general query for “information seeking behavior,” and users would see an option to further narrow the search.

An Analysis of Two Very Different Online Collections: Use, Users and More

The two collections discussed here are the Japanese Woodblock Print collection at the University of California-San Francisco, representing a digitized version of physical holdings, and Arts Journal, a gateway to third-party public domain sources on the internet. While the collections share a few surface similarities, their intended user groups and organizational schemes have little in common. Users navigate them in very different ways, but both collections serve their intended users effectively.

The Woodblock Prints and Arts Journal both deal with themes of art and culture and they feature carefully selected collections that can be either narrowed by category or directly searched by keywords. Beyond that, major differences include scope, layout, organization and methods of accessing the collections.

The Woodblock Print collection, digitized versions of 400 seventeenth- to twentieth-century Japanese woodblock prints depicting health and its relationship with disease, religion and the West, is meant to serve a very specific user base. Intended users include researchers studying Japanese medicine, the history of Asian health practices or old Japanese art. The digitized images pertain to a narrow topic, so the collection would not likely attract many users from outside those areas. However, this unique collection is of interest to scholars worldwide, and its online presence means that researchers who are not able to travel to California are still able to benefit from it.

Arts Journal, on the other hand, appeals to a completely different type of user. The collection consists of links to articles taken from nearly 200 online newspapers that have been hand-selected by the editorial team. These articles cover a wide variety of topics in fine arts and culture in nine major categories, and new stories are posted every weekday, so the collection is constantly growing. The intended user group includes students, scholars, artists and art enthusiasts browsing for interesting and current news and commentary, most likely not trying to locate a particular article.

A scholar visiting the web site of the Woodblock Print collection would have no trouble understanding the scope of the collection and its organizational scheme, as it is all clearly laid out and well explained. Each of the 400 prints has its own page and all are accompanied by very detailed descriptive metadata. There are multiple ways to access the prints: narrowing by theme, performing a search by keywords or for an artist, or scrolling through a list of all the prints. The collection’s homepage is simple and clearly laid out with a horizontal navigation bar and a right sidebar that show the different ways the collection is arranged and the methods to search it. After browsing, the user will discover that there is some thematic overlap, but this is not problematic since they are all interrelated.

This organizational system serves the needs of the users very well. It is flexible, allowing them to retrieve and view prints using both known item searching (entering a specific artist or title) and exploratory searching (browsing a theme or entering keywords.) Right next to the search box is a link to a page with tips for Boolean and exact phrase searching and truncation. Finally, the homepage for each theme contains a helpful introductory essay describing the historical background and significance.

In contrast, the scope of the Arts Journal collection and its organization is significantly more complex. The outgoing links to the news-selected articles represent only one component, as the collection also includes about 25 in-house blogs written by staff writers and a section for a selected video of the day embedded from YouTube. Both the news articles and the blog posts can be narrowed by topic, but there is not much functionality to support known-item searches (it features only a Custom Google Search box that does not provide good precision due to the high volume of keywords on every page).

Arts Journal is also a commercial operation, so there is a separate classified section as well as banner advertisements. These resources, which include job listings and additional arts and culture websites, are often of value to users, but the fact that Arts Journal accepted money for their placement damages the credibility of their inclusion in the collection. Also, the third-party newspaper websites often have their own system of providing links to related articles. These two points reflect the idea that in this type of online gateway, the boundaries of the collection are often difficult to determine (Lee 2000).

All of Art Journal’s different elements are thrown together in a three-column layout that is almost exclusively text, so a user might initially be overwhelmed. The horizontal navigation displays the different topics of the articles, but it does not stand out. To view all the information on the homepage, the user must scroll down a long way, and certain sections including the list of blogs and the day’s headlines by topic are near the bottom.

Despite this home-page clutter, however, Arts Journal serves its users in several other important ways that make it much easier to manage. Users can sign up for an email newsletter covering all the top headlines that can be delivered either daily or in a weekly digest format. There are also various RSS subscription options. Users can sign up using the feed reader of their choice and subscribe to either all articles, articles on a particular topic or one or more of the blogs. The email subscription list boasts 30,000 subscribers, so it appears that the majority of the users are accessing the collection by means other than browsing the webpage.

Despite the major differences between the two collections, both the Woodblock Print collection and Arts Journal serve their user groups in effective ways.



Lee, Hur-Li. “What Is a Collection?” Journal of the American Society for Information Science 51.12 (2000): 1106-1113. Business Source Complete. EBSCO. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.

Marchionini, Gary. “Exploratory Search: From Finding to Understanding.” Communications of the ACM 49.4 (2006): 41-46. Business Source Complete. EBSCO. Web. 27 Sept. 2010.

The Information-Seeking Behavior of Today’s Latin American Researchers

The article “Researching Latin America: A Survey of How the Next Generation Is Doing Its Research” by Potts and Mazurkiewicz in Latin American Research Review investigates the information-seeking behavior of a very specific population: advanced-level university students belonging to the Latin American Studies Association (LASA).

In particular, the article examines how these students conducted their research, what particular tools they used in the discipline of Latin American studies and what level of bibliographic instruction they had previously received. The participants in the study were geographically dispersed across the United States and Puerto Rico and the vast majority was of Latino descent.

This user group is significant for several reasons. First, Latinos in the United States have had documented problems with using academic library resources (Haras et al. 2010, Solis and Dabbour 2010). In addition, this study’s specific population of doctoral and graduate students represents the next generation of teachers of Latin American studies. The manner in which this group conducts its research has implications for future generations of students as well.

While these advanced, graduate-level students have plenty of familiarity with using electronic resources for research, questions remain about whether they have an appropriate level of knowledge of discipline-specific databases that lead to higher quality information resources relevant to their investigations.

Potts and Mazurkiewicz’s methodology was a detailed three-part survey sent out to all 723 LASA members with postal codes in the United States and Puerto Rico, and it had a respectable return rate of 32%. The questions were mainly concerned with the students’ usage of print and electronic sources, their awareness of core Latin American information tools including a group of important subject databases and indexes (abbreviations HLAS, HAPI, LAPTOC and LANIC).

The authors found that the students did not overwhelmingly favor internet sources and that they still preferred to use traditional resources provided by the libraries. The students reported that their search strategy frequently included browsing the stacks and following journal citations to new articles.

This supports the popular viewpoint that users’ information-seeking behavior does not follow a linear pattern of a specific information query matched to an information source. Instead, the seeking process, both online and physical, is complex and evolving, and users often retrieve results one or two at a time and not all at once (Bates 1989).

The study’s findings relating to the use of discipline-specific information tools raise significant concerns, and suggest that Latin American bibliographic instruction in academic libraries, both in person and online, needs to be improved. Potts and Mazurkiewicz discovered that the students’ knowledge of the core Latin American databases was very low, as between 69 and 93 percent of respondents not only had not used the tools in the past year, but reported that they had never even heard of them.

It is troubling that such a high percentage of the next generation of Latin American studies instructors do not know of these core online resources, and the study’s findings imply that bibliographic instruction in Latin American studies needs to be improved at many institutions. 65 percent of respondents reported that they had never had an instruction session with a librarian and 55 percent said that they had not had a course or professor direct them on how to conduct their research.

The authors suggest that part of the problem is the fact that in many cases, graduate-level faculty do not provide these resources because they assume the students have already received such instruction before. This is not always the case, as the strategies needed to conduct research for undergraduate-level courses are much different than Latin American master’s and doctoral programs, and each specific discipline has its own specific tools. Faculty should work more closely with librarians to plan bibliographic instruction sessions, whether that be a class session in the library or just a short visit and lecture from the consulting librarian about how to conduct research on Latin America.

Today, bibliographic instruction does not just occur in person, and Potts and Mazurkiewicz do not address the benefits of online guides for teaching research skills. The Latin American studies programs at these institutions should be listing the core databases on their websites along with an explanation of how to find sources. Universities that subscribe to Libguides software can easily create subject specific guides that can be very helpful for students. The authors did not ask any questions about whether the students’ institutions offered any of these tools, and it is possible that the students who did not have a formal session with a librarian had indeed been using online tools created by the library. The statistics about database knowledge, however, suggest that this area of bibliographic instruction still needs great improvement.

Works Cited:

Bates, M J. “The design of browsing and berrypicking techniques for the online search interface.” Online Review 13.5 (1989): 407-424. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts.

Haras, Catherine, Edward M. Lopez, and Kristine Ferry. “(Generation 1.5) Latino Students and the Library: A Case Study.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 34.5 (2008): 425-433. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts.

Mazurkiewicz, Orchid, and Claude H. Potts. “Researching Latin America. A Survey of How the New Generation is Doing its Research.” Latin American Research Review 42.3 (2007): 161-182. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts.

Solis, Jacqueline, and Katherine S. Dabbour. “Latino students and libraries: a US federal grant project report.” New Library World 107.1/2 (2006): 48-56. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts.