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.