The Community and Two-Year College Library Interest Group met in April for a virtual sound off to reconnect and discuss experiences across institutions during the past year. We had originally planned an article discussion meeting on current trends in community college libraries but decided to pivot our approach due to some factors that presented themselves in our group over the past two years. This group had been experiencing low attendance due to Covid-19; because of this, and the anticipated burnout of our colleagues, we decided to discuss experiences at our institutions over the past year and any challenges or difficulties we were facing personally and in our libraries. This will be a short exploration of the key takeaways of our session to connect with others who are experiencing similar obstacles at their institutions.
Some of the challenges that arose in our discussion surrounded lower enrollments, budget cuts, and staffing. Librarians in the discussion noted that they are walking into empty or near empty libraries on a regular basis. Community colleges across the United States are facing declines in enrollment and while this problem extends beyond the library, discussion quickly turned to how we as librarians can work to increase the foot traffic in our facilities. Programming and promoting the library as a space that is more than just a place to study and do research emerged as potential areas where we can focus our energies. One librarian talked about a breakout-room style scavenger hunt that they put on in their library in the Fall semester that was successful and brought in students who may not normally visit the library. This scavenger hunt allowed students an opportunity to interact with various library tools like the library catalog and the LibGuides in a fun, low-stakes activity. While this activity and the others discussed were successful at bringing in students, they also opened up the discussion to some other challenges, like staffing and budget cuts. In order to run a successful program, one needs to have staff to plan and execute the event and money for supplies or prizes. The problem of staffing affects more than just programming. One librarian indicated that she is the only employee at her library, making even day to day operations challenging without having even student workers to provide some assistance.
Another challenge that arose in our session was the universal feeling of burnout that was experienced across institutions. One of the main discussion points of this topic was how libraries can be an emotional temperature gauge on campus, and how the emotions/burnout of students and faculty can transfer to librarians. This sentiment was felt universally across the group, and a few personal stories were shared about the importance of our flexibility and empathy on campus. This topic concluded with our collective assertion that while the year had been difficult for us all and burnout is a real issue we are facing, we also noted our students and colleagues’ resilience and are extremely proud of how we have all handled these uncertain times.
–Meagan Fowler, Cuyahoga Community College
–Zoe Orcutt, Lakeland Community College