The Value of Community Colleges and Community College Library Work

Editors Note: To celebrate Community College Month, ACRL has asked the CJCLS leadership to share the value of libraries at community colleges.

My name is Robin Brown and I am Chair of the ACRL Community and Junior College Section (CJCLS).  Our Vice Chair Vicky Hart and I would like to discuss why we believe community college work is so important. 

Robin Brown:

I am Head of Public Services and Professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC).  It’s a very large (20K) and diverse institution. We have students from 155 different countries.

I have a very rich and complex job, but the most important, and most delightful part of my job is the opportunity to work with our students. That’s why I prioritize public service, teaching and one-on-one appointments.

Why is community college work so important? Community colleges provide an accessible entrance into higher education. We provide education that powers social and economic mobility. Community colleges change lives. This is why I felt drawn into community colleges.  It truly is an opportunity to work out a personal call to try to make the world a better place. 

We get everybody. I have worked in the State University. University students are likely to be the same age as the rest of their classmates.  Not so in the Community College. We get traditional college students, career changers, mothers, grandmothers. The real delight that I have always found among the students that I have worked with is that they are all different. 

Because of the significant diversity at BMCC, I have been drawn into anti-racism and have sought training, so that I can grow in understanding, and compassion for our students. This study has increased my belief in the importance of the work that we are doing at BMCC.  I continue to be grateful for an opportunity to model the change I would like to see in the world.

Vicky Hart:

My name is Vicky Hart.  I am the Director of Library Services at Northeast Lakeview College, a member of the Alamo Colleges District in the greater San Antonio area.  NLC was recently designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution, and in 2019, was listed as one of the 50 best Community Colleges in the U.S.  This is the third community college where I have worked…I just keep returning to where it really matters.  Where what we do really matters.

Why do community colleges matter?  Because they are accessible to anyone and everyone.  I have begun to turn my focus to student success through diversity, equity and inclusion.  My core values of social justice, service, and integrity have provided the compass that has guided me in my 35-year academic journey.  I believe in openly discussing and celebrating diversity in both the workplace and the classroom.  Keeping this in mind, I tolerate only the highest level of respect for one another.  Diversity is more than what you look like and where you came from; it also involves how you think, learn, and communicate.  In my work at NLC, I strive to create an open, inclusive, and equal opportunity environment for students, faculty, and staff where they have the ability to engage comfortably and find the answers they specifically need.  My greatest strengths concerning diversity are listening and advocating, and I try every day to lead my staff by example.

Another issue that keeps me focused is censorship.  The state of Texas has amped up its book banning in the K-12 environment.  The NLC Library serves the Judson Early College Academy (a high school) located here on our campus.  If a book has been banned and removed from the shelf in a Texas high school, we try to make sure we have a copy.  The best way to fight censorship is to make the materials available for anyone to access.  Check out our campus/library initiative:  NLC Censorship Expo

Our library also works closely with Disability Support Services on campus.  My awareness about these services was raised when I supervised a reference librarian who is deaf.  Sharing his frustration trying to get accommodations was eye opening.  And after the pandemic, the greater need for mental health awareness and well-being has really been highlighted here.  Several of my staff, and I, have become Mental Health First Aiders to serve our campus.

These examples just show that community colleges are like a family.  We care about our college community… academically, socially, and emotionally.  I wouldn’t want it any other way.