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Dissertation Summation

An Examination into the Library’s Influence on Community College Success, by Kate McGivern

Kate McGivern. Photo by Joan Dalrymple.
About Dissertation Summation: In Dissertation Summation, we read a dissertation related to community colleges and their libraries and note the key takeaways for you. This summary is more than an abstract but not the entire dissertation... because you don't have the time to read dissertations; you work in a community college! This segment provides an opportunity to highlight the doctoral work in the LIS field in community colleges and share the great research our colleagues are conducting. If we are lucky, you also hear from the author as they reflect later on their process.

Do you have a dissertation you've completed that meets this criterion? Please comment below so we can share your research work with the population most interested. Please include full citations of your work.

Citation

Introduction

McGivern’s Dissertation An Examination into the Library’s Influence on Community College Success considers the links between “award-winning community colleges using the framework created by the ACRL Standards” (pp. 4-5) and if there are links between libraries and high-achieving community colleges. The researcher looks at winners of the Aspen Prize and those that have also been awarded the ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award to determine if there are “commonalities in practices, procedures, and policies” (p. 7) at these libraries “that make them a valuable asset to the institutions” (p. 7). This study had a sample size of three institutions, but due to issues with IRB offices, only two of the three eligible institutions participated in the in-person interview visits for this study. The research questions for this study were (p. 8):

  1. What are the characteristics of excellent community college libraries?
  2. What are the commonalities between the award-winning libraries which influenced their colleges’ recognition?
  3. How did the libraries at these community colleges contribute toward the college’s success?

Methodology

The methodology used in this study was a multiple- or collective- case study design utilizing qualitative data (p. 34). The author utilized interviews, documents, observations, and artifacts as evidence to inform this study (p. 8). They also utilized data from NCES and documents and reports that the institution provided. Site visits were conducted with two of the three selected institutions, and interviews were conducted with the head of the library and the Chief Academic Officer (p. 9) at each of these institutions. The researcher did not interview the third library since “the institution’s review board did not respond to a request for research approval” (p. 9).

Assumptions

The researcher makes assumptions about the awards provided to the institution in the “assumptions” portion of the study. They state that ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries “are examples of the best community college libraries. This designation sets them apart from other community college libraries and defines them as excellent” (p. 10). I struggle with this assumption as libraries are nominated (by themselves or others) for this award as the library must be aware of the award’s existence and have been able to put forth the time and effort to complete this application. This award has only existed since 2000. The Aspen Prize has only been in place since 2011. This study assumes that the Aspen Prize and the ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries award are actually signs of quality and equate to successful libraries and community colleges. A limited history provides very few institutions for this sample.

Using the multiple-case study design, the researcher conducted in-person interviews with two of the three institutions. These interviews were recorded and transcribed by the researcher themselves and were conducted within the same month. The researcher coded the data, utilized software to assist with this process, and created codes aligned with the ACRL Standards.

Key Findings/Outcomes:

Regarding the findings and the anticipated outcome, the author states that they “anticipated that the study results would show a correlation between the Aspen Award-winning institutions and their libraries” and that the results would “indicate similar characteristics of excellence for all the college libraries of the study” (p. 38). The researcher found similarities between the institutions that included the following characteristics: “librarians are members of the faculty, with tenure, professional rank and representation in the college governance” (p. 60) and that librarians are considered partners in the “educational journey of their students and… a commitment to service to the college community” (p. 60). The researcher organized findings with each research question. Findings for each question are as follows:

What are the characteristics of excellent community college libraries?

The researcher found the following consistent characteristics (p. 69):

  • Intentional engagement in the greater college community
  • Collaboration with faculty and staff
  • Librarians that are active in college-wide activities and governance
  • Openness to change and willingness to adapt
  • Creativity and innovation with resources
  • Belief in the educational role of the library

What are the commonalities between the award-winning libraries which influenced their colleges’ recognition?

The researcher found the following commonalities (pp. 86-88):

  • Knowledge of their value to the institution
  • Contribution to institutional leadership and participation
  • Partnership in teaching and learning
  • Service

How did the libraries at these community colleges contribute toward the college’s success?

The researcher found that they contributed to success in the following ways (pp 89-91):

  • Responsiveness to student needs
  • Using data to assess and demonstrated value
  • Engage in the college community
  • Actively engage students
  • Participate in professional development
  • Lead innovation

Limitations & Study Recommendations

The researcher noted the following limitations to their study (pp. 101-102):

  • The need for a larger sample of community colleges.
  • Not all documents were available from all the institutions, and only two data sources were available for all institutions.
  • Data coding was limited to the nine ACRL Standards, and it only addressed the first research question.
  • A second researcher from outside of the field of librarianship would be beneficial.

The researcher provided five recommendations from this study and suggestions for further research. The researcher suggests that more “research should be conducted into library perception and value of other institutional stakeholders, especially community college administrator and Board of Trustee members” (p. 111). They also suggest in their second recommendation for further research that the value of faculty status for community college librarians is examined (p. 114).

Study Significance

The significance of this study is that it fills a major gap in the LIS literature for community college libraries. There is a gap in the amount of literature published on the whole about community college libraries and specifically a large gap related to community college library assessment, the value of community college libraries, and the perception of community college library value by campus administrators. This adds to a baseline of knowledge about the value assessment of community college libraries and compares two relatively new awards in librarianship and community colleges, which could be indicators of success. This study is limited as it only examines three institutions but provides a starting point and a direction for assessing the perceived value of community college libraries by library directors/deans and college administrators. 

Commentary & Author’s Notes:

I asked Kate McGivern to share her insights and feedback about her dissertation, doctoral pursuits, and research work. Kate shared with me that she enjoyed the entire process of pursuing her Ed.D in Community College Leadership. At first, she did not plan to pursue her doctorate, but when an on-campus cohort program was offered, she decided to go for it and thoroughly enjoyed the coursework and entire research process.

Kate selected this research topic because she was passionate about student success outcomes related to libraries and wanted to know if there was a correlation between “great libraries and their institutions being recognized for excellence” through awards like the Aspen Prize. She advises that picking a research topic that you are passionate about makes the process seem like a breeze, but noted that the best motivating factor for conducting this research and pursuing her degree is that she was “doing it for me” and that even if it takes longer than expected, that is okay and to still count that “as a success.” The most difficult part of the research process was the repetition of some of the writing in the dissertation process. Kate notes that “some chapters started to feel like they were stating the same thing, over and over,” which made it difficult for her to recall what was addressed already and what was not, but “that is part of the dissertation process.”

When asked if Kate would change her research in any way, she stated that she “would not change it at all.” She loves the work that came from her study. Kate added that in addition to this research, a few more recent positives have come from this work. Kate has recently received full professor status at her institution, Bergen Community College, and has been asked to serve as Vice Chair of the American Association of Community Colleges’ National Council for Learning Resources committee https://nclr-aacc.org/ due to her research work.

Kate can be contacted further about her research work at: kmcgivern@bergen.edu

3 replies on “Dissertation Summation”

If you would like your dissertation featured, please comment here or contact: Terra Jacobson, jacobsont6[at]morainevalley[dot]edu

I’m so delighted to see this. I’m looking forward to working with Kate in NCLR, and also to digging into the dissertation as a whole.

I’d also be happy to have my dissertation shared on this blog: Hepburn, P. (2021). Minding the Gap: Librarians and Career Pathways in Community College Administration (Doctoral dissertation, Arizona State University).

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