January 20, 2022

Ithaka S+R Shares Insights From Roundtable Discussions with Community College Library Leaders

From an Ithaka S+R Blog Post by Melissa Blakenstein and Dylan Ruediger:

Earlier this year, we conducted a national survey of community college library directors, asking detailed questions about their current service provision and future plans, while also covering the pandemic’s impact on funding, services, and strategy. As we analyzed survey results for publication next month, we realized that it would be valuable for library directors and those in equivalent positions to be provided with a forum for sharing and discussing their pandemic experiences with colleagues from around the country. 

To that end, we hosted four roundtable discussions this spring, at which 31 community college library leaders shared their challenges and successes over the past year and reflected on how their experiences will shape the future of their libraries and student support initiatives.To promote candor within these conversations, we did not record these sessions, and neither participants nor institutions will be named here. However, because much of what we learned is likely to be useful for other library directors as well as senior administrators outside of the library, we are sharing some key insights from these conversations here.  


Unsurprisingly, the time since March 2020 has been difficult for library leaders, particularly in the pandemic’s early months. Leaders who attended our discussions still had vivid memories of the chaos of the time, when planning seemed constantly overtaken by the course of events. The uncertainty of keeping the library open, the pressure to adapt to new circumstances in real-time, and the continual need to make and then re-make plans took a substantial toll on the roles and responsibilities of library leaders and staff. As one library leader mentioned, “we learned to rethink things on the fly. Planning is obviously important, but we’ve learned to live without structure and with uncertainty.” Some leaders also reported that they were sometimes left to make decisions about policies relating to staff and users with little guidance from senior administrators, especially in the spring of 2020. 


Library leaders unanimously reported that their roles grew substantially during the pandemic, particularly in the area of student support. This is a space where community college libraries, like many four year college libraries, were already engaged, but the exigencies of COVID-19 made student support more urgent and complicated. Although the need for increased student support occurred across higher education, this was particularly challenging at community college libraries who have much larger staff to student ratios than those at four year schools.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.