Information Literacy in Community Colleges Focused on Learning
Warren, Leslie A., Reference & User Services Quarterly
Ten years ago, Branch and Gilchrist used this column to discuss information literacy at two-year colleges. (1) They identified several unique challenges and trends that impacted library instruction at the community and technical colleges. The trends and issues Branch and Gilchrist identified in community-college instruction in the 1990s have not only continued but deepened. The student body, which was diverse a decade ago, is even more so now. The collaborations and partnerships have continued to develop, particularly given the acceptance of information literacy outside the libraries. Instructional technology, which is quickly embraced by the teaching-focused community college faculty, has grown quickly and expanded the classroom to allow for greater participation less limited by the bounds of time and space. Teaching, or more accurately ensuring learning, continues to be the mission of community colleges, their faculty, and their libraries.
Community Colleges' Reputation and Growth
Community colleges are typically regionally accredited, two-year institutions offering associate degrees, although about a dozen states now allow public community colleges to offer bachelor degrees. (2) Central to the community college mission is that its target audience is local. These institutions are directly connected to a particular group of people, making clear whose needs are to be served and allowing for natural, geographic partnerships. Community college libraries are unique to academic libraries because they can identify specific feeder high schools and work to bridge the transition between high school and college information literacy instruction.
In general, the colleges serve five curricular purposes: academic transfer preparation, vocational-technical education, developmental education, continuing education, and community service. (3) As Cohen notes in his respected book The American Community College:
Community college programs do not stay in neat categories when the concepts underlying them and the purposes for which students enroll in them are scrutinized. Although the courses in the sciences are almost always listed as part of the collegiate program, they are career education for students who will work in hospitals or medical libraries. (4)
Having these multiple missions creates a diverse, dynamic environment that brings together multiple perspectives, enhanced further by rapid expansion. Community colleges in the United States are experiencing even greater enrollment growth than four-year institutions. Enrollment in two-year colleges increased by 18 percent between 1998 and 2002. Four-year college enrollment increased by 11 percent during the same time period. (5) Libraries, particularly those with solid information literacy instruction programs, have faced challenges in scalability of the instruction program, increasing diversity in the students, and in prioritizing resources.
This growth fits with a positive image in the media and in politics. Community colleges, which have long played a significant role in higher education in the United States, have been in the spotlight recently. According to American Association of Community Colleges President George Boggs, speaking in 2004, community colleges are more highly regarded than ever before: "We've been seeing the two presidential candidates campaigning on community college campuses. We're seeing President Bush mentioning community colleges in the State of the Union message and in his acceptance speech at the convention." (6)
In testimony to Congress, then-Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan promoted the community colleges' role in workforce development and lifelong learning:
One area in which educational investments appear to have paid off is our community colleges. These two-year institutions are playing a similar role in preparing our students for work life as did our early twentieth-century high schools in that less technically oriented era. …