Information Transfer in the Community College Library

Ransom Jabara

LI 835 Information Transfer in the Disciplines
Emporia State University

To examine information transfer, one has to be keenly aware of the setting. Different types of libraries serve different missions, and this has an effect on the means of transferring information. Even in academia, there are a variety of library settings, each with its own focus. Community colleges, 4-year baccalaureate institutions, and universities with graduate programs, must each approach information transfer differently. By focusing on one of these institutions, in this instance the community college, a librarian can tailor his or her efforts in providing effective information transfer.

At two community colleges I interviewed instructors regarding their use of information resources and library services. I also sat in on their lectures to observe what resources they were using in the classroom. The first class was an Intercultural Communications course. It was being held at a large, urban community college in the Oregon. The second class was Human Anatomy and Physiology. It was held at a smaller, urban community college in south-central Kansas. Both courses were being held away from their college’s main campus. The location in Oregon had an onsite library; while the Kansas location did not.

Student Learning in the Classroom

In the classroom it is up to the instructor to facilitate information transfer. The two classes that I observed varied greatly in their approach to student learning. The Communications class took a constructivist approach. Constructivism, contributed to by William James, Frederick C. Barlett, and many others, illustrates that students learn through adapting and building on previous experiences and preconceived notions. The idea behind constructivism is that memorization is an ineffective means of instructing (Aber, 1). The Communications instructor attempted to relate Communication theories to real-life experiences with which the students could connect.

On the other end of the spectrum was the Human Anatomy and Physiology instructor. She relied almost entirely on memorization as a means of student learning. Her pupils feverishly transcribed her every utterance because the tests came directly from her lecture. Her form of teaching included almost zero student involvement. She had been teaching the subject area for many years and seemed unwilling to explore new ideas.

This method of instruction is dangerous in the sciences because new research is adding important information to the disciplines. Science professors in research universities require specialized information that changes quickly as new research is added. This new information often has poor bibliographic control and is not easily labeled. It is often referred to as “gray literature.” The name originated with British librarians and has been used by J. Bichteler to described information sources used in the geosciences (Aber, 2). Gray literature is not a widely utilized resource at the community college level. A science instructor at a community college tends to cover the discipline broadly. Still, it is unwise for any instructor to ignore changes in the field.

Library as a Resource

With both instructors, I found that the library was largely ignored as a resource. The instructors rarely utilized the library for class preparation. They did not put resources on reserve at the library. The information sources they had in class were found through avenues other than the library. The instructors did not consult an information professional for assistance in selecting a textbook.

It is possible that community college instructors feel a disconnect from the library because of the nature of the institution. In the introduction to David Dowell’s 2005 textbook, It’s All About Student Learning: Managing Community and Other College Libraries in the 21st Century , he notes that community colleges differ from other academic institutions because a community college’s primary focus is on teaching, as opposed to creating new information. Without having to publish their own research, many instructors might find it possible to make do without the library’s services. This is unfortunate because the contents of the library should align perfectly with what is being taught in the classroom. The community college’s library collection is only required to support the current curriculum; and does not need to be on par with research level facilities.

Another interesting point Dowell notes is that unlike most university librarians, community college librarians are on equal footing with the faculty. The credentials of the librarian are similar to those of the teaching staff. This gives the librarian more clout in creating change and influencing progress in the institution. The librarian’s focus should be on student learning. Therefore it is the duty of the community college librarian to push for a curriculum that fosters information literacy.

Unfortunately, my experience in observing information transfer in a community college classroom, does not lead me to believe that information literacy is a top objective of the instructors. The Communications class I observed did not require students to access any specific library resources. The instructor, having taught the class previously, once had students look up notable speeches using a set of reference books in the library, but has since decided to simply have her students Google those speeches. This is a prime example of where an information professional could have been used to help the students identify authoritative resources. The instructor may have inadvertently instilled dangerous information seeking habits that the student will have to unlearn at the university level.

In the Human Anatomy and Physiology class, the instructor did require her students to access some library resources. Students were expected to acquire journal articles regarding a pertinent medical subject for a literature review/research paper. The students were to search for these articles in databases on the school’s library website. There was no instruction given on how to use the databases. This would have been a perfect opportunity for the instructor to reach out to the library and ask a librarian to give a tutorial on the subject.

Discussion

While both of the instructors could have incorporated more library resources in their courses, it is the task of the community college librarian to make known the library’s resources. Dowell (2005) noted that a reason library services are overlooked is because information professionals are not tangibly showing how the library’s services are benefiting students. Library services must be marketed on campuses and statistics should be presented to expose what the library is doing and what the library could be doing to increase student success.

Getting students actively involved in the information transfer process contributes to their intellectual development. Library professionals at community colleges need to reach out to both students and faculty. The library needs to be marketed as one of the most crucial places for student learning. Instructors could use library resources to enhance their lectures with visual components, hands-on activity, and fresh information. They might uncover alternate teaching methods and locate supplements for class lectures. Students can find information to complete assignments, all-the-while preparing for the research to be done in their academic futures.

Conclusions

Community college libraries are unique. The key purpose of a community college is to open higher education and lifelong learning to each member of the community. They do not have to be encumbered with building collections that can be used by researchers decades down-the-line. Community college libraries are charged with presenting information that is pertinent to the current curriculum and should thereby be perfectly suited for students new to academia. A librarian in one of these colleges can focus on today’s information needs for both students and instructors.

Reference


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Copyright 2007 Ransom Jabara. All rights reserved. Webpage created: December 12, 2007.