High School Students on a Community College Campus? The Celebrations and Challenges of Working with a New Population

By Julia Mielish

In the spring of 2006, the Craven Community College library faced a new challenge to the college student population - Early College. Early College is a concept being introduced around the country where a high school is placed on a community college campus. Students attend high school and community college classes and after five years, obtain both an associate degree in general education and a high school diploma. Craven Early College was introduced to the library late spring in 2005 and like most libraries we asked “how can we help you?” Three years later, we are understanding, learning and encountering challenges for this new demographic of student.

In our first two years, we tried to let the teachers and students know of our existence. They came to the library for a tour and orientation at the beginning of the school year. We started buying a few young adult fiction books, solicited ideas from staff and students and bought anything they asked. We were just happy to see people in the library. As students started preparing for a graduation project, librarians began visiting classes and completing instruction sessions on online resources. We discovered that the library had subscribed to one database, Gale’s Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. The database was linked with a multimedia subscription, Discovery Education Streaming Media, owned by the school district. This was a boon for these students as it meant they were able to access two databases from a single search.

This third year, we are learning to grow in new directions. Services have blossomed and so has the population, which increased to 150 students. From the beginning of the semester, we have focused more on working with the teachers to incorporate their ideas into our book selection and instruction. We created a young adult collection, formed from teacher selections, YALSA booklists and selections found at ALA Annual. We added a graphic novel collection and also a popular DVD collection.

We are approaching instruction differently this year. We focus more on specialized research for their projects, teaching smaller sessions and incorporating a lot of activities to keep the students’ attention. Sessions in Early College last an hour and there is usually some disruption during that time period; generally we found the students’ attention spans to be smaller than what we were used to. We give a short instruction and let them perform some guided play with a selected topic. Then we move on to the next database. We also show them 2.0 strategies that they can use to help them with research. We discovered Boolify.org over the summer and have spent some time this semester talking to the juniors about search strategy and Boolean concepts. Many of them use Mozilla Firefox, so we are able to show them add-ons that they can use to facilitate their online work.

Our challenges have been few, but still require our time and effort. The major area we have to address is computer usage. Being minors, the laptops provided to them through various grants and such are filtered and by law, they cannot use unfiltered computers. Our library computers are geared for adult students and are not filtered. As the high school group grows up and looks more like a regular college student, how do we determine who is and isn’t a student and how do we effectively “police” the lab so that the Early College students don’t sneak in?

Another concern is the use of the library as an after school hangout for those who do not get picked up until later in the day. There aren’t very many of these students, but enough that they create noise, and can disturb other students at times.

So, as the Early College grows and our students grow older, what can we learn about these students that can make our job with them easier? We need to remember that these students are insightful and intelligent and that we are an integral part of their learning. Secondly, that it is O.K. for them to make noise in the library when hanging out after school. They are coming here as opposed to hanging outside or in other buildings and that is a good choice. Most libraries are fighting the battle of getting students to use the facility, and these students are here. They need us and our presence as much as we need them. We need to embrace their choices for books and buy, buy, buy. They read and that is good.

When I left the public library to move to the academic arena, I never thought I would work in a young adult environment again. I have found that this student body is unique, intelligent and will seek me out as a tool, a resource and a friend. I’ve been asked to help with personal issues and for “fashionable tampax”; I have been crowned an Early College Champion. The last few years have been a great opportunity to embrace this group and I feel confident that our library will continue to work with the challenges this group hands us and rejoice in their celebrations.