Tackling the Student Achievement Gap

BCC Librarian Heather Dodge on Taking a Holistic Approach 

By Tamara Sherman

Photo courtesy of Heather Dodge

Being a librarian is not just about loving books and enjoying reading. In her fourth year as a BCC Librarian, Heather Dodge, views her position more holistically on campus. She incorporates teaching, relationship building, counseling, and being of service. She recently sat down with the BCC voice to discuss her dogged determination to get low cost textbooks to students, sitting on five committees, breaking down the achievement gap, and how she ended up in the documentary, “112 Weddings.”

Where were you working before coming to BCC?

I am a Bay Area native, but I was living in New York for six years. I have been a librarian since 2010 and have worked at New York University, New York Society library, and two years at Manhattan College. I moved back to the Bay Area in 2013.

What took you to the East coast?

I never intended to go to library school. I had my bachelor’s degree and I really loved literature and research. I started a master’s program at New York University thinking that I would go on to get a PhD. My master’s program was in comparative literature. I started that program and while I was there, I happened to be in the library and saw a poster about a scholarship opportunity to get a library degree at the same time as getting another master’s degree. The application was due in two weeks. I applied for it on a whim because I already spent a lot of time in the library as it was, and then I ended up getting the scholarship. I was able to get my master’s degree at NYU and get my library degree for free. So that was great.

Was that your ah-ha moment?

I think it was sort of an ah-ha moment. I was going to be in my second year of my master’s program, and I would have to start applying to PhD programs. I did not want to be locked away doing my own writing for five to six years. What I really found that I enjoyed was being with students, being in a research environment; I really enjoyed that context. I am much more sociable than I was just being an academic. All these factors aligned, and I decided to take that path.

As of March, you are tenured faculty. What does that mean for you career-wise at BCC?

It means I can start being noisier because I am not under the gun so much. It also means I had good guidance from faculty members both at the library and other disciplines that helped me with my teaching and cultivating my service to the campus. In the past four years, I have done a lot of exploring of what is of interest to me, what areas I want to cultivate in myself as a leader. I think being a librarian is unique in that I don’t just have the perspective of my discipline. I have student contact because I teach my own class, I see students in the library, and I go into the classroom and teach students how to do research in different disciplines, all of which has given me a nice perspective of the whole campus. It also helped me cultivate a service interest and figure out areas that I am interested in working in. There is a perception that librarianship is about books and technology, and that is one aspect of it, but it is also about relationships and community building. I think those two pieces are as important as having a strong physical and digital collection in the library. The more you are out in the community and the more you are out on the campus, the more faculty and students see you as being a relevant and available part of their learning experience.

From your experience working with faculty and students, how have your interests broadened?

There have been a couple that I have really become interested in. One of those is the achievement gap. [The achievement gap is a reference to significant disparity in educational performance nationwide, between high and low-income students and/or white and minority students]. I came from NYU and Manhattan College which are private colleges. Although NYU is racially and ethnically diverse, it is not economically diverse. Manhattan College tends to attract suburban kids who want to be in an urban environment, but it is not racially or ethnically diverse. One of my bigger interests is how we can eliminate the achievement gap and what is my role in that. Not just as a campus looking at metrics, but what role do I individually play on this campus to help that. One piece is that I have been teaching with the Umoja Learning Community,  as an embedded librarian. The students are amazing.

Also, I am looking at the cost of textbooks and course materials. It’s astounding; it’s so expensive. I have become really invested in working on our campus and state wide to make textbooks more affordable and to use open and free textbooks that students can download as a PDF or faculty can offer as low-cost readers. So, I have been doggedly going after some of the disciplines that have really high-cost textbooks and trying to encourage faculty to switch to low-cost or free textbooks. And that is one way to help lessen the achievement gap because if students can afford the materials, then that is less of a barrier to them getting into a class. Students should have access to materials and they need to be low cost or free.

How many BCC committees are you on?

The Education Committee, Facilities Committee, The Planning for Institutional Effectiveness (PIE) Committee, which does assessment, and the Communications Task Force. I was recently elected chair of our department, so next year I will sit on the Chairs Committee. I am also the coordinator of our Teaching and Learning Center, where faculty can apply for small grants to test out new teaching practices or work in small groups to come up with solutions to pedagogical problems.

Being active on so many committees, building relationships with students, and being involved on campus—is there a part of you that believes in service and giving back?

I would say service is at the heart of being a librarian. Service to your campus, service to your population or community—that is the heart of it. [My job] is really divided into half service and half teaching, which is nice. I get a lot of pleasure out of seeing the big picture on our campus and seeing the way different parts fit together and different people work together and being part of that.

How do you decide the acquisitions for the library and do you have a monetary cap per year?

It’s really faculty driven. We take suggestions from faculty. We also look at which programs are developing here on campus. We look at the strengths and weaknesses of our physical collection and we add based on those. Surprisingly, we do not have a book budget. The California State Lottery set aside funds that are just for textbooks so sometimes we get those. Sometimes we get money from the Peralta Foundation and that is how we maintain our reserve of textbooks along with faculty giving us copies. But the books you see on the shelves, we have to fight, stomp our feet, and demand from our administration to give us funds. Rowena Tomaneng, our new president has been incredibly supportive of the library. She recognized a need to build our multi-cultural collection of books and she gave us some funds to do that. We have been able to build up our collection in that are.

What is the most under-utilized library service from your experience?

At BCC, we have a chat library function where you can chat with a librarian. I am surprised in this era of texting and so much revolved around short-hand conversations that more people don’t use our chat service. Also, through an amazing gift, we have a really robust zine collection. We have all these awesome zines, and I wish that more students would come in and read them. I wish that faculty would come and take them to their classes. It is definitely a collection that for me, pedagogically, I feel like there are a lot of voices that go under-represented and that having a strong zine collection is a way for those voices come to the forefront. You have more LGBTQ people— people from different religions and different racial backgrounds can have an alternative way of having their voice heard. I’m still working on other ways to have better representation in our collection, but that is a way to do it quickly and for people to have an in-road.

If the administration had extra money and you were allowed to have something for the library, what would that be?

More staff. I really love our physical collection, but I am under no presumptions that books are going to circulate more if we have more books. I would love to have another full-time librarian and that librarian to have just one focus, like outreach at events for underrepresented populations on our campus.

Tell me about “112 weddings”?

I love documentaries and film festivals. When I was living in New York, I went to see a documentary and I met the director, Doug Block. He had made a previous movie that I really liked called “51 Birch Street.” I saw him in the audience and we started talking. He said he was working on a new documentary about being a wedding videographer. I said, “I’m getting married this summer,” and he said “That’s very interesting because I’m looking for a wedding to film that would be the capstone of this documentary.” I said, “That’s great; I don’t have any money to hire a wedding videographer; if you ever think about doing that, get in touch.”

He emailed me three weeks later, and asked if he could film our wedding for free, and we would be in his documentary. I was like, “I’m all for free stuff.” So, he came and filmed. While it was happening, I was sort of annoyed because his film style is in your face, and he was always asking me questions like, “So what’s gonna happen if this marriage does not work out for you?”

We got a traditional wedding video from him, and we did not hear from him for four years. Then he called and said HBO picked up the documentary, and it is going to be in all these film festivals, and he asked if we wanted to come to a bunch of the openings. We did not actually get to see the whole film until we were sitting in a theater in North Carolina. It was really nerve-wracking but it was really fun. It is one of those weird blips in my life.

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