I have not taught in the proper, stand-in-front-of-the-classroom-and-spend-all-weekend-grading-papers sense in a while, but there are certain aspects of teaching that I engage in every day as a librarian. Among these is the always essential ability to know when a topic is likely to produce a “workable” research question, and when it needs to be redeveloped (or tossed). It’s always difficult to help a student who refuses to believe their research subject will not yield a good paper, whether due to lack of information available (more often than not because the student waited too long to find worthwhile information), or because the topic is too broad or narrow in scope to produce a thorough discussion or analysis. Even harder is the task of helping a student whose research topic has been assigned to them by a professor that over-estimates the scope of the library’s collection. When I was teaching, I generally tried to consider the subjects that I assigned from the researcher’s point of view, asking myself if a student was likely to find a good amount of information on the subject, or if there was anything I could do to aid them in their research.
Making sure students know how to make full use of their library is a great step in the right direction, but professors also need to be aware of the resources available when assigning research projects. Ours is a small academic library with a good, multidisciplinary collection. However; it is not an all-encompassing collection and our selection of databases is limited to those areas that best support the university’s schools. Obscure topics often require sources beyond our collection, which, in turn, require time on the part of the student. Assignments requiring that students only use print sources, or sources found through the library’s databases, further limit students’ ability to find relevant, credible information. Our collection currently features more ebooks than print books, but continued resistance from professors makes it difficult for students to become familiar with the valuable information contained in this collection. Instruction can go a long way, but the ability to understand and accept changes in information retrieval can help professors support students’ research skills and develop assignments that are challenging but doable. Learning should be an active part of teaching.
I am not an expert, but I always valued professors who learned with me and helped me find the information I needed to complete my assignment. Many students are uncomfortable asking for clarification, let alone discussing their concerns regarding a topic that is hard to research. This week I have helped several students completing an assignment that they were having a hard time completing based on the items available in our collection; only one student had the tenacity to bring her professor in to the library to show him why she was having no luck finding relevant information–the assignment required that they find a book, a print book, and bring it to class. Of the 7 books available on her subject, only 4 were in print, and these were all in Reference (so she couldn’t take them to class). The professor was surprised to find all the others were ebooks, but would not accept these as a substitute for print. Sometimes, you can only get so far.
Some time ago, I went on about how bothersome it is to be taken for a student instead of a librarian. It happens a lot. Yes, I do look youngish, but I’m 27, I have a good 8 years of higher education behind me, and I’ve been working in a proper, non-GA role for quite some time. Most of all, I don’t act like a student. I act professionally and competently.
Students and professors often ask me how long I’ve been in school, or what program I’m working on. That’s not so bad, we usually get a laugh out of it when I explain that I’m not a student at all. What really bothers me is when someone questions my ability to provide a proper service, as if they condescend to seek my assistance because they have no other option at the moment, incorrectly assuming that I’m a student. Like yesterday (aha! she gets to the point), when a certain individual stopped by the desk and started asking very impertinent questions about my background (both culturally and educationally) and that of my coworkers. I admit, I was reluctant to provide any sort of research assistance after his interrogation. Then, as I was showing him how to find the journal he sought, he had the gall to say, “Oh, so you’re a librarian. I never would have thought .”
Why? Why would you not think the person working in a library and helping you conduct research is a librarian? What about me just screams “Not A Librarian“? Should I adopt a certain look to convince you? Dress in a frumpy manner and shush you? Really.
I consider myself a generally customer-oriented sort of librarian. I think about the needs of my patrons; I consider their dilemmas and try to find the most effective way to help them find what they need, whether its a book, article, or directions to another office. I try to please within reason, and like to think that I generally do. However, there are occasions when I just can’t seem to please, and it makes me feel terribly frustrated; especially, when the other person thinks I’m just being difficult. I’ve had two such incidents with a patron, an older alum who’s come to the library twice since last week. Both times, I have been unable to give her what she wants because it goes against our policies (one of which was just recently implemented, so it would reflect quite badly if I went against it when I thought it was a good idea). She’s elderly and kind of reminds me of my gran, which just about breaks me, but I just can’t do what she asks–firstly, because it’s not school related, so I can’t even justify it as an academic matter, and secondly, because it involves using staff equipment. I know I probably come across as a cold, unhelpful bitch. It’s disappointing, but the alternative would mean doing something I don’t approve of and shouldn’t be doing in the first place. It puts me in a bind and makes me think about how far we should be willing to bend in order to serve.
I’ve been sick. Infectiously so. So I’ve had a lot of free time to fill, when not falling asleep for unexpected catnaps (seriously, suddenly, I wake up and don’t remember dropping off in the first place. Anywho, I went back in to work today, after taking a couple of sick days and recuperating during the weekend. Still felt a bit droopy, but I tried to be mildly productive and caught up with some of the library trend blogs. I love the library blogs, but there is something about the way library bloggers label themselves that I don’t quite get. Being all medicined up got me thinking in tangents and wondering about these labels. It’s like the attack of the “The” bands in the mid-2000s, when every indie band had a The in their name. Web librarians seem to love the “The” names. They are all The enter catchy descriptor Librarian. Somewhere out there, there may even be a Librarian Who Makes Cheese and Sings with Goats (The Heidi Librarian??). It’s cute, to a certain degree, but I always feel that labeling oneself in such a way is a way of justifying what one does. As if, by calling myself something like The Geek Girl Librarian, I am telling others that being a librarian is not the only thing that defines me, there is more to me than that, which should be a given. Other than The Food Librarian, whose blog is so clearly food related, the names seem like yet another gimmick to get non-library folk to find the profession trendy and exciting.
I chose to go into this profession because I do find it interesting and exciting, and, best of all, I actually get to use my seemingly non-essential English major skills on the job, but I have decided that I will remain label-less.
There are several things that a person can to irritate me to no end, but one surefire way is to walk up to me at the Circ. desk and say, “Hey, sweetie/sugar/sweetheart/friend (not in a religious, “Hello, friend” *smile* sort of way, but in a “Hey, do me a favor” sort of way)”. It really gets my ire up. Generally, such statements are directed at me by male students who assume that I am a student worker and/or their classmate (not that it would be okay if I was, as I find it equally rude to be so familiar with any stranger, regardless of age). It comes across as terribly condescending and is generally accompanied by the assumption that approaching me in such a way will butter me up so that I will provide some sort of favor. This is not the way to get me to want to do you a favor. This is the way to bring out my most unhelpful alter ego, the one that will provide you with a withering glance and biting sarcasm.
As an instructor, I like to show students the basics and let them learn by doing. I don’t do gimmicks. It’s just not me. I prefer to let the topic lead the session and handle questions as they come. I prepare PowerPoints and/or notes, but ad lib most of the presentation/lecture/discussion. I have no problem standing in front of a crowd and talking about what I know; I lost any sense of timidity after my first semester as a TA back in ’06.
As a Circulation supervisor, I like to show by example. I hate the thought of being the sort of supervisor who doesn’t know what the work actually entails. I prefer to take part in the “menial” tasks from time to time (shelving, shelf reading, shifting, etc.), know what it involves, become familiar with the problem areas, then delegate tasks so that my student workers see how it’s done and learn to do it in the process. I’ve had a few great supervisors in academic libraries and some not so great ones when I was involved in teaching and tutoring. I hope to emulate the ones I liked and catch myself if I start to act like the others.
It always freaks people out when I head into the stacks to shelve, though I actually get a kick out of it… must be my weird desire to organize things. Plus, it’s a great workout for the arms 😀 .
Seems I miscalculated the number of credits I have to take in order to graduate from my program… I thought I needed to complete 36 credits for graduation, an even 12 classes, but I really need to complete 39, which means I have to take an extra elective during the summer term unless I want to endure the madness of full-time coursework while balancing a full-time job. After careful consideration, I’ve decided that is one bit of stress I can do without. I’ll just take the extra course during the summer and so be it. With any luck, I’ll get to sign up for one of the courses I’ve been unable to register for in the past.
I’ve also discovered that the name of my program was recently changed (seems most of my classmates were also unaware of the change). We are no longer the “School of Library and Information Science,” we’re now the “School of Information”. Plenty of library schools have initiated similar changes, combining information technology with information science and confusing the hell out of people who think that IS means IT and vice versa. It doesn’t make much difference in the long run; at least, not for me, but it would have been nice if this change had happened earlier so I could have taken some IT classes to compensate for the lack of digital library courses that are available.
So it goes. I am a busy book keeper and these are my long neglected charges (like a zoo keeper, I keep the books in line).
My first week at the new job seemed to go really well… at least for me. I am still getting used to the earlier wake up hour–I was spoiled by my midday schedule, but it’s not bad and it feels good to get things done earlier, though I’m still figuring out how to balance full time work, school, and personal endeavors. Sadly, this has meant less time for some of the things I like to do, such as reading, writing, and blogging. Partly, this is because it’s also nearing the end of term and all my major projects are coming at me at once. Perhaps things will settle down a bit once the term is done. I’m definitely looking forward to finishing up library school. I love learning, but I’m tired of assignments and tuition costs.
It feels a little strange being a supervisor, but I’m starting to settle into it and am coming up with projects and ideas to set my students to work. I try to let them in on what I’m planning, so that they know that they have a part in the planning as well as the doing. That was one of the things that I really liked about my previous supervisor–he always consulted with us, even if he had the power to just tell us what to do and leave it at that. I’m also trying to connect actions with results, so my students know that there is a purpose behind the tasks that I’m setting. Several mentioned that they felt as if some of the tasks assigned to them in the past were pointless because they couldn’t understand how it served a purpose in the library, so I’m trying to help them understand. I don’t want them to think that I am giving them “busy” work just to give them something to do. I hate doing that kind of work and wouldn’t like to assign it in turn.
Of course, being the new person in the group, I’ve become the puzzle to be cracked. The results are kind of fun. Some have also taken to mentioning who I remind them of… my favorite comments:
1) One student says I remind her of Kat von D… I wonder if it’s the nose?
2) Another says I remind him of Evie from The Mummy… it must be the librarian look.
Oddly, no one said I remind them of Michelle Williams… which is one I’ve been getting since her Dawson’s Creek days.
Went to work, worked on school stuffs, made a ginormous baked ziti for Em’s farewell, and am now finally catching up on web stuffs (though not quite as much as I’d like to).
I guess I can officially say that I’ve been hired by another library and will be leaving the library I’ve been at for the last year. It’s been a bit of a melancholy but happy transition. I’ll really miss the university I work at–it’s my alma mater and I just seemed to feel a part of the place–but I also really like the university I’m going to… it’s smaller, private, so there’s a greater chance to really get that feeling that you’re more than just another person in the great academic machinery. It’ll also be a shorter commute, better hours, and better pay. It’s terrible, but the pay was definitely an issue with my current job. I loved my job, but I hated that I was barely making ends meet. I really think this new job will make me feel much more at ease in that regard. And there just might some room for growth in the future, something else that I found lacking in my soon-to-be former position.
So what made it so official that I felt the need to share? My job went up on the uni’s HR website today. This time next month, I’ll be in a whole new library with a whole new set of patrons and coworkers. I am looking forward to it, but I still feel all the nervy anxieties that I usually do when I don’t quite know what to expect–a little thrilling and terrifying all at once.
Wishing and hoping for the best…
The extended term project that I’m working on for my Collection Development class requires that I play at being a collection development librarian… I chose to pretend to be a collection development/subject specialist for an academic library’s English collection. If I were really managing such a collection, I would be like a kid in a candy store! There are so many wonderful new publications on Victorian literature (I selected the LC classes on Victorian lit for my development & acquisition action plan), my profs in the ol’ English department would be ecstatic if they could get the uni library to order some of this stuff. Hey, I would be ecstatic if I could get them to order this stuff. I always had a terrible time finding recent publications when writing papers and conducting research 😦