on teaching and learning

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.

customer-oriented

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.

how to irritate me on the job

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.