Daily Archives: March 28, 2007

What Else Are We “Teaching” When We Educate Users This Way?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from an academic librarian who asked to remain anonymous owing to his or her current job hunting status, and who wishes not to be judged by potential employers on the content of this post alone.

As a new member of the profession, I sometimes come across things on library web sites that leave me puzzled about how academic librarians are approaching their work, especially the important task of user education. For example, I recently discovered the podcasting site at the Fairfield University Library.

The intent is certainly laudable—to teach underclassmen to distinguish among various databases. Obviously, much energy, talent, and time had been invested. The layout was pleasing, the information perfectly accurate. But here is what I question: Why are they designing the site and their podcasts to appeal to a young adolescent rather than a college undergraduate. Is it just me, or does the approach seem reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon?

Why have the designers taken this approach? One answer may be that Millenials seem more child-like, more playful than previous generations. The designers might also argue that we must go wherever the students are in order to engage them. If the students learn the concepts we want them to master, then we have succeeded, right? Why worry about anything else? The end justifies the means.

But I see another crucial issue at stake. For one thing, some students will see through the ruse, realize they are being talked down to, and resent it. Perhaps a slim minority? What about the students who find the approach fun, cute, charming? They are being served, are they not? What’s the harm?

Perhaps some readers will say that I need to loosen up or that I’m too new to realize that traditional approaches will be perceived by today’s students as dull or boring. Nevertheless, I would argue that we are not just delivering user education, any more than a composition instructor is just teaching English. Everyone who teaches undergraduates is engaged in the process of transforming young people into critically reflective, fully mature, responsible citizens. Fairfield University’s own mission statement makes this point: “In its fullest sense liberal education initiates students at a mature level into the culture, its past, its present, its future.” When I treat students as adults, accord them that dignity, I am helping them become so. For me, that’s more important than anything I could teach them about databases.