Professional Jurisdiction

One of the many things I love about my position is that I’m one of only 3 librarians.  This means I have a fairly liberal allowance for things I can get away with, professionally speaking.  If I want to create my own outreach events, my boss invariably says “Go for it!”  If I want to create video tutorials to teach students how to retrieve full-text articles from our databases, the idea is met with “How soon can you make it happen?”  In other words, I’m not bound by the same position-specific job roles other librarians in large institutions may have.  I’m the outreach, reference, systems, emerging technologies, and instruction librarian all at once.

One of the challenges of this position, though, is navigating my professional jurisdiction.  My institution is very small (less than 1000 enrolled students) but we pride ourselves on spectacular support services.  We have Master’s-degreed writing and math tutors whose schedules are always full; we librarians spend most of our days meeting one-on-one with students for research consultations or conducting information literacy workshops.  But every so often, we’ll be presented with a unique student need and not know who to defer it to.  Unlike most of my first year librarian counterparts, I typically interact with students much older than myself: the average age of a student at my university is 38.  This means that some of our students are behind the technological curve and need some help catching up with basic computer skills. Is this the job of the academic librarian?

Public, and likely community college, libraries offer several classes a month in basic computer literacy skills.  They offer courses on setting up Email, Internet 101, and basic office software.   In addition to teaching these necessary computer basics, the courses might also cover more “high concept” topics like internet privacy and the politics of the publishing industry.  Typically, though, academic libraries do not offer these types of courses; maybe because the average college student is a digital native, or maybe because the university is in a city with a robust public library where the librarians can refer students with this need.  So when I began noticing a real need for technology support I couldn’t find many academic libraries to use for models.  For some reason, computer literacy workshops just don’t seem to fit in the library’s purview.

The library as a concept and place is in flux.  The needs of our students, the format of our collections, and the media through which we interact with the campus are all changing.  This means that as librarians, we’re always challenged to say one step ahead: to try to figure out how to best utilize our limited budgets and resources to meet the needs of visitors, students, faculty, and colleagues.  In this case of my campus, maybe this means taking on some of the more basic computer training.  Did I get my Master’s to teach classes in Microsoft Word?  No, not really.  But I did get my Master’s to facilitate a love of auto didacticism and self-sufficiency and life-long learning in my community.   However, I don’t want to lose the value of libraries by being a “one-stop-shop” or step on other campus department’s toes.  The question that remains on my mind is, given the changing demographics and needs of campus communities, where do library services begin and end?

Has your library faced a similar challenge?  How do you navigate where the library’s professional jurisdiction begins and ends?  Leave a comment or respond via Twitter, @beccakatharine.

3 thoughts on “Professional Jurisdiction”

  1. I’ve worked in community college libraries and now at a university with a large non-traditional segment of the student body. At all of the libraries I’ve spent a fair amount of time helping students print, helping use Word and Excel, sometimes helping them send emails. I agree that it isn’t exactly why I got a Master’s degree, but it is the help the students need at the moment, and lacking those skills often prevents them from developing further information literacy skills. We sometimes have student workers who handle the technology questions, though the librarians answer a lot of those questions as well.

    As far as other departments go, I don’t think there is really anyone else handling these things. It really falls outside of IT or the classroom. However, I think that being unprepared on a technological spectrum probably isn’t that different than being unprepared in reading, writing, or math. It would great if our students all came 100% prepared for college-level work, but they don’t. The Library ends up picking up the slack on technology skill deficits because we are that ‘one-stop-shop’ for study, research, and writing. I think if we continue to help these students with patience and grace, they will keep coming back to us when they need research help as well.

  2. I doubt there are many libraries where classes like these are not needed. I found that ‘digital natives’ are native only in the sense of using a computer but lack the skills needed to fulfill the needs of a university class. A colleague and I have taken it upon ourselves to offer digital literacy workshops and they have been very successful. More libraries need to offer classes like these. Keep up the innovation!

  3. Sounds like some great ideas! Even working with a lot of traditional-age college students, I see a lot of inability to perform basic computer problem-solving. For instance, it’s not unusual for someone to report a “broken” computer in the library, only to find out it simply needs to be turned back on. Some of our most frequent computer-related questions include how to format reference pages in Word. Our university’s office of technology offers classes for many of the Microsoft Office products, but I have sometimes wondered if it makes sense for librarians to also teach these skills, since we have a slightly different perspective on the way in which students are using the technology on a daily basis.

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