Explaining Authority

One thing I have found difficult in my librarian-instructor capacity is how to impress students with the idea that some sources of information are better than others. We are all comfortable with the concept that value is subjective. But does this apply to information? (My own answer varies depending on what day it is.)

Of students I have interacted with, I have met some who have not thought about source authority at all, and some who suspect there is a good source for the information they need but do not know how to find or identify it (because they have never before been expected to justify their sources?). Perhaps of the students I do not interact with, 100 percent are fully competent when it comes to finding and using information. It is possible that the majority of college students have a perfect grasp of information and how it is generated and used. Most of the students I work with at the library, however, do not.

In any case, I do not want to be heavy-handed and say “X sources are good but Y sources are bad,” first because even I do not think it is so black and white (see recent Elsevier story & the story about cancer research), and second because I do not think students will accept that message. That is the old librarian-as-gatekeeper, top-down mentality, which is no longer realistic. So I have been envisioning a fancy presentation containing the various examples I have been collecting of how you would look foolish if you relied on sources such as wikipedia for all your information. Unfortunately I have not gotten around to creating it yet, and such a thing would go out of date so fast that I am not convinced it would be worth the effort. (Although I did link to Colbert’s wikiality speech on one of our LibGuides.) Besides, when am I, the librarian, given classroom time to do something like that?

So I do not really know what to do, except briefly repeat the same old message about how it is generally a good thing to use sources from the college’s library, about how these are the sources instructors expect students to use, and unless I am questioned not be too specific about if and why they are ‘better.’ I am not so far down the libraryland rabbit hole that I imagine I will get a round of applause if I say “You should use the library because the library is on your side. The college library wants to provide you with high quality sources for your research. Our agenda is clearly stated. We do our best to provide an additional level of editorial process by reading reviews and making informed decisions for what should be added to the collection, and beyond that we are trying to make as much of it as possible accessible from home.”

Big fricking woop. Now I’ll go back to answering questions about how to cite web sites.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe

On top of everything else I have to do as a one-person library, I was recently emailed my blank “2009-2010 Professional Development Plan”.  It’s basically a job review for the last year, plus places where I need to list what I want to do this coming academic year.  I’m sure every college bureaucracy everywhere requires these, but I’m a bit put off by it.  I knew it was coming because my long-gone boss warned me to keep track of everything I did.  So at least I wasn’t racking my brain trying to remember what events I attended, and what wonderful contributions I’ve made to our institution.

Anyway, here are some of the questions for your perusal:

1.    Goals for higher educational level/certification/licensing/endorsements/courses (Pertaining to requirements and endorsement of current position)  What if you already have your terminal degree?
2.    Other relevant activities (including supervisory responsibilities, organization and facilitation responsibilities, and job complexity) I’ve actually come up with a strategy for this one… see below.
3.    Then of course they ask about workshops and conferences, what college committees you’ve served on, special projects, and so on.  At least these are easy – if you keep a calendar, anyway!

So how do you answer those annoying types of broad, over-generalized questions designed for ten dozen different job descriptions?  I could be brief under each section, and give bullet points like: “encouraged library use, taught instruction sessions, answered reference questions.”  That’s my tendency, to eschew obfuscation.  But I gather the typical response is slightly more verbose: for instance: “Though the creative use of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café in book display units, I not only encouraged reading skills but introduced new literary styles and venues.”

Of course I want to make sure I cover everything I do – in this day and age of budget cuts I’d hate for someone up the chain of command to think “Do we REALLY need someone full time at the new branch?”  My hate-to-talk-about-myself tendency lends itself to this unfortunately well, so I try to make sure I cover everything.  (Heck, do I put the fact that I’m an “official” First Year Blogger on the prestigous ACRLog??)

The last question (#2, above) is so broad I sat in stunned disbelief.  Finally I came up with a game plan. I’m currently a librarian in a paraprofessional body, so I decided to break out my list into three categories.  Librarian responsibilities.  Library Specialist responsibilities (my current classification).  Administrative responsibilities.  Hopefully, in one fell swoop, this will advertise my 1) hugely broad areas of responsibility, and 2) my wonderful creativity for thinking outside the (blanks and forms) box.  What do you think?  Am I crazy, or promotable??  (And does anyone else stress about these yearly events as much as I do?)

The Hardest Part of Being a Librarian

As the spring semester heads to a close, the amount of traffic at the library reference desk is picking up significantly. Students are needing last-minute help with papers and projects, trying to remember what their professors expect, and figuring out how they are going to complete everything by the due dates. Usually, students are lovely people to work with. Usually I really enjoy helping them, and usually I think they find my assistance very valuable.

Occasionally, though, I am reminded what the hardest part of being a librarian is for me. It’s not working with technology, it’s not having to constantly think on my feet, and it’s not the myriad other job duties: it’s working with difficult patrons. By “difficult,” I mean people who come to the library with chips on their shoulders, who are stressed because they are failing a class or have not gotten enough sleep, or who simply enjoy being in a power position and abusing whoever is sitting at the service desk. It is easy to blame superficial reasons for why people behave this way –- it’s the Millennials, the google mentality, etc. etc. — but I am sure there are studies linking stress and aggression and rudeness. The trick for the librarian is not to take it personally and not to redirect it at others.

I would not have become a librarian if I did not enjoy public services, but it is easy to forget how challenging it can be on the front lines every day. Librarians tend to be an introspective bunch, and the ability to remain calm and patient in every single situation is HARD, particularly if someone is deliberately trying to offend or antagonize you.

My point in writing this is not to complain about patrons but to give myself and all of us out there staffing service desks a little pep talk as the spring deluge hits the library. These are things I find helpful to remember:

1) No matter how rude or disrespectful a patron gets, there are always alternatives to losing your cool. If you feel yourself getting angry, take a step back, take a deep breath, and disengage yourself from the situation. Then figure out how to respond professionally.

2) Diffuse. Assist. Try and ignore tone. Focus on the problem that relates to the library, and do not feel responsible for the patron’s other problems. Be sympathetic, but do not join the student in badmouthing an assignment or instructor. Lead them in the direction of taking responsibility for themselves.

3) Go for a walk whenever you get a break. Listen to the birds. Listen to some music. Stare at something pretty. Whatever works.

4) If all else fails, call security. The presence of security personnel usually sobers people up. More importantly, keep in mind that you are not just one individual in a given situation — there are other people to back you up and support you.

Good luck, everybody!

5 Things I Didn’t Realize I’d Be Working on…

… When I Decided to Become a Librarian
(The alternate title for this was: Thank Goodness I Went to Syracuse’s iSchool)

For some time now there has been talk of how the roles of librarians are changing, and recently I find myself working on a variety of projects that I imagine are a bit removed from what librarians of yore might have been up to. Perhaps the fact that I find these projects 100 percent relevant to the academic library where I work, and am happy to take them on in my capacity as a reference and instruction librarian, further reflects the changes in the profession. So I thought I’d share some of those projects and see if anybody’s with me:

1. Authentication
Students log into programs (i.e. for course management, registration, email, etc.) run by their school, and then they need a separate authentication to access library resources? This actively discourages them from using the library. A single login is a usability priority. Once users are authenticated as enrolled, active students, they should be able to access all of the services the college provides to them — including all of the library resources and services.

2. Mobile Platforms
A few weeks ago I had my first patron complain about how she couldn’t connect to library databases with her Blackberry. (Our authentication system doesn’t allow it. See #1.) So now I am learning about mobile platforms. Luckily there are lots of librarians already working on this.

3. Course Management Systems
Online students may never come to the physical library building, but they can still benefit from the library’s array of online resources. Putting these online resources seamlessly into their classrooms is the next step. Students no longer have to go to the library for the materials needed for their classes — the library can come to them. We can put reserve materials, information literacy activities, catalog and database search boxes, etc. DIRECTLY into their class spaces. This is why instructional design is so important to me right now.

4. Unofficial Student Technical Support
Daily, I find myself solving common technical problems of students that are not just limited to printing and word processing. Even if I am not officially tech support, I am an adult sitting at a desk in a public space surrounded by computers, so guess what? I am going to answer a variety of computer questions. I know some librarians resent this, and I am never happy when a technical problem interrupts a research question, but most technical problems are things I have encountered myself and can solve quickly, or are ultimately relevant to my own computer use.

5. Making and Editing Videos
If we do not get to work with our students in person, we need to provide online help. And ultimately how would be best to do this? With fun and exciting video tutorials, naturally! Maybe I should have gone to film school after all. There is a lot of relatively inexpensive software available now to make and edit your own videos for the purpose of training. It is true that these can take a lot of time and thought, but when done well they can be extremely effective, provide help 24/7, and replace the need for repeated explanations of simple instructions from librarians.

I am sure there are plenty of other examples, but these are what I have for now. Please feel free to chime in!

Adventures in Wonderland

Here’s an interesting blog post that was recently brought to my attention.  Olivia (my fellow first-year-blogger) and I were going to both make comments, because there’s lots of great stuff here that is useful both for long-time librarians and newbies like us.  Unfortunately Olivia had to bow out of this joint project, though she did provide many of the links. (Thanks, Olivia!!) And she’s promised another great post soon, so I’m looking forward to that as well.

So let’s head down the rabbit hole…

First off, here’s John Dupuis’s post at Confessions of a Science Librarian.

So he’s got 29 reports listed in the link above.  And to make it easy here are all the links to posts by our own bloggers about the same reports

1. The question they forgot to ask
2. Sudden thoughts
3. Is this new OCLC report worth it?
4. Takes more than blogs
4. Some thoughts on privacy
6. Renting keys to walled gardens
16. Real faculty in our minds alone
20. Digital scholarship reconsidered
22. Three new things
22. The more we know
22. Learning from the work
23. Waste of time
26. Digital scholarship beyond the sciences
28. Transformational times
29. Academic research a painful process

 It’s amazing to me the wealth of information available about the future of our profession.  For example: I was considering starting a library blog.  It wouldn’t be anything fancy, just a way to let students know what’s new and interesting, and maybe provide a review or two.  But in November I read the post StephenB made about the report Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World. (#4, above)  It made me rethink *why* I wanted to start a library blog, and *what* I thought it would do. 

 

Last semester, our first semester in operation at this branch campus, I taught a lot of “intro to the library” drop-in sessions.  This semester I’m doing other things, most notably with the English and History classes, about library research.  And I proceeded to promptly hit the wall called IAKT (“I Already Know This”).  Since then I’ve read the 2008 ECAR Study, another offering by StevenB, (#23, above) and know I’m not alone!  Now I’m working on a plan to get the faculty more involved, and researching best teaching practices on the ILI-L listserv.  I might have just kept doing the “same-old, same-old” and not making any headway at all had I not seen this post and the link to this study.

So I’ve bookmarked John Dupuis’s blog post, and I plan to slowly but surely read my way through these reports and follow all the interesting rabbit trails.  Which only goes to confirm my nerdiness because I am definitely looking forward to it!