Did You Hear The One About The Library Presentation

Editor’s Note: Here is a guest post from ACRLog reader Marilyn R. Pukkila, Head of Instructional Services for the Colby College Libraries, in which she shares an interesting but not entirely pleasant encounter and experience at a First Year Experience conference. The ACRLog blog team thanks Marilyn for her contribution.

I’m just back from the annual First Year Experience conference . It was a great event, but I was rather taken aback by an exchange in a session on encouraging undergraduate research. The speaker was discussing various methods of integrating research into the first year seminar. Up came “Presentations — Library” (along with Office of Undergraduate Research) on the PowerPoint slide, and the speaker asked, “And what do we think of the library presentation?” in a tone which obviously invited ridicule and criticism. One of the participants obligingly responded with a rude noise, and the presenter nodded and laughed along with others in the room.

While I didn’t hear anyone openly advocating the exclusion of libraries from the first year experience, the word “boring” definitely put in an appearance, and there was a strong suggestion (if not actually stated) that the library presentation was a waste of time. I was not the only librarian in the room to offer an alternative perspective, and the rude noise maker later had the grace to apologize to me. Evidently no one had expected librarians to be in the room!

Fortunately there were also a few faculty there who chimed in to support faculty/library collaboration in the realm of undergraduate research, but the whole experience has left me more than a bit perturbed. I never worried much about the “librarian image”, but now I’m wondering if it isn’t more important than I thought. Yes, my ego was a bit bruised, but I’m much more concerned with the messages that students are receiving from faculty about the useful/uselessness of librarians in the educational enterprise.

Certainly those of us on campuses with active FYE programs or components thereof (such as a First Year seminar) can work to get on those committees or talk with those administrators. We’re going to invite our Dean of Students to a future Librarians meeting to tell us about his new initiative to use administrators to engage students academically. Librarians also volunteer to be moderators for the various panels at our annual Undergraduate research symposium. But I have a deeper concern. Can we counter decades of faculty and administrators equating librarians and libraries with dull, boring, and useless presentations and program?

Ironically, in another presentation on social networking sites, participants were falling all over themselves to applaud librarians’ knowledge of and contributions to this cutting edge technology. Perhaps this is more of a generational disconnect? Or are we becoming more associated with information technology and less with information use (otherwise known as research)? Whatever the case, I strongly encourage academic librarians to attend non-librarian academic conferences as a means of letting our colleagues know that we ARE a part of this education enterprise!