Another Story About Ignorant Students

One thing that anonymous academic librarian bloggers are good for is sharing stories about their “ignorant” students. It would be hard to imagine any academic blogger who goes by his or her real name relating anecdotes about encounters with such students or even referring to them as ignorant or stupid. For one thing, the incident could be identifiable and possibly tracked back to the individual involved – which could all be quite embarrassing to the individual and library – not unlike the recent case of the public librarian who wrote a book with thinly veiled stories about her library’s awful patrons (BTW she was fired). I just happened to come across a blog called “The Singing Librarian” which had a post titled “Librarians vs. Student Ignorance”.

Long story short, some students came to the reference desk (this happened to a colleague of SL) and said they couldn’t find any books on nursing in the library catalog. Turns out, upon librarian investigation, the students were spelling it “nersing”. Singing Librarian finds this and other incidents of student ignorance quite shocking. While he doesn’t use the term stupid or ignorant to describe the students, I detect a slight degree of contempt for these students who lack basic knowledge we should expect of an undergraduate – especially a student in a nursing course who can’t spell nursing. I may be wrong. Singing Librarian may be genuinely worried and rightfully points out that our jobs now extend into the teaching of basic knowledge that was somehow never taught in the primary grades. When I read this it reminded me of an email I received that was critical of my use of “dumber students” in the title a recent Blended Librarians webcast. I apparently offended another academic librarian for disrespecting our students. I responded that the title wasn’t a reflection of my thinking but rather of the conversation about this topic in academia as evidenced by a half-dozen books on the topic.

Like Singing Librarian many of us academic librarians are deeply concerned about the students we encounter who exhibit a real lack of basic knowledge, poor spelling or just the simple yet complete inability to articulate what they need (were we so much smarter at 18?). Whatever we do about or think of this situation we must all remember to treat our students with respect and courtesy. We must never blame them for what they don’t know. We must never refer to them as dumb, lazy, stupid or ignorant – at our conferences, when talking to our friends and families, in conversations with our colleagues or in our blogs – even the anonymous ones. All we can do is to try our best to help them achieve academic success. To do anything less, it seems to me, is a sign that it is time to find a new career.

Of course, I don’t doubt a few of you – as I did when I read this post – asked why our OPACs don’t have spellchecking (some actually do). These students would have never had the same problem with a Google search. Then again maybe failed OPAC searches present us with a reliable way to force students to come to the reference desk for help.