It’s Because Of The Students

Stephanie asks a good question in her post. What the heck do faculty want from us librarians? Another good question is what do the faculty think of their students. Two Chronicle essays this week reveal quite different answers to that question, and what I find interesting is that these opinions come from two very different faculty members, one a fully tenured professor and the other an adjunct. But both seem to be asking themselves why they are working in academia.

The tenured professor of history is sick of his students and writes:

My main problem, which becomes less tolerable with every passing year, is the students. My best are mediocre. The worst are semiliterate. Grading a stack of exams or papers is a painful experience.

Having already gained tenure and full professor status the dilemma here is what to do next. That’s why he points out that one of his favorite songs is The Clash tune “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”. The author readily admits that many struggling academic historians would give anything to be in his place, but that doesn’t make him feel any better about his situation.

The adjunct has a completely different problem – and a different outlook:

Here, then, is what I have learned about being an adjunct faculty member. The classroom experience is wonderful. Students are still interested in learning, and some are truly remarkable people. My interaction with them has been everything I had hoped for and more.

What makes academia so frustrating for the adjunct isn’t the students. It’s her dean and full-time faculty colleagues. They hardly know she’s alive and certainly do nothing to make her a welcome member of the department or make her adjunct role any easier in terms of administrative matters.

I’m not exactly sure what to conclude from these two very different perspectives on interacting with students but it does make me think about Stephanie’s question, and what it is that faculty think of librarians, what they want from us and how we can best be of help to them. Back in my days as a higher education administration graduate student I recall my professor who described the faculty in terms of “their unique dualism”. He referred to the faculty having dual loyalties to their institution and to their discipline, and that for many faculty the loyalty to the discipline was far stronger. Perhaps the other way to perceive that dualism is in the relationship with others, such as students and librarians. On one hand the students are at the core of the institution and should be the primary concern of faculty, but over time some faculty, such as our history professor, can come to have great disdain for their students. That must no doubt cause immense internal conflict.

So I wonder if faculty have a dualistic view of us academic librarians. Do they perceive us as incredibly helpful, intellectually beneficial colleagues or are we seen as contemptible, made-obsolete-by-the-Internet support staff who simply suck up resources that could otherwise be spent on the faculty? I guess we won’t know the answer until a faculty member assumes a pseudonym and does a Chronicle tell-all about their relationship with librarians. But to answer Stephanie’s question, let’s assume it’s the former rather than the latter and concentrate our efforts on doing all that we can to make the work of faculty easier for them so that they can spend more time on their students and research and less time navigating the labyrinth of information resources we’ve created. It may also be helpful to segment the faculty. They don’t all think or see their work in the same way as illustrated by our two Chronicle essays, so why treat them all the same way. Perhaps the safest approach is to assume all faculty have a WIIFM perspective and operate on the assumption that everything we do should make clear to our faculty what’s in it for them.

Let’s hope that the next time Stephanie scours the faculty blogoverse for signs of “here’s what I want from my librarian” she finds some better information for us – or any signs that they think about us at all.