Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The thin blue line

"Librarians--the thin blue line between you and the FBI."

I have no idea where this quote comes from (a quick Google search didn't reveal it, and I am too lazy at this point in the evening--just after midnight--to do a more thorough search--I will put it on my homework list!), but I love it. This evening, however, I have another thin blue line in mind--between students and faculty.

I love working with students. But I don't love everything about it, and here are a few of those:
  • Trying to help a student with an assignment that is poorly designed.
  • Trying to help a student find information that we don't have in our collection.
  • Helping a student who only wants to blow off steam about the unfairness of their professors and hopes you will do their work for them.
All of these issues arise when librarians are caught between students and faculty. On the one hand, we want to show great customer service and send students away full of useful resources and knowledge about how to use them. On the other hand, our students aren't customers in the traditional sense--we are definitely not supposed to do everything for them. The same issue comes up with professors--we want to make it easier for them to teach, but we can't do that if they have unrealistic expectations.

Some of the burden of fixing these issues fall with librarians and the library: we need to make clear which services we do provide and which we don't. We also have to present this information to both students and faculty. Still, students and faculty need to take on some responsibility, too.

If you are a faculty member, here's what you can do:
  • Try out your assignments before you assign them! If you can't find the information needed, it may be that our collection doesn't have it--how successful do you think your students will be?
  • Talk to/e-mail your librarians. We want to hear from you! If you have a question about the library or our collection scope, ask us! And a heads' up when you are going to send 30 students looking for information on a Biblical parable would be a nice gesture, too.
  • Plan ahead. You tell your students this, and we would like to politely request it of you as well. If you need library instruction or collaboration, a 2-3 week notice is good. Letting us know at the beginning of the semester that you'd like to work with us is worth brownie points.
If you are a student, here's what you can do:
  • Get to know the library BEFORE the week your assignment is due. This will make your life easier, and it will also give you a better picture of how we can and can't help you. We don't have everything on a database, and we probably can't get a book we don't own by tomorrow.
  • Bring writing utensils to the library. We really can't afford to provide pens and pencils to the entire campus.
  • Ask your professor for details about the assignment if you don't understand it. Librarians are not omniscient, and your question may well be the first time we've heard about the assignment.
  • Be prepared to do the work yourself--we are here to help you and teach you--not to do your research for you.
Comments? Do you have requests you'd like to make of librarians in return? Please share!


Astra Libris said...

I love the quote! Too awesome! :-)

You make such great points about the challanges of working between the lines of students and faculty - I would imagine that's quite a delicate balance to maintain!

Libby said...

Hi Astra--thanks for stopping by, and I hope you feel better soon!!

I'm going to try to track down more about the quote--I guess it could end up just being something someone came up with to put on T-shirts, but I hope not!

I think faculty/student balance is one area where a school library is an easier environment--you see everyone more often, because you are in a smaller place, and there is a pretty firm divide between students and staff so that students know you are there to teach as well as to help.

Thanks for your comment!