It is essential that whatever rules we have in libraries for our patrons we don’t break them ourselves in front of them. Sure I realize that eating happens in libraries all the time but it should be in the staff break room if food is prohibited in the library.
Well, our friends in pop culture continue to perpetuate tired stereotypes of libraries and librarians. The new kid on the block is MTV‘s Silent Library. Oooh, interesting! A reality show based around a library?
Actually its a game show where contestants have to be silent while their friends and competitors perform wise-cracking pranks. What about the title? Doesn’t it have anything to do with libraries? Well that’s just it.
Aside from being filmed in a room with books (again, is this all there is to libraries?), the library connection is “SILENCE.”
Yeah. Thanks, MTV for maintaining last century’s. Apparently to MTV, the defining characteristic of a library is that it is absolutely silent. I wonder if the show hosts hold up their index fingers and “shush.”
When I saw the tag line on this post, “Librarian is now LIVE on the iTunes App Store,” I thought, “Oh this will be interesting, another way to search for stuff from a phone or other personal device.” Not a new concept, but always interesting.
The entire app just shushes those around you if they are being loud. It is sad when this tired image of the shusher (re)defines our profession to the public. Even more ironic: one of the fans of the app calls themselves a librarian:
Please, please, please—-program this for the ITOUCH too. I love this idea and would love to use it in my library!!
I have written about the need for group work space in libraries but also how this trend has made some users even more annoyed with “loud” libraries.
Afraid this just reinforces the 20th century librarian stereotype.
Am I wrong in believing that librarians have evolved past this?
librarian shushing image from Guidance is Internal
We have met the enemy and he is us.
Brian Mathews at Ubiquitous Librarian has a really interesting post about what male and female students expect and want to find in a newsletter put out by their library. Here is his list of responses:
- fun stuff, funny and interesting facts, things that apply to college students
- events on campus/around Atlanta, study tips, facts
- cool books or websites
- websites for students, info on library, good books, resources
- new things on campus, events, good books
- cool websites, ideas for things to do on campus and in library
- jokes, word teasers, info about tech, website resources for students
- funny facts, happenings around tech, info on library
- campus info
- interesting facts about tech, events at the library
- events on campus, interesting facts, jokes
- good books, events on campus, spotlight an organization
- events in Atlanta, events sponsored by tech groups, info on the library
- things going on at library, facts people don’t know about the library
- advice, events on campus, info about the library
- map of library, where you can find certain things within library, humor
- cool books or magazines, people’s opinions, jokes, interesting facts
- stuff about tech
Although I am not sure how often a print newsletter would be picked up by students outside of the library doors, I do think this list can help in deciding what kinds of news announcements to post on the webpage/blog and what updates could be tweeted or txted to students.
I expected the large amount of responses about highlighting little-known services or cool books but it surprised me how much technology news was mentioned. Some librarians are more tech-saavy than their users but I am surprised that this seems to be an expectation: “libraries should help users learn technology as well as research skills.”
I also noted how often general campus news came up. Students still feel like we are a window to campus life. We should keep it that way.
At the close of another instruction season for me, I have some observations.
I found that movement around the classroom made a huge difference in attention. Although it felt awkward at times, even showing a book or other item of interest behind the first few rows changed things up and kept the students off-balance enough to renew their focus.
Another technique I found effective was voice variation. I got more mileage out of emphasizing through whispers than I did through loud excitement. Of course it was the bellowing that made the whispers unusual.
What do you do when you hear, “I don’t like my topic” or the softer “I don’t really have a topic yet”? My first response is always, “What’s your major?” Freshman writing can be dangerous going down this road. If they are Undeclared, I move on to “What do you like to do?” Essentially, I try to get them to tell me what they are interested in, why they are in the major they are in, what they do in their spare time, etc. From there we talk about how their individual interests actually can connect with the assigned umbrella topic.
Once they have a topic that they are actually interested in, they need to find information and resources. Students really respond when they see how a tool applies to their research. Answering the “So…how is this supposed to help ME?” question in their eyes can do wonders. Sometimes a practice run through a database with a student’s real topic doesn’t go that well (0 hits). Taking the extra time running through ways of broadening search terms pays dividends. My favorite thing to do is open it up to the whole class. The more or the students who participate openly, the more other students can gain ideas and confidence from their peers.
One of the tools I love to introduce is the bibliography generator (in our case, RefWorks). I know that everyone gets an “ooh, aaah” out the of three-second Works Cited page but I like RefWorks because of its organization potential. I love helping students see how having links back to the item or at least a citation can help them speed up the initial source-finding process. Mark it and export so you can look at it later without having to re-search again.
One of the aspects of library instruction I find can be potentially frustrating is teaching how to use the library catalog. Since the OPAC is not as usable as Google, students can quickly become turned off by it. Helping them see that general terms are best in the OPAC and specific are best in subscription databases has increase the usefulness of the library and books in general. Monographs in the catalog have a lot more information than what their title and limited LCSH have to tell about them.
Finally, even though the instruction sessions are designed to be formal, finding a way to connect to each student is invaluable. Be personal; allow yourself to laugh with them. Show interest in what they are researching and why. This helps you connect faster when you go one-on-one with them during their personal practice time; now they will really accept your help when you approach them. If you honestly try to remember their topics and majors, or at least show that you tried (by guessing and failing) you will have another connection.
One of the funnest ways I have found to connect with the students is learning their names. 20 students names in only 1 to 2 hours (depending on your program)? Mission: possible. Be at the door when they come in and ask them. Then in the middle of instruction you can use the name when they raise their hand or if you call on them. If you forget, take a minute and try to remember. A good laugh comes quickly when students see an instructor struggling on a name–but it also adds credibility. All people, not just students, what to be treated as individuals.
Terry Reese’s conversation with a taxi driver in Phili is worth taking a minute to read. At first I was a little offended that this driver was so degrading of librarians. Are librarians really all “boring and cheap”? Before I got too carried away though I stopped and asked myself, “Self, do I really care what a couple of taxi drivers think?”
I guess the point Terry was trying to make is this: sometimes it really helps to look at ourselves from the outside. Our little sub-culture is tens-of-thousands strong; there are bound to be some perceived eccentricities from non-library folk.
Recently it seems like our librarian image is becoming more positive. I know that we are always excited when articles like this come out but I still wonder how much impact the supposed shift from the hair-in-the-bun, shushing librarian image to the “cool” tech-savvy librarian image is actually having on our library traffic. Is the image shift really making a difference in the numbers?
Sometimes I buy into the question above and shudder; when I am really in a “the glass is half-full” kind of mood I feel like it is irrelevant. If there is even one librarian who feels like they are better–or just feels better about themselves–because the image is changing … well, isn’t that more important than the numbers? Librarian confidence and personal identity seem more important to me than whether reference stats go up or not.