Friday, October 23, 2009

Day in the life of a reference librarian...

It's a busy, busy part of the semester right now. I've got a ton of things going on at work, and many more waiting in the wings. Amidst all of this, are my weekly tasks of working on the reference desk and teaching single session library instruction classes. This week featured a couple of classic examples of librarian frustration.

Example #1 - The Reference Desk Encounter with a Student From One of the Classes I Taught that Obviously Did Not Pay Attention - This example has the added con of hurting my ego. We'd all like to think that we are constantly dazzling audiences with our sparkling personalities and engaging lecture style, no? And my teaching has been going great this semester, I've felt really good about it. Well. here we have it:

*CatholicLibrarian sits at reference desk, smiling winningly* *2 female students wander right past without a second glance. They are super cute and perky, and I remember them from a class I taught a few weeks back*

*5 minutes later, after wandering about in the office area, they reemerge*

"Like, HI!! We're, um, looking for books? Yeah, books. On an ancient civilization?"

"Are you in World Civ.?"

"YES!! Yes, that's right. World Civ. In fact, I think you came to my class!!"

*endearing smile* "Right. Ok. Well, what ancient civilization are you going to research?"

"Yeah, well, that's a bit of a problem. We're not sure. Like, on whatever one we can find a book on? Yeah."

"Ok. Well, we'll pick one together and do a few searches in the catalog. Do you know what sub-topic you want to explore within the civilization you choose?"

"No. Maybe medicine or women? But we're hoping to share the same books."

*a buddy system for library book check-out. Interesting. Why not?*

*conducts several catalog searches*

"Oh, like WOW! This is awesome. Can you show us how to find articles too?"


I mean, of course, that's my job, and they were very sweet. But I wanted to demand where they put the handout I gave them during class that reviewed all of this. And that's not even going into the thorough run through we did in class together for a full hour. Alas.

Example #2 - Enter into Class Situation in Which the Instructor Did Not Provide All Necessary Information and I am Blindsided by Some Odd Event - This one is particularly nefarious, but I like to think I handle things well on the fly.

So, yesterday, I traveled briskly to teach a fifty minute English Composition class. I recognized the name of the teaching assistant; I've taught classes for her before. On the library instruction request form, there was a clear paucity of information about the given assignment. "Topics: global warming and economic reform. 21 students," but I did what I could. She did clarify nicely the types of sources that students were expected to find, which helped a lot. I even emailed with her last week to assure that my lesson plan covered what she wanted it to, and that she didn't have anything new to add about the class. All good.

So I arrive in the library's computer classroom nice and early (Type A) to set the room up. I turn on all the machines, open up browsers, write my sample topics on the white board, fasten a smile on my face, and begin to sweat. All in a day's work.

About five minutes to the hour I start to wonder why no one has shown up. Usually, the students wander in shortly after I first arrive, wanting to get their hot little hands on the computers and access to their Facebook pages. Suddenly, the door opens and a student emerges.

"HI! I'm Megan Jones."

Well, she's super friendly, I think to myself.

"Hi Megan! Have a seat wherever you like."

We wait in awkward silence for a few minutes, so I strike up a conversation about how oddly the library building was constructed. It was built in the 60's. Enough said.

Suddenly, the door opens again, and the teaching assistant appears. I breathe a large sigh of relief. We greet each other, and Megan looks decidedly confused.

"Oh. I thought you were my teacher." *points to me*

Now, I'm confused. Suddenly, the teaching assistant turns to me with a flourish.

"OH! I haven't mentioned that, have I? This is an online class."

Well. No, she hadn't mentioned that. And that's sort of an important fact, since we have no way of knowing how many students, enrolled in an online course, will actually travel to the physical library for my presentation. Sigh.

Right at two o'clock, a male student wanders in, looking like he recently awoke from a nap. The teaching assistant chats with both of them while I go out to the main entrance to see if I can round up any more students.

*crickets chirp*

On my way back, a single student passes me and enters the computer classroom. To add to the fun, a new librarian had asked me ahead of time if she could observe me teach, as a way of embarking on her instruction training. I said sure. Now, I was feeling terribly guilty for having her take time out of her day for this strange class. It's now close to ten minutes past the hour, and we're sitting there awkwardly with a total of 3 students and their instructor.

The teaching assistant asks if any of the students has chosen their topic yet for the final paper that we're going to be addressing. Heads shake 'no' all around, eyes wide. This just keeps getting better and better.

I totally redesign my lesson plan on the fly, created with over 20 students in mind, and wing it. It's times like these that I feel like I'm actually more effective, because I loosen up and really let spontaneity lead me. It's not like the situation could have gotten weirder or more awkward, so what's to lose?

I stand up, tell them my name, and that they pretty much have no choice but to "volunteer" whenever I demand that they provide an answer, and laugh at my jokes.

It actually went pretty well, despite the surreal nature of the situation. But now, I'm glad to be facing the weekend and to have teaching behind me for yet another week. Much crocheting to follow.

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