Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Aging reference librarian on the loose

The other day I was on the reference desk for a busy afternoon shift. I'm usually on in the mornings, when it is very quiet, so I suppose I'm often shielded from interactions like the following which are, quite frankly, annoying.

I don't like to be annoyed easily. It makes me feel old. I live in fear of becoming crotchedy. Curmudgeonly, even. I don't want to become all decrepit and frown-faced while using words like "newfangled" and "whippersnapper." I like to be seen of as kind and nice, and you know, sweet and helpful. But sometimes, it's tough.

While on the desk on the day in question, a student approaches.

"Hi. I have a paper due tonight..."

...let me interject here that it was approximately 4:30 pm. Ok, we continue...

"...and I just don't understand what my teacher wants. Can you look at my assignment?"

Now, this is becoming a disturbing trend. I mean, what do you all think that librarians do? I think they help others find information. I do not think that they can channel instructors and read their minds to figure out what they want. And for some reason, more and more students *really* think that librarians have these powers.

"I think you should ask your instructor personally. I won't be able to interpret the assignment any better than you could yourself."

*distinctive whine tone inserted into already attitudey voice* "Well, I just don't know what the heck she wants, and I just really feel it's unfair. I've already talked to her and she isn't helpful. I really want you to look at it."

I was already feeling annoyed by this student's attitude, but one of my colleagues was on the desk with me, and I really didn't want *her* to think that I'm crotchedy. So I agreed.

I expected him to pull his syllabus out of his backpack. Oh no, old fogey one. He slaps his laptop down onto the reference desk and opens up an email to show me.

I had to smirk to myself at the fact that the email was from his instructor, and based on what I was reading, she too was annoyed by this student's attitude. The message stated that she expected him to act like a college student, do actual work, and follow directions. That she expected him to review the relevant literature and cite it in his paper. Let's be curmudgeons together, you and I...

I cleared my throat and told him that it looked like he needed to find some sources.

"I HAVE. I have these books here. But I haven't read them, I mean, I DON'T HAVE TIME."

Well, yes. That's because it's now 7 hours before your paper is due. Did you just find out about the assignment now? No, I didn't think so. That's what I was thinking, although that's not what I said. That crotchedy thing again.

"Well, you can skim the table of contents and the index to find the relevant parts, and just read those. We can also look for articles, and those have the benefit of being shorter."

"Ok, but again, I don't understand what she's looking for. I mean, she says we have to do "research." But I don't understand what the heck does she wants. I don't have time for this!"

By this point, I was really wanting to give this guy the boot. His whole demeanor and what he was saying conveyed that he considered this a gigantic inconvenience. I mean, imagine that, his instructor actually expecting him to WRITE A PAPER and READ LITERATURE IN HIS FIELD in order to earn his degree! The INHUMANITY!

It's this sense of entitlement that really turns me off to some of our students here. They seem to think that if they are breathing and show up to class 50% of the time, they're entitled to get a degree when they've done this for 4 years. Not so, my friend. And I too procrastinated when writing papers in college, I'm very familiar with this quandary. But I TOOK RESPONSIBILITY for my poor time management skills, and stayed up until my paper was done. It was NOBODY'S FAULT BUT MY OWN that I CHOSE to wait until the last minute.

I see that I'm using caps a lot in this post. It's because my eyebrows are furrowed so tightly together right now recounting all of this.

I finally sent him away unhappily to a nearby computer to get started skimming his sources and writing. Before him, I had a very nice, but *very needy* guy who came to the reference desk no less than 4 times asking for help with his World Civilizations paper. He kept asking me if I thought his topic was ok. I can't tell him that, he simply HAS to speak with his instructor about the parameters of the assignment. He wanted me to tell him *what he should write in the introduction to his paper* and he didn't know how to navigate the Library of Congress call number system. The latter part I still find somewhat shocking (for native U.S. students, which he clearly was) but I try to be understanding that maybe their high school library failed them. But writing a paper? Yes, college is the place to fine tune that, but the librarian can't help you, sir. GO TO THE WRITING CENTER. He was very sweet, so I helped him readily, but it just saddens me to see the state that our incoming students have deteriorated to. They *really* want someone else to do their work for them, in many cases.

By the time my shift was done, I was dying to go home and have a glass of wine. When I was in elementary school, we all learned how to use the big card catalogs by our scary librarian. AND how to navigate the Dewey Decimal System. Henry actually knows how to use a library better than some of the students I see here. UGH.

But I don't want to be the next scary librarian, so I'll try to put on my smiley face again. And act younger.

1 comment:

  1. I blame the education system (not higher ed I mean highschool). They pass students on without any real skills. Talking to a 4th grade teacher of a student who never turned in any amount of homework, her real frustration was with the mother who didn't see the point of homework and refused to help with his assignments. The poor teacher basically gave him everything he would need for a project and have him come back with the results. And this is a private parochial school. Her concern was the administration was going to pass him regardless.

    And that's what happens. School has become a hurdle to just get through regardless of whether a student knows anything or not. And teachers are powerless to stop passing students because it's all political now.

    Undergrads are becoming that way too. The Spanish department at one of the higher ed schools started carding people at the beginning of classes and before any mid-terms or finals. The reason is because a student actually paid someone to attend class and take all the tests but showed up all confused for the final. He didn't know his prof or his TA and that's when they realized he'd never even been to a class.

    So what you say about students and papers gives me flash backs to when I was a TA. We had a pop quiz and student's thought it was open book. I guess they never had a pop quiz ever. Or the numerous times I'd work with a student to help give a presentation in class and they failed utterly to do any of the research. I had no sympathy. I just politely let them deal. Some people just need to flunk out and go to trade school.


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