Dispatches from #LibraryLife Part 1
I’ve been an academic librarian since April, in one library or another.
And I’ve wanted to blog about it, but I haven’t been sure what’s the right way. I want to make sure that I respect the students: the hard work I see them doing, and their confidentiality.
But I also want to chronicle the little moments as they happen.
These are the moments that make the times I’ve wrestled with the cataloging system worthwhile.
The student I saw working hard all semester, struggling with her classes and the demands of a job that sometimes had her working all night before coming in for morning classes. She just came by the library looking for me with a big smile: straight A’s for the semester. I high-fived her across the circulation desk. And then proceeded to do a ridiculous happy dance. Which made us both grin.
The number of times students greeted me with “I’m glad you’re here because I know you’ll help me find the best stuff and get good grades,” makes me smile and wonder why I didn’t start working in an academic library years ago.
The student towed into the library by the guidance counselor for career advice about her criminal justice major. I got her to tell me what she really liked about the idea of criminal justice: not the autopsy part, yuck gross, but the chemical and spatial parts of working a crime scene, maybe photography? Maybe working with trace evidence, fingerprints? The conversation evolved into maybe she’s going to go to the police academy next. So that was cool. Also: the young man who interjected a request for library materials with “I don’t want to interrupt your girl talk,” and made me and the criminal justice student crack up before we went back to our discussion of dead bodies.
The new student who came in to find a novel for a book report. Described himself as not much of a reader, and said his favorite book was Holes by Louis Sachar. But he wanted something more like serious, English class literature. I was able to get him talking, and find out that what he liked best in the book was the friendship. Still mulling over the best book for him, but suggested Sherman Alexie (because awkward teenage friendships in the desert) and James Patterson and John Grisham (because short chapters, criminal justice, some law stuff). Will see how that lands.
The young woman who came in to crow about good grades and say thank you for help on some of last term’s final assignments. And then she made me smile some more, talking ruefully about her husband and sons, all overprotective of their studious wife/mom and towering over her when they walked down the street. She needed a book to read (must be an assignment this term) and wanted some romance like Jackie Collins. No joy in my collection, so I sent her to the public library in search of Jackie, or possibly also Terry McMillan or Laura Esquivel, on the theory that Like Water For Chocolate is both romance and literary, with down-to-earth prose and the possibility of a Spanish translation.
I may have explained Pride and Prejudice as comparable to street lit this week. Work with me, here: Parents of girls from poor family are pressuring them to marry the rich guys who will elevate the family’s status. One of the rich guys is mean, possibly a player, and he argues with one of the sisters a lot. And one of the sisters chases anything in tight pants and a uniform, which damages the family’s reputation, because back in that day, showing an ankle was pretty much as much of a scandal as making a sex tape. There’s gossip, guns, moms who just don’t get it… okay, maybe no actual sex or murder, and a lot of English class vocabulary words that need a dictionary, but the student was at least willing to give it a shot. Again, will see how that lands.
Have learned that I cannot explain citations without waving my arms a lot. I have to explain citations and how and why to cite things at least once a day. The References tab in Microsoft Word is a game-changer. When I explain it, it makes students look at me like I hung the moon. (Why didn’t I know about it when I was in school? Did it exist [redacted number of] years ago when I was in school?)
It is possible that I can explain just about any facet of information literacy using ice cream. Or the Incredible Hulk.
Or comics. Comics and action movies have been good social currency to make me a comparatively cool librarian who gets students to smile and laugh.. Even my limited body of Marvel knowledge is serving me well. I wish I could bring armloads of comics into either library, but I know we don’t have the collection development budget for it.