Dispatches from #LibraryLife Part 3
Call this installment: “Other duties, as (sometimes) assigned.”
I’m surprised at the number of times my job has been more tech support than traditional librarian skills like reference and cataloging. Almost daily, a student needs an assist saving a document to a shared drive, or wrangling with some aspect of PowerPoint or Word. Once in a while, I get a different tech problem to solve: the document’s being sent to PDF instead of printing, or the printer jams (inevitably for three nights in a row, during midterms. That week was awesome.)
Number of times I have “fixed” a student’s tech problem by walking over and standing next to the computer:5 and counting. Behold, the librarian superpower!
My personal best on tech fixes: a student asked for help opening a document from her home computer (which didn’t use Microsoft Word) on a library computer. Oof. I made a good show of tinkering with it in attempted usefulness, opening it with different programs. Everything from Notepad to Google Docs failed miserably, before I remembered a program I’d used on an old laptop, Open Office, a program that did a pretty decent job of mimicking the functions of Word. She came back to the library grinning. It worked! With an assist and a reminder from my tech-savvy friend Evans, I was also able to promise her a tutorial in using Microsoft Word online, for free. Problem solved! And now she smiles whenever she sees me.
A student struggling with English vocab words in criminal justice wanted to know what “forensics” meant, so I pressed my fingertips onto the desk to leave smudges, then said “Here are my fingerprints. If I murdered you, they’d come look at your body, see where the blood fell, and see that my fingerprints are there right by your body, and they’d be able to tell that I was here, so I might be a murder suspect. And if I shot you, they’d test my hands for gunshot residue.” Gruesome example, and he laughed, shocked. “Why would you murder me?” “So you’ll remember this example, of course!” Just like I remember Mr. Buckley explaining velocity with the example of shooting me out of a hypothetical cannon aimed at a wall, in high school physics. But I digress.
I love helping students with papers, whether researching (officially in my librarian-ly duties) or working through the thinking and writing. I love sitting with a student who is hashing out ideas for a paper (a lot of comparison essay assignments), and listening to them as they think out loud. Staying in a position of guidance, instead of diving in to contribute my own ideas is really, really hard, sometimes. I know that my job is to be a sounding board, and I’m honored to be that. I try to mirror, I try to stick to asking questions. But it’s so much fun to see the kids thinking, see the connections they’re making, and the way they talk through things they’ve read and thought about. It’s hard not to insert too many of my own ideas… Maybe I should spend some downtime reading textbooks just to learn along with them?
The main thing that got me through my own schooling, both undergrad and Masters programs, was working closely with people who served as sounding boards, and grounding influences. (Pretty sure I couldn’t have survived library science without M’s help, specifically.) Memories of school putting me through the emotional wringer are still pretty fresh. Trying to pay it forward working with students.
Public speaking advice: remember everyone hates it. Speak slowly. Rehearse if you can. Remember everyone watching you in class is sympathetic, even your instructor. I have said this on average once a week since I started working in an academic library.
Requests for books and information have included, recently:
- Sad books (fiction)
- Memoirs of going through bad stuff (different student)
- Funny movies with Melissa McCarthy
- Nearest Notary Public
- Books about corporate culture
- Police officer training
One very cheerful student had a bunch of papers to do. Of course I asked her the topics: “Measles, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s,” she told me and beamed beatifically. “Okay then, have fun with your diseases!” I said. (I possibly could have phrased that better.)
Semesterly reminder to myself: Print out a lot of front pages of articles to give students random citation practice. Nobody gets citations right on the first try. Even librarians have to look up the fiddly bits.
There’s a bakery next to the library. Needless to say, I’ve become a familiar face there, because I can’t possibly resist their little samples and big grins. Trying to pay for eating my own weight in samples by offering to help students polish their resumes and get jobs there. (And tipping generously when I do succumb to the occasional pudding, or cupcake.) Working on a student’s resume, I discovered that her ambition is to be a pastry chef on a cruise ship. How neat! Maybe working sales at the local Temple of Frosted Temptation will be a good first step?
A student came in and told me “my girlfriend just broke up with me!” I sympathized with him, acknowledged that, yes, that sucks. He asked for advice: “To get over it? Write, or do art or do something expressive. People have turned heartbreak into fame.” He wanted to know: “How do I meet the next girl?”
“Learn to cook,” I said. “Definitely learn to cook.”
In all seriousness: I feel really lucky that a handful of students have built up enough trust in me to seek me out and tell me about things that are going on in their lives outside the library. They let me share successes, both academic and job-related, they come to the desk beaming proudly about a paper or test grade, or a successful interview for a new job. I love getting the chance to celebrate.
Recent successes have included: a job interview for a retail job, and a job offer (“Even though I forgot to send the thank you note after the interview!”) a job interview using the student’s criminal justice major (“I have to shave before the interview!? I’ll look like I’m twelve!”), a paper written in record time before class, with an assist from me on writers’ block (“I work best under pressure,” we’ll see how long that idea lasts.)
Some students have confided in me about troubles and sad times, too. A student whose father passed away before he could see her graduate told me stories about her dad, showed me a picture of him. A student got bad news from relatives in another country, and confided in me about feeling helpless with loved ones so far away.
There have been a few hugs, mixed in with the high fives, the fist bumps, and the wavy arms of triumph.
Never pictured myself as a college librarian.
But I really, really like these students.