Thursday, September 08, 2005

When students just show up

"It was Tuesday, September 6. It was hot in the city. During the semester, the library provides all sorts of instruction and orientation sessions. Professors can schedule a class in various ways, and the library can be very flexible in handling requests. Now and then, however, a professor simply sends her class to the library with some vaguely defined objective. When that happens, I go to work. I am an Instruction Librarian."

(Play theme music from Dragnet)

The story you are about to read is true. The names were changed to protect the (not so) innocent. . .

"I was working out of the Information Desk when the note came on the electronic mail. A professor called another librarian to inform her that about 100 students would be descending on the library. This would happen in two waves sometime in the morning. No further details were given.

At about 10:30am, the first group of students showed up. 35 young men and women just gathered themselves at the library's entrance. I was called by one of the Assistant Directors to ascertain the situation. There was not much to ascertain. When I asked one of the students what the teacher had told them, they gave different accounts. One young lady claimed the teacher simply sent them to the library to do research. Another young man said, "our professor said we could come here, and someone would show us what to do." He did not define what it was that needed to be done. Chaos was about to ensue as the crowd was getting restless. It was a busy time, and most of the computers in the reference computer area were full. Something had to be done. The boss simply said, "why don't you take them to the classroom and show them some things." I just nodded, and then I told the students to follow me to the Instruction Room.

At 10:40am, we gathered in the Instruction Room. By "law," I could not force any students to stay since it was not my "jurisdiction." However, most did choose to stay for a demonstration of resources available for them to complete their research. I just wanted the facts, but I soon realized they would not be forthcoming. When I asked the students if they had an assignment they were working on, another young lady with brown hair replied, "we have to write a short paper, I think two pages or so, after we read the chapter." She was soon met with a different reply, "you must be taking a different class." I knew then I had my work cut out for me. It was a Political Science class, American Government as I could tell from a textbook. The closest I got to finding out their needs is that they were working on current political issues. One of the sample topics had to do with gas prices. With that in mind, I proceeded to open the library's homepage and show them how to use Lexis-Nexis Academic and Academic Search Premier. It always helps when you have some ideas on stand-by. Students were mostly attentive; some actually took notes, and one or two asked questions. It was clear they had been left stranded by their professor, and yet, they had to hang on to every little word that professor said.

11:35am, the cycle repeated itself, this time with 40 students. I was better prepared having done the lesson once before. They were lucky no classes were actually scheduled in the Instruction Room at the time. We managed to provide some assistance, give students some things to work from, and with luck, they learned a thing or two."

(Cue theme music for end of episode. Place professor in "mug shot" position with drab grey background)

"The professor called later that afternoon. She revealed that the students will actually be working on a research paper and that they would need to use at least four sources. It turns out that the resources we covered worked well.She was grateful for the library taking her students in, and she was gently reminded to actually schedule a class next time."

(Roll credits)

Note: Just my attempt to poke a little fun at this "improv" moment. That, and I like when Joe Friday says, "Just the facts, ma'am."


Joy said...

Thanks, Angel! I love this. Just the kind of thing that helps a pre-librarian understand what my working day will be like sometimes.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

You are very welcome, Joy. I should add that these things don't happen often (maybe a bit more often where I work at now for some reason), but when they do, it's either you say no flat out or think fast on your feet. I can see both points of view, but personally, I see students half-lost, and I just feel I have to do something, even if it is making it up as I go. Thanks for stopping by.