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Good Cop, Bad Cop, Librarian Cop

Professors and librarians often play very complimentary roles. In talking with my friend Steve, who’s a professor, he mentioned our roles can often be like the roles of good cop and bad cop (with librarians being the good cop of course).

Professor’s give out assignments. They grade and judge students. They make students, gasp, work hard! They try to challenge their students and take them out of their comfort zones. This can be stressful for students. It can leave them feeling overwhelmed and confused. Professors are basically like the cop in every movie yelling at the suspect telling them that ” they do bad things to students like you in summer classes.”

Librarians on the other hand are not grading students. We offer a welcoming supportive environment, where students can feel free to ask without being judged. We are not going to yell at a student if they haven’t done the reading, or in our case, don’t know how to use a book or locate it in the stacks.

I often say things to students like: “yeah, this is a pretty difficult assignment, but I know some great places we can look to make it easier.” Or, “I see that your frustrated that your professor is requiring at least one book and one scholarly article, but he/she is probably trying to get you to see why each is important. Let me explain what each one is good for.” I try to create an environment of empathy and understanding where students feel safe to explore and make mistakes.

I have to admit that there are definitely times when librarians challenge students and professors usually try to create safe environments, but I often see our roles following this “good cop, bad cop” framework. We are both working towards the same goal. We are just helping students learn in different ways.

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Serving Users and The Element of Surprise

Every year we have a library retreat at the Inn at Shelburne Farms. It’s a really relaxing, reflective environment and it’s always productive. This week, one of the conversations that we were having out there centered on our service philosophy and how we go about serving our users. This meant serving them in person, via chat, in the classroom, on our website, etc.

Our team had a lot of great insights, especially in talking about our reference interactions. In reflecting on how I wanted my service to look, I realized that I dont want to simply satisfy them or give them a positive experience. I want to surprise them. I want users to walk away from a reference question thinking “wow, I didn’t realize how much time asking a librarian saved me.” I want students in a class to think “this person is a librarian? This class was actually fun and I learned something useful!”

And sometimes this happens. This semester a student came up to me when I was wandering through the library and we had something resembling the following conversation:

Student: “Can I ask you something?”
Me: “Sure, what do you want to know?”
Student: “Why do you librarians always smile so much? You seem so happy.”
Me: (smiles) “Huh, I guess we just really love what we do. Thanks for saying such a nice thing.”

Surprise is all about doing things that are unexpected. In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath state that one of the factors that can contribute to an idea or experience being sticky is if it is unexpected. People may not expect librarians to be smiling all the time. Perhaps they had different experiences other places they’ve been. Students may not expect library instruction sessions to be fun and engaging. Maybe they’ve seen boring lectures before. Students may not expect a librarian to be non-judgmental and amazingly helpful in a reference encounter. When these things do happen it creates a very memorable experience.

Steven Bell did an excellent conference paper presentation at ACRL this year about this. In his paper he outlines strategies to deliver a “WOW user experience.” He points out that student expectations for libraries are actually fairly low. In fact students sometimes even think it will be a painful experience. According to the literature there are students that have library anxiety. It makes surprising students that much easier.

The element of surprise is a powerful weapon. It makes experiences very memorable. If you are able to surprise the people you’re serving, then you’ll likely have people who keep coming back and maybe even tell their friends.

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Mobile Devices in Higher Education

Bryan Alexander, a Senior Fellow for the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), sums up very well in the video below a lot of the debates and issues that are going on around the use of mobile devices. These are a few that jumped out at me:

Developing for mobile devices

With the introduction of mobile devices and especially smartphones, it gives us more decisions about what we should be developing. Should we create an app? Should it be for iPhone or for Android? Or iPad? Should we create a page for feature phones? Alexander contends that with the recession and lack of resources we should not lose sight of using HTML and the web for development.

New challenges for IT on campuses

IT used to only have to support PCs or Macs. Now they have an increasing number of computing devices that are in their purview such as tablets and smartphones. Talking to the Mac guru on my campus, he told me that these days every students has probably three IP addresses (connected gaming consoles, tablets, iPod touches, laptops, netbooks, desktops, etc.). With all of these new devices there is additional strain on network resources.

Augmented reality

I really enjoy the way Alexander describes augmented reality, which too often seems simply like a novelty for people with smartphones. But he talks about it in a very different, almost poetic way: “I don’t just mean the single type that people might know of people pointing a phone at something and having digital content superimposed on it. That’s one valid type, but I mean the fact of having physical locations infested, enriched by digital content… like a second atmosphere settling onto the earth’s surface… It’s reinventing the notion of space that we inhabit.”