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.
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Research is an exercise in failure. You try a search in Google, or the catalog, or a database and often you don’t find what you’re looking for right away. You then try something else and perhaps get a little closer. Each time you try a search though, you learn a little more. You find new useful keywords to try in your next search. You learn what doesn’t work or what kind of works.
The reason librarians are research experts is because they realize that research involves failure. It doesn’t scare them and they don’t easily lose heart. They often see it as a challenge. They fail, but fail quickly, trying different iterations and learning along the way. Their searches are like the process of evolution involving multiple failed mutations until something comes along that works and flourishes.
Failure is necessary to succeed. It’s what allows us to learn. We should take the same approach in our careers that we do with our research and see failure as a tool… a necessary means to an end. Failure means you’re trying. It’s nice and safe to perpetuate the status quo. You won’t fail doing that. But you also won’t grow, and the library will stagnate.
Do something. Anything! Even if your idea isn’t fully fleshed out, start trying it. Your failures will help you to flesh it out. We don’t start research knowing the answer. We create our answer from a mix of failure and success. We also don’t know exactly how we’re going to build the perfect library. But we can figure it out. Sure they’ll be some failure, but you won’t even notice if you’re focused on what that perfect library looks like and how to get there.
“That’s all it takes really, pressure, and time.” – Red, Shawshank Redemption
Last week I finished teaching a batch of information literacy classes. I was also able to read some papers that students wrote in relation to my session and their reading of the article Is Google Making Us Stupid? From reading these papers and conversations with students in class, I got great insight into how these freshman use and think about information.
One of the themes that kept coming up was that of time. In this day and age students and people in general have so little time on their hands. There are multiple classes, clubs, sports, children, work, etc. They are also under a lot of pressure from parents or themselves. The reason students use Google for research is not necessarily because it has the best information (they even said it doesn’t always), but because it is the fastest. They’re under pressure and only have so much time.
How then do we get students to use our awesome library resources? If we can let students know that the library can save them time, more students would use us. Instead of spending time wading through a lot of irrelevant garbage on Google a librarian can quickly get to highly relevant (and scholarly) information whether it is in books, articles, or on the web. Save time, ask a librarian!