“Ahem. Ahem. AHEM.”

17 Aug

Or, “Frustrations of serving student populations”.

I think each librarian is going to have some frustrations associated with their patrons; it’s also likely that some of those frustrations have nothing to do with the actual patrons, but rather their needs as a certain type of population.  For example, a frustration of serving older populations is that not a lot of books come in large-print format.  Nothing caused by the older patrons, but still problematic when meeting their needs.  On the other hand, the need to elevate one’s voice can be a frustration directly caused by the patron, if not intentionally.

I want to talk about student populations, since from where I’m sitting, we’ve all been a student of some sort, and almost 100% of librarians are likely to serve (even peripherally) students.

  • Students often come into libraries and their instructors/professors/tutors haven’t given them the tools they need to succeed in library research.  They aren’t aware of the resources most libraries have, and some can’t distinguish between reference material and non-reference material.
  • They often don’t know what it is they’re asking for.  This is something a lot of patrons have in common – they come to the reference desk with Question A, but really what they want to know is the answer to Question B.  Hence, the reference interview, aka Pulling Teeth, wherein we as librarians attempt to discern what type of material they want and what subject matter they need.
  • A corollary to the above is that we get so jaded by this process , that when a student comes in with a reference question such as: “I need to find journal articles less than 5 years old, published in either French or English, dealing with the chemical properties of hydrogen compounds.  The articles should be peer-reviewed, and I’d like something less than 80 pages.” we still do that good ole library fallback, “What do you need it for?”  Sometimes this even happens before we recognize a beautifully structured request.**  Then, the students don’t come back because we didn’t answer their original question.
  • Students tend to wait until the last minute before beginning assignments, unless you’re dealing with high-level students or ones who’ve been burned before by those unforeseen server outages, computer crashes, or topic obscurity.  This means they’re rushed and impatient.  Nothing is more frustrating to a student than having to come back at a different time, or having to put in extra hours because of the urgency of the assignment.
  • Sometimes, particularly at expensive colleges, the students feel like their tuition is paying your salary directly, and that they can demand things you simply can’t give.  Something like immediate reference via email, or 15 volumes right off the top of your head, or basic computer help after you’ve already shown them how the database works 10 times before.  My personal favorite is when they see/hear you from afar, and instead of waving and coming up to you with their question, they don’t get up from their seats and just clear their throats (“ahem.  Ahem.  AHEM.”) in an attempt to get your attention away from someone who approached you politely.  Such actions might make a librarian disinclined to assist a patron, wouldn’t you say?  But assist we shall…right after helping the polite patron who had us first.

**Full disclosure: I try to frame any reference request I make to another librarian just as I would want to hear it, with exactly what I want in terms of subject, type of material, or if I just want a quick answer.  I hate it when a librarian tries to turn my ready-reference “Can I grow dill in a pot, or not?” into a research lesson.  I also hate when they turn my “I’m looking for a book I can check out about container gardening, preferably focusing on herbs” into a reference interview.  Pet peeve to the extreme, as it sends a message to me that I am either a) incoherent, or b) too inexperienced as a researcher to understand what I need.  Sometimes that can be the case, but generally I’ve found the more focused the initial request, the more likely that person knows exactly the sort of thing they’re looking for and just don’t have the time to pursue it independently.

So, what other frustrations come to mind?


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