Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Curmudgeon or Experienced? You Be The Judge.

Normally, I write these posts about what I do. This week, I’m going to change focus and talk about what I don’t (and won’t) do. I think this is just as important to who I am as a professional as anything else I’ve written so far.

You see, my continuing transition from “punk kid” to “mid career” hit another milestone recently: I’ve come to understand why established librarians utter the phrase, “but we’ve always done it that way,” so frequently. The epiphany came when I said something like, “that’s not my job,” to a colleague. At first I was horrified. I even jokingly blamed a work friend of mine for turning me into a curmudgeon. After I calmed down, I realized that it’s a natural part of my evolution as a librarian and that I have solid reasons for each thing I won’t/don’t do.

Here are some examples:

  • Plagiarism. The quick answer is that there’s not enough time. I’ve got all I can handle just teaching freshmen how to find their way around the building and how to use a few basic tools in the one-shot, information literacy session. However, even if professors gave me a second class period, I still wouldn’t tackle this subject. Yes, ethical use of information is part of being information literate, but it needs to be an ongoing conversation and it really needs to come from the professor. It’s different when I have my professor hat on (I teach as an adjunct at the college where I’m a librarian). In my librarian role, though, my answer is a confident: “not my job.”
  • Citation. Students will forget how by the time they actually need to create a works cited list. I’ve got most of the professors here convinced that they should schedule the instruction session when their students have the research assignment and a possible topic. The “just in time” session works much better than the “just in case” kind. Even still, “just in time” for information literacy is “way too early” for citation. So, just like with plagiarism, this is something that I think is the professor’s job and not mine.
  • Basic Computer Skills. I’ve got to pick my battles. I know computer skills are important. Everyone needs these. A chunk of our undergraduate population is comprised of non-traditional students, people who are returning to school after a while away. But even some of our traditionally aged students would benefit from this kind of class. Just because you know how to use Twitter and Facebook, it doesn’t mean you know how to create spreadsheets or even basic word documents. However, I don’t have unlimited time. Unfortunately, once again, the answer is: “not me.”

Everything on this list is something I have done in the past, but time has changed my willingness. The truth is, I used to be that “can we try this?” person. I still am sometimes. It’s an important role, so don’t ever stop asking questions and proposing new projects. When the answer to “can we…?” is “but we’ve always…” don’t write that person off as calcified or antique. Instead, ask them to explain why. New ideas are great, but you shouldn’t disregard the benefits of experience.

How about you? What won't you do? Why?


  1. I work at an academic medical library that is open to the public. Working the circulation desk tonight, an older gentleman wanted me to find articles and print them off for him. Since I also work in document delivery in the ILL office, I know that this is a services that many patrons pay for. Part of me want to take the "customer is always right" route and just do it, but I also knew that as a circulation worker it wasn't my job.

    Instead of just doing it for him I put on my librarian hat, and said each step I was doing out loud as I searched his articles. At first he didn't seem interested, but after two articles he started to really follow along. Turns out he has never used an OPAC before. After the third article, he went to a public access computer and found a half dozen articles on his own. As he left, he called me a magician (which kind of made my night). It was the first time I was able to practice "teaching at the desk," and see it actually work. I could have just printed the articles out and it would have been way faster. But now he feels a little more empowered to do his own research. It was pretty awesome.

  2. Turner, I'll admit I will just print stuff on occasion - especially if the member is a college administrator of some sort.

  3. I think it's healthy to embrace "not my job." Obviously, in some cases, you have to pitch in even if it's not. ("Other duties as assigned.") In my case, the three things you mention absolutely are my job, because I'm not in an academic environment. The general public isn't always aware of these things. Now, in a lot of cases it's going to be a referral rather than direct information, because librarians don't know everything (see, my post comes back to haunt me).

    A former boss used to insist that we as librarians do shelf-reading and shifting. I understand where he was coming from, and like I said above, I am always going to pitch in with circ or page jobs if it is needed. But for no reason? I don't have time for it. I have many other things to do, and you are paying pages less than half my hourly wage to do it. How about properly training the pages so they are aware and know they should do it?

  4. I'm right there with you about shelf reading & shifting, Cari, but I might not get to avoid it completely. I just finished weeding our fiction collection and I'd really like the shifting and shelf reading to be done by the beginning of the school year in a few weeks.