Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Students Are Not You At That Age

"my brains - let me show you them," by Liz Henry

In last week's post, "Ten Things I Didn't Learn in Library School, Academic Edition," the first thing I listed was about how present day undergraduates are not the same as we were. For the most part, it's not a "kids these days don't know nothin'" thing. As I said:

"Think about it this way: if you're an academic librarian (or want to be one) chances are pretty high that you liked college and were a good student, otherwise you wouldn't be thinking about spending your life in academia. Many of the students with whom I talk every day are here either because Mommy &/or Daddy made them, or because it's the next logical step. There will be students who want to be at college, but that's not every student."

After I published the post, I had a few people ask me how I deal with students like this. The truth is that I still struggle with it on a semi-regular basis, although I know that I'm better than I was when I got my first job. I have days, sometimes weeks, when I am instinctually calm and don't have to remind myself of the items I listed below. But I don't get too upset when I do struggle. Practice makes perfect, right?

Anyway, I deal with students by remind myself:
  1. In some ways, students ARE you at that age (but you have probably forgotten what it was like because your brain has finished maturing). To put it colloquially, teenage & early/mid twenties brain chemistry/structure is MAD crazy. Not only are their brains constantly growing and changing, they are doing it at an amazing rate. Another side effect of this is that teens & young adults process social input from a much more primitive part of the brain than you do. Brain chemistry and structure changes are why students can be so surly, so I try to be patient.
  2. The person in front of me could be a first generation college student. Statistics vary from school to school, obviously, but 40% of my undergraduate population falls in this category. I don't. Not only do I come from a long line of college graduates on both sides, both my maternal and my paternal grandfathers taught at the college level. This means that when I arrived at my undergraduate institution, I knew what was expected (at least to some extent). First gen students don't have that knowledge, so I try to help them fill in the gaps.
  3. It's about good customer service skills. Bear with me while I tell you a quick story. I put myself through my first graduate degree by working at a mid-range, fancy-ish restaurant. I had my regulars who always sat in my section. For them, I'd explain the specials and then pretty much get out of their way. I also had plenty of first time customers, even at that fancy pants place. With them, I'd explain every single thing about the restaurant, the menu, the bar, and so on. If I did my job well with a new customer, and the circumstances were right, I'd eventually have a new regular. That's what I want in the library - someone who knows what they are doing and only needs to have occasional pointers - so I put in the time with them when they are freshmen.

Any thoughts? And, for those of you who have a bit of experience, do you have any advice you can add to mine?


  1. REALLY good points, all of these. I've been thinking about this stuff too, because I'm only in my midtwenties and looking towards youth services, so I'm sure I'll encounter patrons who are very close to me on an intellectual and maturity level as well as people who look at me more as a slightly older role model than a big grownup with no idea what their lives are like, which I think will be both good and bad.

    1. It's not easy, navigating the similarities and differences between us and members of our communities. Good luck.