|Creative Commons licensed picture by Amy Barker.|
Librarians are scary, aren't they? Well, not really, but that's the way some members of our communities act. It surprised me at first, since I grew up loving libraries and librarians. Eventually I got used to it, or so I thought. From "I'm sorry to interrupt you," to asking other patrons for help, and onto the stammering that results when we realized that "I can't find anything" is being caused by a spelling error, I am so accustomed to patrons acting vaguely afraid that I thought I'd seen all the possible permutations.
But then I noticed a new development. Over the last year or so, but most especially this semester, I've seen an increase in the number of patrons showing up at the reference desk in pairs. It's most prevalent with freshmen, but it's not isolated to the youngest members of my community. (Just to remind you, I'm at an academic library that is part of a small, liberal arts, residential college, and I deal most frequently with traditional undergraduates.) I've talked to a few people about this phenomenon, but not broadly. I don't know if this is an across-the-board change at both public and academic libraries, but I do know other academic librarians have noticed it.
I want to move beyond noticing it, though. I want to know why this is happening. Occasionally, I think the students might be trying to make things easier for the librarian, since sometimes the pairs will both be working on the same assignment. That's not often case, though. Another idea I've had is that some of our students are completely unfamiliar with what's expected college and/or libraries. That lack of familiarity is making them feel some trepidation, so they want company. I also wonder if it could be a safety concern. This is a small, rural-ish campus, but a lot of our students come from Pittsburgh and Cleveland, so maybe they've been raised to use the buddy system for safety?
Even if I can't find the cause, there's I'm also concerned about how to react. When the students are in the same class, it can be convenient to "kill two birds with one stone" at the reference desk. So much of the teaching I do is in these one-on-one situations, so isn't it more efficient to work with two at once? On the other hand, I think about the privacy implications. When dealing with a student who's working on a research essay, it's unlikely that s/he will bring up sensitive issues, but it's still a sticking point for me. Sometimes I shoo Student #2 away from the desk while I work with Student #1, but not always. I'm not sure which approach is the right one.
So I guess I have more questions than advice this week, since I'm still formulating my response to a new-ish thing. What about you? Have you seen this phenomenon? What, if anything, are you doing about it?
They do this at public libraries, too, but sometimes the wingman stands so far away from the person with the actual question that I address them with some variation on "I'll be with you as soon as I can," at which point they look confused and say "I'm with her." I assume that if they've brought a friend to their reference interview, then privacy isn't an issue. Most of the people with sensitive questions about STDs or teen pregnancy are flying solo, but some are at the library with the friends who told them to come here for help.ReplyDelete
I talk to the second person, too. I've even had it be a parent a couple of times, which weirded me out.Delete
I work at an academic library and am all-too-familiar with the wing man phenomenon. I think it's great, actually. It makes the first person more comfortable, introduces the second person to a service they might not know about, and gives you the opportunity to teach two people at once.Delete
This seems to be ubiquitous. I worked in an academic office at a small community college and students began to visit in pairs and gaggles more and more often over the 5 years I worked there. Age seemed to be the only unifying factor. They tended to be younger students in the programs who had little to no experience with professionals in school.ReplyDelete
That lack of experience is what I suspect about my students, as well.Delete
Seems to me that the younger generation does very few things alone. I know quite a few younger people who would think it unusual to even go for a walk by themselves.Delete
As Elizabeth says, it's not necessarily a bad thing when the result is that you have the opportunity to provide library services to two people instead of one.
Perhaps it is the "bathroom phenomenon" in action at a library, where students accompany each other, even in private situations, for support, company, or reassurance. I assume that many students, especially undergrads, are unfamiliar not only with the reference process but also are unsure if they even should be "interrupting" the librarian, even though that's exactly what the librarian is there for. The buddy system may act as their protection, for if they "screw up" or "do it wrong", they have not done it by themselves.ReplyDelete