Posts Tagged ‘ librarians ’

Librarians vs student ignorance

Library staff carry out many functions.  Not just the obvious – issuing and returning books, shelving stock and so on.  Nor even just the things that librarians are supposed to do – cataloguing and classification, organising information, providing electronic resources, that sort of thing.  There are many other functions which they can, and do, perform, at least in an academic environment.  Offering advice on how to find the nearest toilet, bank, supermarket or bowling alley, for instance.  Providing the sort of listening ear that you would more traditionally associate with a barman in a small pub.  In extreme times, providing a place for people to be together (on 11th September 2001, for instance, when almost all of the students on campus were American, and most of them gathered in the library, needing human contact and sources of up to date information).  Upholding the law, from time to time – generally copyright or data protection legislation, but sometimes finding themselves part of a drugs investigation.  And, perhaps far too frequently, offering general education beyond the boundaries of information and research skills, which would be the traditional areas where library staff would be expected to blur the boundaries with teaching staff.

I have mentioned before that some students make me want to weep and/or commit murder when they betray their lack of general knowledge, or sometimes their lack of knowledge about their own subject.  I have been in situations where I have had to define ‘botany’ for an environmental scientist, question a history teacher in training about whether they really wanted to ask for photographs of the Great Fire of London, inform a literature student that David Copperfield is a book by Charles Dickens and not the name of another nineteenth-century novelist and, one of my favourites, explain that you can borrow a seven-day loan for… well, for a week – that sort of thing.  Just minor gaps in an otherwise flawless knowledge base, one hopes.

Last week, a colleague told me a tale which left me shocked, even after eight years of exposure to student ignorance.  On this particular day, a sunny day in September, she was approached at the issue desk by two students who looked a little cross.  “Don’t you have any books on nursing?” they asked.  Of course we have books on nursing, and on the allied health professions – the NHS would be a little worried about the training offered here if we didn’t.  So my colleague duly informed them that we do indeed have quite a lot of books on their subject, and was asked where they could be found.  Deciding to be helpful, but also teach them something they would need to know, she asked if they knew how to use the library catalogue.  “Yes, but nothing comes up!”  Interesting.  Very interesting…

My colleague took them over to one of the standalone catalogue machines, wondering whether the system had crashed.  When informed that the search they had carried out was simply ‘nursing’ and not something ridiculous like ‘hello catalogue, do you have any books on nursing or whatever?’, she assumed the worst and thought it might be time to run and hide until the technical people could kick the computers into gear.  But, brave soul that she is, she suggested that they show her what they’d done.  As one of them typed, the problem was immediately apparent.  The search box soon had seven letters in it:

N – E – R – S – I – N – G

Strangely, we have no books with nersing in the title or subject, but over 2000 records mention nursing.  Before long, the students had enjoyed a brief spelling lesson and were pointed in the direction of the books that came up using the new search.  The library staff who witnessed this event soon passed the details on to the rest of us, and certain questions naturally arose.  How did they manage to apply for the course in the first place?  Should we be worried?  Or should we be more tolerant of similar events?  Does this explain why people so often ask us not to ‘renew’ their books, but to ‘renue’, ‘reknew’ or ‘reknoo’ them?  Should we blame the madness of English spelling?  Or are we justified in being perplexed by such situations? 

Spelling is not easy, and there are many words that make me stop, think and choose a synonym if I’m nowhere near a spellchecker.  I can understand if someone looks for Jane Austen’s classic book and uses pride, not prejudice, as a key word.  I’m also well aware of dyslexia and other very good reasons for finding such things very challenging.  But perhaps I’m just very nasty, as this example simply caused me to despair.  A nurse who can’t even spell her job title?  That’s surely not good.  Or rather it wasn’t good.  The two students in question do now know how to spell ‘nurse’ – if the library staff can do nothing more for them, I feel we have made a valuable contribution to their education.

I wonder whether we’ll have to do the same for teechers, sport sighentists, pollease officers and lore students as the year goes on?


Postscript (25th September):

It slipped my mind as I wrote this post, but there was another worrying student encounter this week.  I was about to start on a library tour for English Literature students, which was joined late by one student who had been talking quite animatedly to one of my colleagues.  It transpired that there had been some confusion, as her timetable said she should be on a tour, but when she got here, she saw that it was a tour for completely the wrong subject.  “I’m not doing English Literature!  I’m studying poetry and that.”  Oh, dear…

Library Mythconceptions

It strikes me that most people don’t have a clue what I actually do all day at work.  Hopefully my fellow inmates at the Library of Doom have at least a vague idea, but in the wider world my actual activities are about as well known as Chandler Bing’s job title in Friends.  In other words, everyone thinks they know, but nobody really does.  I think this is largely due to a variety of myths, rumours and misconceptions that surround the world of librarianship.  I won’t bore you with the details of exactly what I do, but here are some things which aren’t entirely true.

It must be lovely, being able to read all those wonderful books.  Well, yes, the Library of Doom is indeed full of books, both wonderful and otherwise, and I have handled a large proportion of our stock (getting on for half a million items), and probably seen almost everything, even if only the spine of the book out of the corner of my eye.  However, I don’t get to sit around during working hours perusing this storehouse of knowledge, as, strangely enough, I’m being paid to do more useful things.  The only time when some of us might get to sit down and read is if we’re stuck on a late shift on the issue desk over the summer, when you see approximately one and a half students per hour.  If you’re lucky.

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How to get on a librarian’s little list

Admit it, we’ve all got one.  A little list of the people who’d be first up against the wall if you were to stage a revolution.  Ko-Ko, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, puts it like this:

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground
And who never would be missed – who never would be missed!
There’s the pestilential nuisances who write for autographs-
All people who have flabby hands and irritating laughs-

And so forth, through a catalogue of people that he could quite happily cope without.  We all have our little (and not so little) niggles, and this is an attempt to catalogue the ‘little list’ of a typical library.  In reverse, but not particularly precise, order. Continue reading

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