by Emily Hamstra
My favorite article in the latest RUSQ is “What they Didn’t Tell Me (or what I didn’t hear) in Library School: Perspectives from New Library Instruction Professionals.” In the article, three new librarians reflect on what they have learned in the field of library instruction outside of library school. Julie VanHoose writes, “What they didn’t tell me in library school is that students don’t care about learning to use the library.” Bridget Farrell writes, “What they didn’t tell me in library school is that sitting down with the faculty and administration is a vital step in the process of preparing for information literacy sessions.” And, Emily Rae Aldridge writes, “What they didn’t tell me in library school is that my colleagues would be my biggest asset.” I couldn’t agree with these personal reflections more. This article made me think about what they didn’t tell me in library school about library instruction.
They didn’t tell me in library school that working on the reference desk is library instruction. In library school, they teach you about library instruction and information literacy, and they teach you about reference resources and services. I was reminded of this last week during a particularly busy chat reference session. A patron asked me for our book request form. I sent the patron a direct link to the form. The patron chimed back with a “thank you,” and asked me how to get back to the link in the future. In my rush, I had forgotten to teach the patron how find the form on her own. Good thing this patron kept me in line!
At the reference desk, we encounter a lot of patrons who have never looked up a book in our catalog before, never read a call number before, or are baffled by which database to start looking for the information they need. This is library instruction at the point of need. Moments like this are when the patrons we help are going to learn and retain the best, because they need the information we’re giving them. Library instruction in the classroom, as I encounter it, is not often at the point of need. The paper or project we’re talking about in the class might not be due for another week or two, sometimes longer. At the reference desk, a student comes searching for books and articles she needs right away. She needs to do research for paper, and the paper is no longer something far off on her calendar. I have her attention, and she wants to know how to find information on her topic.
They didn’t tell me in library school that learning starts with a question, and so does every reference desk interaction. They didn’t tell me that reference is more than a fabulous service, it’s an opportunity to teach.