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Some Enchanted Evenings…in the Library

March 14, 2015

It’s about 8 pm, and the usual complement of patrons is in our library. Two students are having a study session at the big table in the middle of the stacks area. Several other students are using computers—some doing homework, some watching YouTube videos. Another student is making photocopies of a homework assignment from one of the textbooks we have on our Reserve shelf. There is a student worker manning the Circulation desk, waiting for someone to return something (or check something out)—while doing his homework. As the librarian on duty, I am at my desk, logged into our Chat Reference program and monitoring my email account—that’s where the Text Reference questions appear—while I work on various projects and tasks such as finding an article in full-text at another library for one of our students.

Around 9 pm, the students start to trickle out, returning to their rooms to watch Netflix or play the Xbox game they just checked out from us. By 10, there are usually 1 or 2 people left, contentedly working away with their headphones on, enjoying the quiet that settles over the library at night. Some nights—especially in the colder months—it is only me and the student worker after 10 pm. Our various Reference-question channels are quiet most nights, and generally no one comes up to the desk with questions any more complicated than, “Can you show me how to use the copier?”

Although it is nice to have mainly peace and quiet for my work environment, that atmosphere does raise certain questions. We know our students need help with things such as searching databases for useful articles and creating correct APA citations. Are they not aware of our various options for contacting the library at night? Do they even know we’re open at night, until 11 pm Monday through Thursday? Do they not realize all the questions we can answer for them, all the help we’re waiting and hoping to provide?

Perhaps our students do much of their work during the day—or on the weekends. However, I fear some of the silence stems not from our students already knowing what they’re doing, but from them: a) believing they know what they’re doing (although they don’t) and/or b) not caring whether their answers are correct or whether their papers have useful arguments from evidence found in the wonderful articles, books, and e-books to which the library gives them access. I wonder if some of the students’ attitudes come from a generation so accustomed to asking Google for everything that they haven’t yet realized that quality college work requires answers that not even Google can provide.

What are evenings like in your library? Are they bustling with students working hard, asking questions, looking for resources? Or are they mostly quiet, with a few scattered patrons submitting “something” (anything[?]) to Blackboard so they can go hang out with their friends?  I’m hoping that with the weather improving, our library will find itself used by more of our students.  We’re going to continue thinking of creative ways to spread the word about librarians being available–and interested–in helping students improve their grades–and their minds.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2015 5:03 pm

    I can definitely see where you’re coming from, Karen. We are CONSTANTLY trying to think of ways we can “raise librarian awareness,” as we call it. But it always seems like there is more we can do. Our library is open until midnight on most days, but we only offer in-person/live research assistance until 9pm. It’s interesting because often, I actually see the library get busier (and louder) during this time — but we still don’t get very many research questions.

  2. Hilary Westgate permalink
    March 16, 2015 9:53 pm

    Hi Karen,
    We encounter this same situation, but I really like your positive spin on it! We work until 11:00 as well, and we rarely get any questions after 9:00 p.m. Students are often using the library space until 11:00, but they are not using us as resources, except for last-minute panicked questions when projects are due the following day. You’ve given me something to think about to take back to my colleagues; maybe our focus should be on how we can make ourselves more useful in the evenings, rather than wondering whether we are needed then!

  3. March 17, 2015 12:48 pm

    I started to answer this yesterday and my whole computer crashed. Maybe it was an omen… :) At any rate, I am new to my current position and we are a small commuter campus. We are only open until 9 four nights a week (Monday-Thursday), and I have been trying to get a sense as to whether or not that is even useful. We are kind of in the middle of nowhere with only a small contingent of students living within walking distance, and I think if I were a student, I’d probably choose a more populated location for my late night studies. Our busiest times appear to be between 10-2 during the week, and even then, I have not once been approached about anything that resembles a pithy reference question. I have been asked about reserve books, how to print, how to scan, and how to video conference. And I don’t mind being asked how to print – I won’t judge, and I am hoping that printing is perhaps the gateway drug to more librarian interaction. We are talking about ways to have the library be more involved earlier and more often in a student’s time on campus. I’ll be curious to see if anything we try has an effect this time next year. I did want to get a little philosophical about the second-to-last paragraph.

    “However, I fear some of the silence stems not from our students already knowing what they’re doing, but from them: a) believing they know what they’re doing (although they don’t) …. I wonder if some of the students’ attitudes come from a generation so accustomed to asking Google for everything that they haven’t yet realized that quality college work requires answers that not even Google can provide.”

    Anecdotally, I also have a sense that many of our students feel pretty self-confident about their ability to find what they need (even when they shouldn’t). However, I’ve done a lot of thinking about this in recent years and about the role of the librarian in the age of Google. I suspect that we may look back on this time as quaint (much as we do the card-catalog-era). We will probably think that Google of today was laughably simplistic and be amazed at how incorrect and imprecise the searches are. I would love to have more students or faculty come to me for assistance in locating resources – I think I’m good at it, and I feel a thrill when a really challenging question comes my way. But another part of me wants to argue that librarians could be doing a lot more good behind-the-scenes as well. This article in Wired about how Netflix creates its categories really stuck with me: http://www.wired.com/2013/08/qq_netflix-algorithm/ – how are they achieving so many browsable categories? By hand-tagging. What is something that librarians are really, really good at? Metadata and cataloging. I still believe there’s a usefulness to subject headings, but I also think that we could learn more about natural-language tagging ourselves. I hope that we can always be useful on some level, face-to-face with the people who use our resources. It seems to me that the most useful thing we can do is teach not necessarily how to find things, but rather how to evaluate what we have found. I also wonder if we couldn’t be more active in making the systems that we expect people to use more effective. And as amazing as our library resources often are, most students won’t have access to them once they leave the university setting, which makes me think that it’s important to spend time making the tools they WILL use better and more effective, if we can.

  4. March 17, 2015 2:13 pm

    At one time librarians worked one day a week until 11 p.m. We now leave at 9 and the library is open until midnight with aides working the closing hours. If there was a demand for our services at night, we would adjust, I’m sure, but it made sense to have us available earlier in the day when there was a greater need.

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