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Four Stories

June 10, 2015

Having recently completed my first academic year as a full-time community-college librarian in central Pennsylvania, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect. I’ve done a good bit of “official” reflecting since I just submitted my self-evaluation/ professional portfolio to determine if I’m on the right path toward tenure, but I thought I would take this opportunity to share stories on a more personal level describing students and other library users I’ve encountered during the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semesters. To protect their privacy, all names have been changed in this post. I have also constructed the quotes based on my memory, so I am certain they are not exact.


Destiny

Destiny is a wheelchair-bound student, who was in a developmental English class for which I taught a lesson on website evaluation. Before the start of class, she was very vocal about her health problems (diabetes), and in the process of trying to get the class started and be positive, I and the course instructor commented on how she needed to take care of herself. Destiny then shared that she had “lost her best friend last night” presumably to a health issue and made other remarks implying that she wasn’t concerned about taking care of her own health at that time. The course instructor seemed to be accustomed to such comments from Destiny, again encouraging her that she is important and should pay attention to her self-care. Awkwardly, I managed to transition into the instruction I had planned, resolutely staunching my inner voice that was screaming, “Why the heck should she care about website evaluation; when her best friend just died!”

We got to the point in the lesson where students were looking on their own for a website to evaluate. (They were doing research on Holocaust-related topics.) Suddenly, Destiny blurted out, “Hey, this one site says the stars the Jews had to wear were yellow, but this other site says they were different colors.” She wanted to know which was “right.” After looking at the websites with her, the instructor suggested that maybe the colors related to different countries. Destiny became focused on finding out more about the star labels and the reasons for the colors, periodically sharing verbal updates on her discoveries.


Carrie

Carrie was a student on “work release.” Early on in my interactions with her, I didn’t really know what that meant. Conversations with other librarians and comments she made during our various encounters helped me understand that she was on release from prison. In Pennsylvania, inmates who have committed less serious crimes [my interpretation] and who are determined to be trustworthy are eligible for educational/vocational training programs, which in Carrie’s case, allowed her to take classes, earning mostly general education credits. (See the Pennsylvania Code for more information). She was a nontraditional student–I’m guessing approximately my age–with a rough appearance and a gruff voice to match. She spent many hours in the library, including hours on Fridays and Saturdays; and she often had citation questions.

“Why can’t there just be one citation format? I just get MLA down and then they have to go and change things and make me do APA! And all this work on the computers. We didn’t do all this electronically when I was in school!” are examples of her frettings. In the course of assisting her with APA, I learned that she loved golden retrievers and enjoyed working outside. I would run into her in the restroom and she would lament that other people living at her house had “trashed her place again.” Even when I couldn’t relate to a particular concern, I tried to sympathize with her current plight.

Crossing paths with her over two semesters, I knew I would always hear a complaint, “I’ll be here in school until I’m 90,” but I also saw growth, “I know never to do something that dumb again!” Slowly, an increased confidence in her academic ability also emerged. I will miss Carrie. The last time I saw her was at the end of Spring semester. She strode through the library beaming after coming to campus to get a copy of her transcript. When she saw me, she declared, “I passed everything–I was worried about Computer Science, but I did it–I can transfer all my credits and start at Thaddeus Stevens in the fall!”


The Visitors

I was answering reference questions one day, and a staff member directed a particular library user to me. She was a striking woman in traditional African dress; and when she spoke it was with very proper, but somewhat halting English. “I am seeking information on making drinking water from urine,” she told me. I walked her to a library computer, opened up our list of science databases on the library website, and explained how we could search for periodical articles. She indicated that she wanted to see more, so I conducted a keyword search in ScienceDirect, not sure what I would find since I had not looked for information on this topic before. I generated a list of results, and we started reading the titles and abstracts, some of which seemed to be on target. Her gaze was intense as she read. I asked if she wanted to save or print any of the articles, and she declined. “Wait,” she instructed, “I must bring my son and show him.” She disappeared for a minute and returned with a typical-looking, older teenage boy.  She pointed to the screen and said, “See.” He nodded in acknowledgement. From ensuing conversation I came to understand that in “their country” the idea of turning urine to water would be considered preposterous, and she wanted to show her son that such ideas are not ridiculous.


Cindy & Lora

Finally, in April, I attended presentations at a student research conference on one of the campuses where I work. The team of Cindy and Lora had created an impressive poster display, complete with original research and correctly-cited sources, so I decided to attend their panel presentation later in the week. For their research project,”Aggressive Music Videos & Intimate Partner Violence,” Cindy and Lora analyzed music videos from three main genres (country, rock, and rap/hip-hop) by identifying and counting images and lyrics portraying women being disempowered or victimized, sometimes violently, because of their sex. They used a set criteria based on their research to determine such instances and found disturbingly high numbers across the musical genres, in some cases for songs that had spent significant time at the top of the popularity charts. Their conclusion was that this needs to change because the pervasive nature of these images of intimate relationship violence and women as objects, especially in music with huge fan followings, suggests a tacit acceptance of these negative behaviors and attitudes. Their analysis was compelling; their supporting research was solid; but the clincher was the conclusion of their presentation. Lora pulled out a guitar and performed a song she had composed–a ballad which described her personal experience as a victim of domestic violence. In a room of around 20 audience members, an awed silence followed her last chord. Then, thunderous applause; and lastly, follow-up questions about the project.



Each of these stories does two things for me. First, they each remind me, at a most fundamental level, why I am a librarian. I love empowering people with information, especially when it is information that energizes them, helps them solve a problem, or allows them to take another step forward toward a larger goal. Second, these stories exemplify the huge diversity of library users one can experience as a community college librarian. Meeting the needs of all users from every socioeconomic strata is the goal of all libraries, but the intersection of such a broad spectrum of people with higher education still seems to happen most readily at the community college level. As a community college librarian, I work with the students who struggle with basic skills as well as with those who are truly on the cusp of graduate-level work. I welcome and attempt to steer those who have the capacity to learn much, but whose education has been interrupted by various circumstances. Every day of the past year has provided me chances to grow and become enriched through service to my unique community of students and other library users.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 11, 2015 1:04 pm

    Great post, Kim! And really inspiring. It’s refreshing to hear about personal experiences (in such detail) that really meant something to you. Being a librarian is a true gift, and your post is a good reminder of that.

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