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When I interviewed at my university the host/chair of the search committee asked me if there was anything I particularly wanted to see when I was visiting, and I told him "actually, I would like to see the library."  It surprised him, but he obliged me, walking me through a building newly doubled in size, with lots of natural light and just enough comforable chairs and nooks to make it welcoming.  It was too new to have that marvelous dusty smell that old books and old libraries have, but it was promising.  

Since I came here, almost 22 years ago, I have appreciated the library and, more specifically, the librarians more and more by the year.  The library and its staff have provided academic and professional development to my students in a wide variety of ways.  And they have helped me with my own research in invaluable ways as well.

The university at which I did my graduate degrees had two major library buildings (one for undergrads that connected to a science library, and one a graduate research one that was built in two interconnecting towers).  In addition, many departments and the museum at which I did most of my work all had their own smaller specialized libraries.  It was in the days before online offsite access to the library catalog, so you would often walk across campus to get books and then realize you needed to go back to the other library.  It was frustrating, but guaranteed you would get your exercise!  It the book you needed was at one of the suburban campuses, you could request it through interlibrary loan and it would be delivered. Of course if the book was listed as being in the library but you couldn't find it because it was misshelved, you were pretty much out of luck.  They would not request the book interlibrary (ILL) loan because they had it on the shelf, but you couldn't find it because it was not where it was supposed to be.  And if you wanted to request an ILL book it took more than a semester to get.  So the only time you ILLd a book it would be for dissertation research.  

Here we are a much smaller university (only 12 percent of the enrollment of my grad university), and all on one campus.  All the books are in one library, and it is much smaller.  Now with the internet and such databases of articles such as EBSCO-Host and JSTOR I have access to much much more than is being held by the books and journals on the shelves of the library.  But I still need hard-copy books.  I can check out books at universities across the state or I can ask for them to be sent to the library and check them out in town.  And interlibrary loan books come in a week or two.  I can do research.  But my students can do it too.  I ask them to do research in books as well as articles they can find online, and often that means looking at books that are not in the library in town.  

These kinds of assignments benefit greatly from interactions between me and the students and the library, which means the librarians.  They can provide workshops specific to class assignments, and they are able to provide websites that support the assignments as well.  Individuals will work one-on-one with the students when they need more focused help.  Sadly, a lot of my students will not take advantage of the help that is offered; some don't even show up to the class session that was scheduled in the library classroom.  But those who do learn both knowledge and the skills that help achieve that knowledge, skills that can be applied to multiple future assignments (and even post-academic careers).  I use the library assignments to teach students how to evaluate an author's argument, starting from the qualifications of the author, and continuing to book reviews, subsequent articles about the same subject (examining citations, for example), and structure of the argument itself.  Students have to use the library, and the librarians will make it easier for the students to do the assignment quickly and easily.

Librarians have saved me from problems more than a couple of times.  They have set up reserve readings with frighteningly-short lead times, and emailed me scanned sections of books when I have been out of town and was unprepared.  I have even once asked the circulation librarian to allow me to check out a book without a library card and she very nicely let me do so.  I sent them chocolates from London a few years ago.  I brought flowers once for a particularly complicated interlibrary loan request they worked out for me.  I have written thank you notes.  It is a very small reflection of the way they have made my life as a teacher much easier.  I think the librarians are great.

They will order books and movies with very short notice (when I figure out I want to use one with short notice they will usually get them for me with better grace than I deserve).  Their priority is to make the teaching easier and the experience for the students more involving and more enjoyable.  

The atmosphere and identity of a business is set from the top.  When I first started here, in the midst of an economic downturn, we were told to write a justification for any purchase that would cost more than $100.  It was not clear to me whether it was a requirement from the library director or my then-dean, who needed to sign off on any purchase request, and was concerned with looking less than frugal.  I was also told not to order anything that was not in English, because we were an undergraduate university and we couldn't expect our students to use any other language unless that was their major.  Again, I don't remember whose idea that was.  After both individuals left, I decided to go ahead and ask for a publication that I had been very frustrated to not have on campus.  It was an expensive and useful 8 volume specialized encyclopedia published in Germany and in German, English, French, and a few other languages (not all translations of the same articles, but each article produced in the language of the original author).  When I ran into the new director on the sidewalk a couple of months later and thanked him for ordering it, he said "It is the kind of thing we should have."  It marked a significant development in my understanding of what I could ask for from the library.  It didn't hurt to ask and the attitude of the library was that making things better for me and my students was their chief concern.

Sometime (probably this coming fall) I will write about the museum experiences I have provided my students through the university library's special collections department.  We don't have a dedicated museum with permanent installations, and that lack has actually made it possible to involve students more deeply in exhibit planning and design at all stages of the process.  That would not be possible without the generosity and openness of the library in undergraduate research.  Our special collections librarian is on the university's student research committee, and she works with students in a wide variety of classes and research projects.  And I have worked with her and her predecessor in three different courses, some of them in repeated semesters.  

Our library is an academic division of the university. They teach some classes, and teach for classes.  Their importance to the student experience is difficult to underestimate.  Of course some students almost never go to the library in the course of their time here.  Those who do, though, will probably partake of the online library resources.  How much have you done with the library at your school or university?  Do you know the names of the librarians?  Do you use online resources exclusively or do you walk across campus to pull interesting books off the shelves?  Do you buy something from Amazon or borrow it from the library?  Do you provide your own research collection or do you get horrified at the cost of books and decide to rely on interlibrary loans?

What do your students do?  Do you encourage them to go in person, or are there other ways you have them do their research?  Have they set foot in the library by the time they graduate?  Have you?

Originally posted to annetteboardman on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 12:12 PM PDT.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Library memories (15+ / 0-)

    My one disappointment is that, while our library still is a relatively new building and the books are nicely spaced, the stacks are not dusty.  I personally love going to an old library, one where the books smell of old dust and must, where the books speak out in quiet whispers (and sometimes more loudly) like they do in a Ray Bradbury book.  There is something magical about a library.  Almost all the universities where I have taken classes have had libraries with that smell.  Mine doesn't, unfortunately.  

    But then of course my library doesn't have books you open up and find bookworms in.  I had always thought bookworms were imaginary until I spent a semester at the University of Ghana.  I was thrilled that they had some of the 1950s standard works in Egyptology which my current university didn't have, and spent several days in the library checking old references and rereading favourite volumes.  But there were several in which there were actually worms curled up inside the books.  You never know what you will learn in a library!

  •  library projects, whether disguised as (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ojibwa, Philby, Nedsdag

    information seeking or research methods, devolves to the laziness of teh Google, regardless of voluntary or involuntary prompts. A special collections visit can often be more motivating

    Warning - some snark above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 GOP Rep. Steve Stockman (TX):"If babies had guns, they wouldn't be aborted"

    by annieli on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 12:20:02 PM PDT

  •  This is going to sound awful, but (8+ / 0-)

    here are two verbatim conversations I've had with students in the last year:


    Student: I want to write on this topic.  Where can I find more information about it?
    Me: the Library.
    Student: Oh, yeah.

    Student: I've had trouble finding books on this topic.
    Me: Well, we do have a librarian who specializes in this area... Maybe she can help you?
    Student: Great!  Where can I find her?
    Me: the Library.
    It doesn't come across as well in the retelling, but in both cases I had students who really, genuinely didn't realize that they could into the physical building we call the library and find the answers to their questions, and the suggestion took them by surprise.

    And this is after we have the discussion about what constitutes acceptable sources: I tell them, flat out, start in the library and see what we have.  Very few students do.  The internet - while awesome and amazing - has become something of a crutch.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 12:20:24 PM PDT

    •  Reminds me of a great vignette in Lucky Jim (5+ / 0-)

      where Jim and his nemesis Professor Welch engage in an hilarious exchange that confuses the university's library (in front of which they are standing) with the city library miles away.

      Only funny if you have read, and love, Lucky Jim. :-D

    •  as a journalism student just over ten years ago, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annetteboardman, Nedsdag

      I was sitting in my advisor's office and was privy to his conversation with a graduating Senior in the department who had a project to do about the napster lawsuit and RIAA etc.  I'm closer to the professor's age and remember there were issues about tape recorders and the radio and broadcast vs. copyright etc., so I mentioned it and the student was intrigued and asked where he might find out that kind of history.
         Well you could try the library, I said.
          Oh, he said, like he'd never thought of that. Where is it? He wasn't kidding.
      A journalism student who had walked by the library in the center of the campus every day for 4 years without noticing it, never mind entering... And he would admit that in front of his advisor like it meant nothing?

  •  Library fieldtrip (7+ / 0-)

    In my honors seminar on the Origins of Language and Religion, we take the students to a university library for a day. The librarian gives them a short talk on using the library and then they get to wander through the stacks attempting to do research for the next few hours.

    The students are usually amazed to find a library that has more than a single room. While they can access things from our campus electronically, I feel that the actual library experience is more meaningful. I should point out that our college librarian is vehemently opposed to this field trip and feels that it is a waste of time and money.

  •  I love libraries and some of my fondest memories (6+ / 0-)

    involve libraries.

    I hear you on the "dust" - back in the day, as a grad student at UW-Madison, my favorite place was what was called the "cutter stacks" of Memorial Library where all the obsolete volumes seemed to end up. You could begin browsing on any shelf and find wonders.

    I also worked at the rare book library at Harvard for a few years, which was also a lovely experience. I would go over to Widener during lunch and just browse to find things. When I first started working at Harvard, an undergrad had discovered some amazing early 20th C Russian pamphlets and books in the circulating stacks and had them brought over to rare books.

    I always make sure I join the public libraries in the cities of my academic institutions as well.

    •  The "old book" floor (3+ / 0-)

      Thirty years ago (ahem), the UC Santa Barbara library had a floor full of the old books. Some were in cages so that if anyone wanted to touch them, they had to go get a librarian with keys.

      Anyone going to that floor would notice the difference in smell. The air was not dusty (the books were well-cared for) but it was heavy and slightly damp. I think, but somebody who knows preservation better than I do, that slightly warm, slightly damp air is best for books. The fact that anyone could notice the difference upon entry to the floor said to me that few people ever went there.

      When I needed quiet- serious quiet to think and plan- I'd grab a chair from another floor (there were no chairs or study carrels on the floor).

  •  It is research paper time for my students. (5+ / 0-)

    Ironically, this week five of my six classes had library instruction, which is extremely important for their papers (my sixth class will visit the library on Monday).  I ask for a variety of sources for their papers, including one non-data base Internet site, books, a personal/e-mail/telephone interview, and data base web sites since data bases preceded the Internet.

    Before we make the library visit, the librarians must know in advance what the research paper. Plus, I also tell my students to make a visit before the class library visit and talk with librarians. I always tell students that there are three words that you will NEVER hear from a library: I don't know.

    The visits went very well I must say. One of the librarians was being observed by her supervisor and she did a remarkable job on a difficult research paper topic (television pioneers and their effects). She was able to show my students which data bases would work for their papers and was able to locate books for their papers.

    Another good library visit dealt with my class involved their paper on George Orwell, such as look at literary data base sites included on EBSCO-Host and JSTOR. Another class literally had to go to upstairs to the stacks and find books on the subject of their research paper (subject: famous people who died under the age of 50 and their effects on society).

    I love library instruction classes, not because I do not have a lecture planned, but because I want to familiarize my students to the library. For many, the library is the place where they use the computers for writing their papers. They really don't take full advantage of it. I also tell them to use the public library in their own towns because there will be a day when the politicians may decide to cut their funding or close them altogether. This would be devastating.

    So thank you, annetteboardman for your terrific Teacher's Lounge Saturday diary. As usual, it is well-written and well thought of and very timely. Also, as someone who adores libraries (my first job was working in one), your diary was quite informative and interesting.

    "Do they call you Rush because you're in a rush to eat?" -"Stutterin' John" Melendez to Rush Limbaugh.

    by Nedsdag on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 01:15:18 PM PDT

  •  I love libraries (4+ / 0-)

    I took a tour of the Library of Congress. Magnificent.

    When I travel (not as often anymore, sadly) I try to seek out the library, just to roam their shelves. I hope to visit some of the ancient library sites, especially the one in Timbuktu.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Forget Occam's Razor, try hitting them with Darwin's Hammer!

    by Munynn on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 01:20:52 PM PDT

  •  No one in the stacks. No one with books. (2+ / 0-)

    I've been spending time in the libraries at UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton. They offer library cards to K-12 teachers and for that I am incredibly thankful.

    Sometimes I get so involved in looking for and looking at resources that I need a little break. At both of the above, I got it in my head to just take a walk around to see what students were doing. As a reality became more and more apparent to me, I stretched my observations to different floors.

    What I noticed is that no one was in the stacks. I never saw a student who was reading a book. Oh, I saw many books open but the flash of highlighted sections told me (I sure hope so) that the books were bought required reading.

    It's not too much of a stretch to say that I may have been the only person in both libraries, on more than one occasion, to actually be looking for and looking in the books.

    I won't interpret this. It might scare me.

  •  Authors love libraries, too! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, annetteboardman

    It's often a pleasure, as I finish a book's text, to turn to the Acknowledgements section. The respect & friendship that many authors express for the assistance they received from librarians & archivists jumps right up from those pages.

  •  I worked in a public library for 14+ years (3+ / 0-)

    I find myself wishing sometimes that I'd been able to find a job in an academic library, but where I live the library jobs were few and far between, which is one of the reasons I did a mid-life career change and became a nurse.

    I loved the libraries during my college years.  I can mimic and mock students who came to the reserves desk wanting "that article for my class I need to read this week," but it was so much nicer than dealing with the public in the children's department for all the years I put in.

    I still love libraries, now that I merely use them instead of working in them.  But it's bittersweet. In the age of the internet and Google, no one thinks what I did was useful, or deserving of a living wage.

  •  Browsing through Alice Walker's new book (2+ / 0-)

    The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm's Way in the B&N and she said something that put Jim Crow in a scary perspective for me.

    I can't quote it exactly but she said that to this day, she does not feel comfortable in a library as she (and all blacks) were not allowed in public libraries when she was growing up in the South.

    I find that to be a positively frightening thing for a writer of her stature to say esp. as I have always thought of the library as a haven, of sorts, from so much that is wrong in the world.

  •  actually managed to visit...... (2+ / 0-) old undergrad library fairly recently, the main location.  It's so much more impressive than my grad school library, which is actually pretty good, just not as good.  It was fun to borrow books, although being the first person to borrow a given book, by dint of the ink stamp return, can feel sort of odd when the book is decades old.  Now, of course, with electronic scanning of codes, no need to stamp anymore, unless one has a poor memory of when the books will be due.

    "It's only in books that the officers of the detective force are superior to the weakness of making a mistake." (Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone)

    by chingchongchinaman on Sat Apr 20, 2013 at 09:59:21 PM PDT

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