Spring semester, I’m taking a course in quantitative research methods for my organizational communication program. I received the book a few days ago and was paging through it when I found a section in the “Searching for Previous Research and APA Style” chapter on working with librarians.
I admit to being puzzled at first, having never thought of working with a librarian as the type of activity that requires instruction. But I suppose that’s my bias from being one. And if there is anything that the #librarianstress incident has taught us (once again) is that our jobs are poorly understood by the general public and likely our students. I am glad that the text’s authors (which include the director of my program) thought to include a recommendation that students speak with librarians in their research process, especially in a methods textbook.
But some of the actual advice I found distressing, especially since it is supposed to have come from librarians themselves. In my text, the authors say that one of them wrote a previous book and asked “research librarians across the country…for tips and strategies for students working with librarians” as there isn’t very much out there on this topic already (p. 71). There is an in-text citation for the other book, but I don’t see it in the reference list. I think, however, that it’s this book on public speaking. There are 18 tips. Number 3 begins with “when we are in our offices we aren’t on reference desk duty. Whether an office door is closed or open, please knock first and wait to be invited in.” (p. 71) The tip continues with on to talk about how student’s aren’t bothering us when they ask questions at the reference desk. Another tip admonishes students to wait their turn at the reference desk.
Number 15 is about topics and questions: “Students should be as specific as possible in what they ask for, if they know their topic. Students who are struggling with identifying a narrow topic should seek help from their professors or librarians. We can’t help you find sources if your topic isn’t very clear” (p. 72). Students do sometimes need to talk to their instructors, I think doing general research is a good way to narrow one’s topic. Emphasizing the importance of having a specific question isn’t going to help those who are still trying to figure out there they are going.
And then number 17: “Students should understand that information can come in a variety of formats. If a student asks for a ‘book about’ something without providing any other details about the information needed, that student could come away empty handed. Instead students should get in the habit of asking about ‘information about’ something first” (p. 72). Wouldn’t a good librarian, upon realizing that there isn’t a good book about the topic the student asked about, probe a bit further and see if they really need a book?
Not all of the tips are bad. There are suggestions to meet with a librarian early in the research process and to expect us to follow up the initial questions with our own queries to help students get to what they really need. But these few (and a couple more) rubbed me the wrong way. We don’t come off as very friendly and the tone is more negative than I would prefer. Some of this is in the wording, I realize, but assuming that they accurately represent what the author’s received from the librarians, I’m disappointed in the tenor of the information provided by my fellow librarians. They seem…defensive? I’m not sure of the word I’m looking for here. Overall, they seem more annoyed with those who don’t ask questions in the “right” way rather than meant to providet genuinely useful advice. I can’t access the book that these are supposed to have come from, so I can’t tell what the methodology was for collecting the tips from actual librarians. I’m hoping that something is just lost in translation here.
I think is someone had asked me a question like this, I’d say:
- Don’t feel like you have to come to the library with a specific question. It’s good to have a general topic in mind, but looking through resources on the general topic and talking about what interests you will help you focus your topic and decide what you want to research and write about.
- Even if you think your question isn’t really about library materials or something a librarian would know, ask us anyway. Chances are good that we can either answer your question anyway, or direct you to someone or some resource that will.
- Feel free to return later with more questions, or just to discuss your research project. We love hearing what you’ve done with the information we’ve helped you find. Letting us know what resources were useful (or not) also helps us build a better collection for your fellow students.
So, librarians, what do you think? Am I reading too much into the tone of these tips after all of the defensive “our job is TOO stressful” comments on Twitter the last couple days? What sort of advice would you give for students working with librarians for the first time?
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