Two seemingly unrelated events converged to create a clearer picture of what academic librarians are facing these days. One was a stimulating and enlightening meeting with the Twin Cities Writing Professionals group last Friday. At this meeting, members of the group and the librarians they had invited to join them for a day all began to realize that we’re working with students on the same general skills (thinking critically, reading critically, evaluating what you’ve read, and communicating well). But that’s a topic for another evening. The moment of realization came for me when one writing professional attempted to articulate the difference between writing professionals and librarians by saying,
It seems to me that we’re both trying to help students toward good writing, but while writing professionals believe in providing guidance but not answers, librarians are trained to deliver answers to questions.
Needless to say, this provoked quite a bit of lively discussion. I don’t know of a single academic librarian who strives to do his or her students’ homework for them!
The second event occurred today when I attended the presentations given by senior French majors at my campus who had just completed a year-long project (their senior thesis or, as we call them here, “comps”). As I listened to the three girls present on reconciling traditional vs colonized marital arrangements in Madagascar, the French health care system, and stereotypes of “youth” and those riot-ridden “suburbs” in France, it struck me that “successful” comps talks problematize more than they clarify. In academia, we are suspicious of anything that seems to “answer the question” too clearly, too neatly.
So here’s what librarians face on college campuses today: a general conception that we “answer” questions, and a culture that regards finding answers as the cheap and easy way out, as naive, or even as cheating.