Most of my co-workers spend most of their time working with juniors and seniors. They teach classes for these more advanced students, and their appointment slots fill up with students needing complex data, high-level scientific research, or rare primary sources.
I, on the other hand, have spent my time this fall almost exclusively with freshmen. In fact, so far this term I’ve only had two appointments with seniors. And because I’m the liaison to the English department, and because most freshmen take various incarnations of English 109, I end up teaching classes mostly for freshmen. Consequently, I find myself teaching an entirely different genre of class than my co-workers do.
In some ways, I have it easier. I don’t have to worry about those left-field questions about SciFinder Scholar, and I don’t have to worry about my status as a non-expert in whatever field the students are studying. Hey, they haven’t even chosen majors yet!
On the other hand, though, these are hard classes to teach. The research topics range far and wide when the only requirement is to “write a research paper,” so it’s hard to choose a resource for them to learn that will benefit everyone in the class. The students are also inundated with introductory sessions for academic services, so they often come in prepared to be bored. And besides, what do you leave out when they need to learn about database searching and catalog searching and finding encyclopedia articles and evaluate web pages… All this and they don’t know how to read a call number, let alone understand that you can’t look up journal articles in the catalog. I also don’t get to delve into the really fun stuff – the advanced searching techniques, the specialized bibliographies, the thrill of the hunt.
Not only that, but the “everything’s on the web” attitude is now compounded with a new assumption: everything has always been on the web. Last week I had a student looking for government information from 1985-1990. The state government agency in question had digitized documents back to 1993, but not to 1990. “Why didn’t they archive their older web pages?” the girl asked me, bewildered. It took me a minute to realize that she was asking why all the wonderful documents that they’d put up online prior to 1990 had been taken down! As I explained that Google has only been around since 1997, and that the web was pretty much unusable by the general public before 1995, this poor freshman’s eyes got bigger and bigger.
In the face of such confusion, I’ve decided that I have a new mission at work. I’ve stopped being jealous that my co-workers get to prepare their students for complex research projects, and I’ve begun to realize that I have a special place in the library: not only am I perfectly positioned to reach more freshmen than my colleagues, but I actually enjoy the special challenge that these students present. So I will focus on reaching absolutely as many freshmen as I can. I will prepare them so that by the time my co-workers teach them in their advanced classes, these students will not only know the basics, but they will be empowered to experiment freely and ask for help unabashedly. These freshmen won’t know what hit them.
Or maybe I just like to play god. Bwa-ha-ha-ha.