Friday, January 31, 2014

Tales of the Roaming Librarian

It only took two weeks of roaming around the library with an tablet computer before I got to address a research need for a student sitting in the library.

It just so happened that as I was passing through one of the casual seating areas, that I spotted a student reading a book I knew well - The Revenge of Geography. Two students were passing the book back and forth, so I concluded they were discussing something about it. Then I spotted a bookstore sticker on the spine, and I knew it was being used as a textbook. So I approached the students who were sitting with friends in a circle of chairs, and announced that I was inserting myself into their conversation.
    They were surprised, but I moved quickly to explaining that I knew the book that they were puzzling over, and asked if I could help answer the question they were working on. 
We talked for a little while about geography, about the professor, about history, and about the library & what it can do for the students. They thanked me before I departed, and I Roamed on. 
Here's a picture one of them took while we were talking:
OK, I"m kidding again. This is Thomas Barlow, also of the Bodlian Library. 

     This interaction helped me put into words what I had been thinking about how to actually make this program work. The book, I realized, was my "in" - that point of intersection that gave me a reason to stop and talk. We the librarians have to be assertive and actively seek conversations. This is not an easy thing, as most librarians are not comfortable with intruding on people like that. Even with my "in" I was still a little embarrassed at my boldness. I am glad that the group was both guys & girls; as a man in his 40's, I can't help but think someone might suspect me of other motives for stopping to chat with a group of, or worse, a single college-age girl. You know what I mean.
     All the same, the students are either not going to know that they are able to stop me and ask a question, or they will hesitate from shyness or embarrassment.  It is an accepted truth among librarians that we don't get all the questions people have, because they are self-conscious about asking and appearing uninformed or incapable. It is part of the craft of the librarian to help people overcome that hesitation, and assure them that asking the question is the right thing to do, because it leads to knowledge. We're trying to figure what would be a good way to tastefully advertise the fact that the librarian strolling casually through the area is available to help; that it's OK to stop them and ask a question. As the semester progresses, I expect the program will see more activity as the idea seeps into the student's collective consciousness. And when it does, I'll be there to help.


Angela Weaver said...

You are a great librarian!

David Billinghurst said...

Do the roaming librarians have some form of identification that lets students know that they are librarians and not random people who have snuck into the library because it's nice and warm? Either some distinctive item of clothing or even something as corny as a badge that says "Ask me. I'm a Librarian and I know stuff." Couple the badge/item of clothing with a poster or notice at the door telling people that it is ok to ask Librarians questions, and that might help break down the communication barrier.

It sounds like a great project - human search engines - and deserves to succeed.

Anonymous said...

gudonyer, as they say is Aussie. Sounds like you're doing the sort of things I'd suggest (take advantage of openings, advertise - which makes it clear this is a real thing rather than just some chance encounter, and accept it will take some time to get rolling)