It’s a snowy February as I write this, with local schools closing all around us. We were delayed opening till 9am, though there were students here at 8am hoping to get in. Luckily some of our staff are morning people, and were able to let these folks in and open the library early. I like this — students here early despite the weather and staff here to help them out. Dedication, compassion, and smarts all wrapped up in one. It’s a nice place to work.
At a previous institution I worked at, one of the administrators asked us “Why do we need a library when we have Google?” It ruffled our librarian feathers, but maybe that meant it was something we should seriously consider. And so I did, for years, and I think I’ve come up with an answer. No, it’s not the way that Google returns results (popular results rather than relevancy ranked), it’s not the quote from Neil Gaiman (“Google will bring you back one hundred thousand answers, a librarian will bring you back the right one”) though both things are things that I believe in. It’s simply this little secret: Carrot and stick.
The college experience will change you, it’s designed to change you. Teach you new skills, give you the ability to question things and figure out your own answers, to know how to overcome challenges and recover from failures. That’s the promise of a good school — it will make you more of what you already are. And that means being better prepared for a job, sure, but it also means being better prepared for life too; being able to be knowledgeable and charming in a corporate presentation is just as important as being able to give a heartfelt and clever speech at your best friends wedding, isn’t it? The way that we change you is by challenging you and supporting you at the same time. Assignments, reports, exams, labs, projects, presentations, term papers — those are the challenges. They’re difficult by design – they force you to focus, to research, to pay attention to details, to organize your thoughts, to push on. It’s not comfortable but once you realize you can do this, you can take that awareness and apply it to anything. That’s the stick; the challenge. The supporting part is the carrot. Now your professors do this, your advisors do this, the Career Center, the Counseling Center, the Writing Center, there’s a whole suite of services here to help you. And the Libraries too.
How? Well, I’m glad you asked.
The things your professors challenge you with are, essentially, questions. The Libraries exists not only to help you find the answers to those questions, but also to teach you that the questions you need answered for class and the questions you need answered for yourself are no different. The answers you research for class are the practice. And we try to help you through so that when the time comes that you have questions about something else, you’ll have the skills to find your own answers. We do this through a bunch of resources – databases, books, videos, etc — while employing professionals in these resources to train you how to use them. The skills to make these resources give you information to consider quickly.. though maybe it won’t always be the information you hoped for. That’s discovery – finding something new to consider and challenging our assumptions. We buy the books, we license the databases, so that you don’t have to manage that yourself. We are also plugged in to the secret library world of shared agreements and cooperative projects; meaning that if there’s something you need that we don’t have, if you give us some time to track it down, we’ll get it to you. Because we adapt and try different tactics all the time. If you don’t give up, we won’t give up.
So Google is great as a starting place, but it’s not a carrot. It’s a stick. It’s another challenge; are you sure the web page is reliable? When was it built? Who built it? What if they’re just trying to sell me something? It’s a lot to consider on top of considering that original question you came with. Here at the College of Saint Rose libraries, we’ll help you parse all that, and teach you how to parse all that for yourself in the future. And, on snowy days where roads are treacherous and the winds are howling, we’ll be here early to let you in and help you get started on your questions.
If you stuck around for all that, well thanks. I hope you stop by and introduce yourself to the librarians here at Saint Rose. With any luck, you’ll become fast friends.
Drive safe out there.