Deepening the Conversation

thinking about questions of authority, technology, learning, and 2.0 in academic libraries


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What Students Want, revisited

I just looked over my blog post from November on giving students what they want, and am laughing at my vehemence, a little bit. I was all sorts of wrought up, and somehow managed to miss some important points in my rush to post. Can we blame it on being a new blogger, and allow a small redux? (and yes, I’ll think bout what this says about blogging as a form of scholarship…)

There’s a sentence in the last paragraph that I don’t really stand behind:

Which is all to say that I will never be persuaded by the argument that “it’s what the students want” when it comes to research and research tools in the domain of the library.

What I should have said is that the sentiment alone will never be compelling to me, as regards library information resource changes. And it certainly doesn’t carry much weight if a tiny number of students were carefully led to the statement.

But: if students (in any number, really) want more outlets, longer hours, more comfortable seating, a vending machine for USB drives and pens, I’m right there — they know what they need in terms of study space and study tools, and I’m happy to seriously investigate the feasibility of filling those needs. However, if my training and experience as a librarian doesn’t carry more weight than student wants in terms of complex information resources, then I’m not sure where I stand as a professional.

One thing I do stand for as a professional, though, is a willingness to take students seriously. And I was being too reactive about a meeting I had just come from to address the part of the equation. If the students say they want something (like, say, the ability to search all our resources at one time, or a customizable library portal) I am willing to look at that desire, with the eyes of a librarian, and try to see if it’s either possible or desirable. Is it pedagogically appropriate for a college library? Will it help users do effective research? Will it be at least as effective as out current methods? What will it cost? Does it solve any problems we’re already looking to solve?

I do think that gutting the effective parts of effective search tools to give students what they want so they won’t have to think or learn is a form of pandering. And I don’t think that’s going to change.

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