« Appalling, Endearing, Amusing | Main | September 11th, and every other day »

Scavenging for facts

The educational institution that employs Your Humble Blogger has begun its academic year, huzzah, and one of the signs of the New Year is the students walking in to the library asking us to sign their Scavenger Hunt sheets. This is an assignment given to some dozens of students every Fall requiring them to find twenty or so offices on the campus—the bookstore, the Registrar, Public Safety—and get a signature from each.

I would guess that the other offices just sign the form and get rid of the students as quickly as possible, which makes sense. If you have found the Bursar’s office, then you have found the Bursar’s office. If you need it again, you know where it is. You’re done. From our point of view here in the library, however, getting to the front door is insufficient, and we will not sign the form until the student familiarizes him or herself with the place a bit. I’ll give you my spiel that I give to the students:

We’re not going to sign the form just for finding the front door of the library—tho’ well done finding the front door! An excellent first step. Now you’re going to walk around, look upstairs, look downstairs, think about how you are actually going to use the place while you’re here. Then you’re going to come back and tell me three interesting and useful facts about the library, maybe answer a couple of questions, and then I’m going to sign the form.

One of my friends on the faculty overheard this bit (there is some slight improvisation, but it’s mostly the same to each group) and said I was a hard-ass. Am I a hard-ass? I don’t know. I’ve never sent anyone away without signing the form, and most of the students spend less than five minutes wandering around.

I ought to have been writing down the Three Useful and Interesting Facts that students come up with, though. There’s always a certain amount of overlap, largely involving things on the main floor within a few yards of the circulation desk. People seem to think that the scale model of the University is useful; I am skeptical about that, but I count it. I grudgingly admit that the location of the cafĂ© is useful. A surprising number of students tell me the location of the Interlibrary Loan office, which is only moderately useful (requests are placed on-line and books are picked up at circ) but they aren’t to know that yet. Some will identify a special collection—the periodicals, most likely and most usefully, or the videos. Some have noted down a piece of trivia off one of the display boards; I have accepted some as interesting even if not useful. Some have said something along the lines of You have a lot of books; accepted. Some have located the Leisure collection or even the Reference collection, so well done there. Some, alas, have claimed to have located the Reference collection as being on a different floor than it actually is. Only half marks there, I’m afraid.

The ordeal of the Three Useful Facts being over, I ask the following question: If you had a research assignment and wanted some assistance getting started, where would you go?

Again, I regret not keeping a tally, but I would estimate that about five percent of the students give something approximating a correct answer (either the reference desk or the reference office), another five percent say they would ask me personally (not a correct answer, but at least I would direct them to the reference librarians), ten percent say uh… here?, and the remaining eighty percent stare blankly at me as if I were speaking Dutch.

Generally, after giving out that correct information, I begin to sign the form while asking the student where one would go to check out a book. It’s a bit of a trick question, since we are actually at the circulation desk at the time of this exchange, but still I estimate no more than half get it right. I then ask the student to guess the loan period, which they never, ever do.

I’m forty-two years old; I have been working in an academic library for four years or so; I went to college in the 1980s, and even then I started as a student worker in the library my freshman year. So I don’t have the slightest remote recollection of what it was like to know nothing about how an academic library works, to walk into a place that is totally different from the high school equivalent. But I hope that nineteen-year-old me would have thought that the most obviously useful facts about the library are (a) where you check out books, (2) how long you get ’em for, and (iii) how you get help when you need it.

Well, that and the restrooms. I give full usefulness marks to those who know where the restrooms are.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.