Monday, September 29, 2008

Reference Desk Deja Vu

I had a student come up to the desk a few weeks ago because he was looking for a book. I looked it up on the catalog, wrote down the call number for him, and pointed him in the right direction. I might have even walked him up to the stacks to show him where the book would be located. At any rate, he found what he was looking for. Transaction successful.

A few days later I had another request for the same book. This is not so unusual since multiple students will often be looking for the same book that their instructor recommended. I repeated the reference process. Catalog, call number, right-direction pointing. Another successful transaction.

Last week another student asked again for the same book. I took a good look at him. I recognized him as the same guy who'd asked for it before, and then I realized that it was him who had asked for it both previous times. This wasn't a case of several students looking for the same book, but of one student looking for the same book again and again. So I said, "Didn't you ask for it twice already last week?" He nodded his head.

I'm happy to pad my reference statistics, but it didn't feel very educational for me to keep looking up this guy's book for him. He told me he needed the book for his (remedial) reading class. I don't know why he doesn't just check it out instead of seeking it out in the stacks twice a week.

So I said, "Why don't I show you how to look it up, so you can do it yourself from now on? Do you remember when I visited your class and showed you how to use our catalog?" (I visited all the reading classes, so I know he completed the training.) He nodded absently. For the third time in two weeks I took him through the motions of finding the catalog and looking up a book. He stared off into the library and didn't pay attention. Finally I said to him (in a friendly voice), "I'm happy to help you find stuff, but if you're going to need this book so often you really should know how to look it up. That's why you're in college."

In the end, I just wrote down the call number on a slip of paper and said, "Keep that slip of paper and you can use that to find the book next time."

I'm reminded of the famous quote by the great statesmen, W: "Is our children learning?"


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