This past week, I came across an article in The Atlantic that discussed a recent study about the importance of student-teacher relationships. When students and teachers find out they share interests in common, the entire educational experience improves.That got me thinking about the impact of librarian-student relationships on library and research skills.
How well do you know your students? Do they know you? From my own experience, I suspect there is quite a bit of room for improvement in that area.
This is what I know. When I asked my daughter about the librarian at her elementary school, she said, “you mean that lady who reads us stories?” Now that she’s in middle school, I’ve asked her about the librarian there. She doesn’t know the librarian’s name, she is not even sure what the librarian looks like (“is it the lady that checks out my books?”). This coming from the daughter of a librarian. This is not good.
I also know this. In my experience working as an academic librarian, the protocol for librarian-student interactions tended to be very business oriented. Not a lot of small talk. Even then, instinct and observation told me that was not a good thing. I always admired the way the circulation staff chatted up the students. Guess where the students tended to go to ask reference questions? Not the reference desk! I think the students were less intimidated to approach the circulation desk because of that friendliness.
I wonder, if librarians took the time to make small talk with students, were less business as usual, less “lecture-y” (there’s always that one librarian that enjoys the soap box), would more students be compelled to ask for help when they need it? Would they become more information literate as a result? This would make for an interesting research study. If it turns out that a correlation does exist — that librarian-student relationships play a central role in both literacy and information literacy development — then the entire trajectory of library space design might be turned upside down. It might even serve as a compelling argument to keep old library traditions, like the reference desk (alone or in combination with other service desks).