Why? Why? Why? Why?

In dedication, PJ on August 25, 2010 at 5:48 am

During my undergraduate studies I took a course in Ethics/Philosophy which required us students to complete a series of activities designed to determine our ultimate motivation for doing different things.  “Why did you do it?”  The aim of the assignment was to determine if our interests were altruistic, self-centered, or somewhere in between.  The expectation was that almost every one of these exercises, even ones that explored what appeared to be completely altruistic actions, would end with something along the lines of “because it makes me happy” or “because it avoids unhappiness.”

There are some fuzzy lines at the reference desk where I work.  We are not supposed to have any money at the desk, despite the fact that we do sell pencils and pens and can often make small change.  Inevitably, a student needs to print something and doesn’t have their student ID (which also serves as their print card).  We’re testing a system right now where they can borrow a print card, load their own money on it, and print what they need to with the caveat that we will not give change (if they load a dollar then they’ve donated that dollar) and they have to return it on the honor system.  This benefited a student yesterday who only had 25cents on her but found that the previous user had left 90cents on the card.  Occasionally a student has neither their ID nor any money, and I have seen them leave without the needed pages.  It’s a defeating moment that leaves me feeling both helpless and also indignant.  You wonder – why weren’t you better prepared?! 

I worked with another adjunct yesterday who has actually been in the field for a long time.  She informed me that the IT staff at her former job (which is in charge of printers and print cards anyway) would give the ref desk print cards with credit pre-loaded onto them for students who needed it. 

Now, on one hand – you want the students to be self-reliant and prepared, you don’t want to establish a pattern of “come to the ref desk for free printing/copying!”, and somebody walking away with a card that had a $40 credit on it would be a more impacting loss than a 90cent credit.  However, the adjunct just shrugged and said, “Why should the cost of a printout be a barrier to a student’s education?” 

Simple, powerful, important logic, especially in a diverse environment with economically disadvantaged students. 

Giving students “free” copies would feel good, it would seem altruistic, but it would also relieve that nagging voice in the back my mind on the rare occasion that I see a student leave the library without their materials.  Further, when you get down to it, in providing services to students we strive to meet their educational needs – and that just feels good!  It is a service, have no doubt that we are a service oriented bunch, and sometimes you have to find your own rewards when appreciation from your patrons is not forthcoming, but I love my job. 

Marilyn Johnson, in This Book Is Overdue, relates the saga of a LMS (Library Management System) migration: the movement of records from one housing system to another.  An imperfect analogy would be like trying to move all of your documents from a PC to a Mac, except multiplied by many thousand records and fields for information.  In the case Ms. Johnson discusses, there is a repeated failure of the new system to retain hold records – the list of patrons who have reserved a book and the order in which they will get to check it out.  Long after the migration completed, the issue causing this loss was finally uncovered – some of the librarians themselves were inadvertently deleting the holds by accessing the records to, get this, move themselves or friends to the top of the lists.  Johnson writes:

“The sweethearts of free culture, the helpmates of the mind, this selfless profession turned out to harbor individuals who couldn’t wait their turn to consume” titles “that drove them mad with longing, mad enough to forget their ethical principles and vows to serve the public…”

The gentleman in charge of this migration, head of IT Wayne Hay, is quoted as saying, “[Librarians] should have to work retail for a year! I don’t want to do things through technology for the benefit of the librarian.  I want to benefit the patron…it’s not about what makes the librarian’s life better.”  More simple, powerful, important logic. 

Part of our journey in SLIS is to formulate a personal philosophy.  I think mine has its foundations in the above.  And yes – that does make me happy.

  1. When I ask why I choose becoming a librarian I think it’s a mixture of both. Thanks for this post and for your help in the course 🙂

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