Sunday, October 12, 2008

Joys of Browsing

This semester, a couple of classes have been assigned to come to the library every Friday and find a book -- any book -- from a certain section. (The section differs each week). The assignment is supposed to serve as a happy introduction to the library, as it requires students to go there repeatedly, which they may not be asked to do for any of their other classes, & which they may not have ever done in the past. 

For weeks I've been trying to figure out why I've had such a negative reaction to this assignment. It's not just the task I get stuck with -- of repeatedly explaining to students how the library's print collection is organized when they want to know where the 'social sciences' section is, expecting the layout to be the same as Barnes and Noble's. That's as easy as pointing them to the LOC Classification System poster hanging on the wall nearby. Nor is it the youths who ask the question with a smirk, as if they're only asking me because they don't care enough to figure it out themselves. And when it gets right down to it, I don't even care if the students leave without falling in love with the library. Not everybody thinks libraries are great: I get it. NOR is it because our print collection is perhaps not as impressive as what we have available through our subscription databases and e-book collections, and represents only a part of what we own. 

I think what bugs me is that it seems the students are supposed to learn the joys of browsing, but they have to browse for an assignment. I find browsing is its own reward, and it's best done when I'm bored or have plenty of time to spare. So it must be the gourmet in me that is affronted: Students are assigned to do something that should be a pleasurable experience, but by making it an assignment they just try and get it done as quickly as possible. I watch them determine what floor their LOC call number is on, grab the first book they see in that section, and rush back to check it out at the front desk. Frequently this happens on a Monday morning, the day the assignment is due.  

At least I've figured out why I'm indignant about the whole thing. It seems silly now, and a bit sad ... I am confident that the students are deriving some benefit from the assignment, if only because they have to briefly think about how books are organized in a college library. And from now on I'll try to imagine a few of them sitting up in the stacks, rapt in the Qs or the Ks or the Ls, or whatever it is this week.

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