All posts tagged “students

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This Conversation is Sort of About That, But Also Really Not: ACRL Reflections Part 1


Wall Street Art in a Public Place, Photo by Christos Barbalis via

I feel this intense need to apologize immediately if I learn that I’ve hurt someone’s feelings. IMMEDIATELY. Profusely. Extensively. This feeling emerges regardless of whether or not the hurt person was partially or completely in the wrong, or whether or not I was also hurt in the process. My therapist might have some things to say about that (“not everyone needs to like you”), but it’s my truth.

If you read my blog or follow me on Twitter you can probably guess where this post is going. Yes, I’m going to talk about THAT Twitter exchange, because I think it needs talking about and reframing. I understand if you don’t want to read about it, but I still feel the need to write about it.

A Recap

You can gain some context for the situation by reading Zoe Fisher’s blog post ,  Erin Leach’s blog post, or Meredith Farkas’ blog post, and you can see Erin Smith’s very public apology on Twitter. As Zoe mentioned in her blog post, folks were very quick to praise Erin for her public apology and openness (which I 100% agree with; that was brave, gurl) and equally ready to brand #LibraryTwitter as sneaky, snarky, and hurtful (which I do not agree with).

Switchtracking, Sort of

One thing I’ve found troubling about this conversation is the shift in focus from (a) the way we talk about and treat our students to (b) social media civility, etiquette, and professional courtesy. I’ve written about switchtracking before, and I can’t help but see a version of that playing out in this situation as well. I think the focus on the “social media pile-on” as Meredith mentions is overshadowing the larger issue that it is socially acceptable to put-down our students in public in order to express librarian-solidarity or get a laugh at conference.

A Running Theme

I wrote to Erin after her apology thanking her for being so proactive, but also offering context for my own statements on Twitter. Her presentation was not the only one that spoke about students in a negative light. There were at least two others I attended that made, I thought, very hurtful comments about students in a “humorous” way. I don’t know about other sessions that I didn’t attend, but I would venture to guess this kind of “students, aren’t they silly?” sentiment gets expressed fairly regularly in public spaces. The especially troublesome part of the sessions I attended in which these comments were made was that most of the audience LAUGHED. There’s been a lot of push for those us who were upset on Twitter to make our disagreement known at the conference session during the Q&A, which I think can be difficult given the tenor of the room. (That said, I do need to challenge myself to speak up at conferences.)

These negative comments about students were happening at the same time that there was a running theme of student peer assistance, peer learning, and student empowerment at the conference. The UNLV Libraries include three bright, engaging, and frankly, charismatic, student peer leaders are co-presenters, which made me wonder, “What if those students were at any of these sessions? What must they think of us? How must it make them feel?” That was the point of anger for me. These students’ stories were amazing — being peer leaders helped them work on their shyness, gave them teaching experience they could use towards their chosen career, and helped them become better researchers. One of the presenters admitted to never having written a research paper before college, and qualified it by saying, “If you know the high school I went to, you would understand why.”

Students: They’re Just Like Us

This student’s comment was so important to me, because it centers something we often lose sight of in libraries and in academia more broadly. It’s simple, really. Our students are people. Yes, they are younger people, but they have experiences, hopes, fears, likes, and dislikes. The make decisions based on what they think is best for themselves or others, and shocker: Our classes may not be the most important things going on in their lives.

Students, as people, have absolutely gotten on my nerves, but so have colleagues in and out of the library, and people in my day-to-day life. Students aren’t unique in their capacity to frustrate me. I’ve vented and complained about students to my friends and colleagues, but I’ve also vented and complained about faculty, librarians, family, and friends to other faculty, librarians, family, and friends. I know I’ve made my own mistakes in how I talk about and treat students, but I don’t ever want to give my stamp of approval to this sentiment of general, constant eye-rolling about students. They are the reason my job exists. They can be the best part of my day. They were the point of the “collective outrage” on Twitter, which was really just collective critique, in my opinion, and I don’t want us to lose sight of that.

Challenging Ideas

For better or worse, when we write or present, we put our work out in the public sphere, and we can’t control the way others respond to it or discuss it. Nor should we. Our work becomes a separate entity and may not be interpreted in the way we intended. I don’t agree with personal attacks. I do agree with challenging ideas and being critical of problematic attitudes and structures.  I deeply regret things I’ve written in the past.

I think, that in making this conversation about social media, we aren’t challenging the right idea.

This is not about social media.

This is about how we talk about our students in public spaces, the attitudes and sentiments that make certain comments socially acceptable, and how those feelings can then shape the way we treat and interact with our students.




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I Should Know Better

It’s not always easy for me (or I’d venture to guess, anyone) to separate professional life from personal life. Things I read, hear about or experience outside of work often influence the approach I take to people and projects inside the library. So please forgive the somewhat personal nature of the first half of this post. There is, surprisingly, a library-related point, which surprised even me.

Those of you who know me and The Professor know that it has been a rough year or so for us, punctuated with some good news here and there. We are expecting our 2nd son this fall, and despite efforts to combat our anxiety, we often fall prey to fear. That was the case earlier this month, when we received some news about our baby from our 20 week ultrasound results. I won’t talk about the details, but I will say that after further investigation, the findings from the ultrasound turned out to be a diagnosis that doesn’t cause us much stress or anxiety. We’ll definitely be having additional prenatal follow-ups given our history and general tendency towards TOTAL FREAKOUT, but it’s something that will likely resolve itself in our baby before birth, after birth on its own, or after birth with reasonable treatment.

I am able to calmly write about these events this morning, but during the 2 weeks in between our level 1 and level 2 sonogram I was on High-Anxiety-Alert-Code-Neon-Flashing-Lights. Here’s where the librarian in me begins to cringe. I had an appointment with my OBGYN shortly after receiving the ultrasound results from a nurse practitioner at the practice. Our OBGYN assured us that this diagnosis was very common and that she was not concerned for the health of our baby at all. Our OBGYN, a highly qualified expert on this subject, was giving us a professional opinion based on years of experience and study. It sank in and gave me relief–for a while–but then I turned back to my favorite high-anxiety activity: trolling the internet for information.

Here’s where the librarian in me REALLY begins to cringe.

I was online any chance I could get, looking up everything I possibly could about this diagnosis. Did I stick to reputable sources of peer-reviewed medical literature like PubMed or Medline? No, although I did consult them. Did I stick to research hospital websites with medical information tailored to patients and consumers? No, but I consulted these sites too. Did I hit up message boards, blogs, Yahoo Answers (yikes), and various other sites of dubious information value? You betcha. I hit ’em all. I couldn’t stop myself. I was motivated in large part by fear and was looking for every best and worst case scenario I could read about. I knew the people, articles, and websites I should trust, but I was desperately trying to support my fickle self-diagnosis. When I was feeling bad I went looking for every doom and gloom scenario I could find to support my equally negative point of view. When I was feeling good I only focused on medical sites or forums that would support my belief that this was really nothing to be too worried about. All of my years of teaching others about reputable sources and resource evaluation were erased with a keystroke. I was an information basket-case.

I now see how my emotions got the better of me and my research savvy, but I am seeing this from the comfort of a much more medically informed and reassured point-of-view (thanks to ultrasound no. 2). I can only think back on the different people I’ve helped with research over the years and wonder just how much emotions can help or hinder the research process. I’ve seen students who were so stressed with the stuff of life that they were constantly on the verge of tears, unable to really focus on the research assignment at hand. I’ve seen students who for one reason or another, just couldn’t get along with their professor, and as a result were really angry about having to conduct research for their class.  There were also students who, like me, were searching for information on a deeply personal issue. I have a psychology professor friend who says that often undergraduate student research is really MEsearch. They often look to a very personal place for inspiration for school assignments, and I’m sure they must bring their own ideas and prejudices (good or bad) to the research table. The idea that academic research occurs outside of the realm of emotion seems unrealistic to me. I don’t think that every student feels strongly attached to researching “cell phone use among college students,” but I do think there are times when research can’t be separated from the person that’s conducting it and all of life experiences they bring with them.

I know that I am not a counselor. I am a librarian. But I think that there are times when we librarians need to realize that we are dealing with people, not just databases.  We read studies about “library anxiety” or “test-taking stress” but there is also something to be said for the emotions that govern our students’, and our own, research behavior.