Saturday, October 4, 2014

Some Library Misery.

Sweetheart, honey, darling, you waited too long. The books you need are gone. Checked out, or stolen, or one and then the other. They are not on our shelves. We could have requested via inter-library loan, but you waited until Thursday night when it is due on Monday morning. There is no time.

You also picked the most common, easy, low hanging fruit of a topic you possibly could have. Your professor will let you write on anything involving rodents. But you picked the history of Gerbil World. And so did everyone else. I suggested that you change your topic to something very close, but slightly more obscure. I pointed out the pile of books we still had on the (now closed) Hamster Gardens attraction.

Nope. You've already written your paper (with what sources?), and all you need is one book, because your professor requires an actual print (or electronic) book for your first paper. I check the local public library, but no dice.

Finally, in a moment of brilliance, I find a collection of essays vaguely related to Gerbil World. Here, I say. This is the last thing we have on your topic. Take it.

Not ten minutes later...

"I need a book on the history of Gerbil World..."

--Academic Madame Librarian


  1. I've been to Gerbil World and the first Hamster Gardens, but I think I prefer Gerbil Land. I remember the first Hamster Gardens had an interesting Habitrail ride that differed from the one at nearby Gerbil Land in that it afforded a better aerial view of the inner workings of the Hamster breeding facilities than would the type employed at Gerbil Land.

  2. When I was teaching, I often put material such as old exams and certain textbooks on reserve for my students. Sure enough, there was going to be someone in my course who didn't take advantage of that, even though I announced it several times in my lectures.

    In one case, I had a lot of whiners claiming the final exam was "too hard". Too hard.... considering that I used questions from the old exams that were *on reserve* and it was an open book, open notes exam. When I told them about that, the response was often "huh?"

    In another case, I was teaching a service course. The library was *two blocks away* from the building the students were in. What was I told by one apprentice princess? "It's too far away for me to walk there." Yeah, right. However, one of the biggest shopping centres in the city was only *four* blocks away and I'd bet that she spent a lot of time--and money--there.

    You know what they say: you can lead a horse to water.....

  3. So how many of these students, I wonder, are planning to hand in the same paper that they found on the internet (or perhaps, if they're going old school, in some sorority/fraternity file)?

    Or perhaps they all wrote about Gerbil World in high school?

    This is, of course, partly a failure of the assignment; one can allow students wide latitude in choosing topics while still requiring that they narrow their topics to something individual, and manageable. Still, I sympathize.

    And God bless librarians, who deal with this nonsense day in and day out (and can't even revise the assignments to reduce the nonsense quotient). I always tell my students who are having trouble finding just the right database and/or keywords to find sources for an actual, focused, interesting topic to please, please go talk to a librarian; not only will the librarian be able to help them; they'll make the librarian's day.

    1. academic madame librarianOctober 6, 2014 at 1:18 PM

      Pretty much, yeah. The fact that some many of these students are not willing to a) choose a less popular topic, or b) take my advice when I show the other fine options they have.... Well, it does not make my day. And thank you (sincerely) for sending them to us: the ones who are willing to work WITH the librarians do make our days.

    2. Yes, a thousand times yes. I know it's just me, but it seems the number of students willing to work with librarians is diminishing. At my small, rural community college upwards of 85% of first-year students arrive with no library use experience: their high schools laid off school media specialists years ago and those students never availed themselves of the public library.

    3. Academic Madame LibrarianOctober 7, 2014 at 1:40 PM

      Indeed! I'm lucky that the surrounding schools (and we get mostly local students) have kept at least some of their media specialists. But most of them still have not the faintest idea how to use a library catalog (yes, we have the stupidly easy to use online kind, just like the public libraries), or find a book. I sometimes find them wandering in the stacks with just a title...

  4. "You can lead a horse to water..." A-freaking-men.

    I tell my students, verbally, and in writing, not to wait til the last minute to start their research, but there are always a few flakes who do, and whose flameouts are spectacular enough that they get to serve as object lessons in subsequent semesters.

    It's strangely gratifying.

    1. Ah, but you know how it works, don't you? They will complain to your department head that *you* didn't give them enough time and that you weren't being "helpful". Guess who may be ordered to give those malingerers an extension in order to meet their "needs and expectations"?

    2. That's the nice thing about where I work...I *am* the head of the department on my campus. Mu-ah-ah-ah-ah!

    3. Academic Madame LibrarianOctober 6, 2014 at 1:20 PM

      Ah yes, the last minute flakes. I'm all too familiar with the species. Later on in the semester I should have some doozies to share...

  5. Amen to how we set assignments. I have found I can nearly avoid all plagiarism cases by doing a good search on possible topics before I give them to the students. Of course if you assign a couple of overused topics or ideas, the students are going to root around and find the hundreds of possible student responses already extant.

    But if you just be creative with the assignment, you can stymie then when they try to Wikipedia Their Ass!!!!