By Meredith Farkas | December 1, 2007
Last Winter, I started an embedded librarian program, because I felt that a lot of students were still missing the information I’d provided. I’m embedded in 14 online classrooms and in each of them, I have a discussion board where I can provide instruction and answer research questions at the point of need. I explain to them what resources are available and tell them about the tutorials in their subject area. In the weeks before their paper topic proposal is due, I offer advice on choosing a topic and pre-research, and I offer to help anyone who’s not sure if their topic is appropriate given the available resources. I tell people all the time about how we will e-mail them any journal article they need and will mail books to their home. In some classes, I get a lot of questions; in others, hardly any at all. And yet, at the end, I get feedback via end of semester surveys that some people couldn’t figure out how to use the library. And I’m left to wonder why they didn’t bother asking (if not on the discussion board, than at least via e-mail or phone).
So, when I receive feedback from students that makes it clear that they haven’t looked at any of my instructions, I’m at a loss about what to do. One student who had been in a class I was embedded in last semester was shocked to discover that we could get him journal articles that we didn’t have available online. And ILL is something I talk about on the discussion boards like a broken record. It was obvious he’d never bothered to look. I get feedback that people couldn’t figure out who to contact for help or that they had to buy books because we didn’t have what they wanted online. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes people have legitimate criticisms that I can act on and am grateful for it. I’m happy to make changes. It’s nice to be able to do something about it. I’m just not sure what I can do when I am making all this information available and people simply are choosing not to look at it.
I would love to be able to stand in front of them and give them this information. I’d love to have the opportunity to work with them them in a chat or a webcast, but the programs are strictly asynchronous since so many people work and are scattered all over the place. Barring that, I can only put the information in as many places as possible and constantly suggest to the faculty members that they recommend our services (which I do).
I’m never going to stop trying to make things better, but with some people you have to put up you hands and say “I’ve done enough.” If you’re not willing to look at tutorials, read documentation or contact us, I can’t help you. The student has to take some responsibility for this failure. I can’t make JSTOR easier to use, but I’m happy to teach you how to use it if you ask (or check out my tutorial on it). The majority of complaints we get are things we can’t fix. I can’t make the eBrary reader not suck. I can’t make it so that every database has the same interface. All I can do is make myself as available to help as I can and provide documentation so they can help themselves. And if people aren’t willing to ask for help or look at my instructions, then I can’t beat myself up over it. When someone I remember talking to buys a book instead of requesting it through ILL as I’d suggested, I’m not going to feel badly about it when he later complains. That’s not true. I do feel bad. But I’m trying to recognize when things are beyond my (or the library’s) control.
The feedback we get from the end of semester surveys has definitely gotten better over time, so I know we’re doing a better job, but it seems there will always be those people who don’t want to take responsibility for their own learning. If they can’t figure something out, they won’t look at the help page to find out who to contact. They won’t look at the tutorial. It drives me crazy, because I wish there was something I could do to reach these people. And since they are geographically distant, I can’t do much in the way of outreach (these folks are not of the online social networking generation by and large).
I guess it’s like the whole serenity prayer. I have to learn to accept that sometimes I won’t be able to help people because I can’t control their motivation. It’s a two-way street. And I guess it makes more sense to focus on the things I can change. It made a huge difference when we started offering chat reference. It made a big difference when we started monitoring the library e-mail accounts all weekend. I could spend time continuing to wring my hands over the students who don’t want my help or I could focus on doing a better job for those who do.