Confessions of a School Librarian – Part I

The Artist's Sister at her Window

“Sometimes it seems that kids don’t really understand what books are anymore, and they sure as heck don’t know how to find them,” Agatha reflected.

“I see a lot of bewildered students coming into the library and not getting their work done. They don’t look bewildered. They look like they’re playing computer games, or talking loudly with their friends, taking outrageous selfies with dramatic expressions, laughing too loudly and doing things deliberately to get my attention. Like going out the back doors that they aren’t supposed to exit through. Like eating chips or drinking frapuchinos near the computers. Like trying to do cheerleader formations, or play-fighting in the library. I approach them and remind them to tone it down so others can study. One or two of them like to back-talk and tell me that they aren’t bothering anyone, asking the nearest student who is working on a computer, ‘Hey, are we bothering you?’ to which, of course, the student replies no, but then packs up her stuff and leaves.

“How do I know they’re bewildered? First, because life is just bewildering for a lot of kids in high school. The cooler they try to look with their friends, the more pain and fear of looking dumb they are trying to conceal.

“Second, I know that even a lot of the “smart” ones are bewildered, because they really don’t understand libraries or how to use one. I guess no one has ever taken the time to show them how to use a library catalog. Of the three students brave enough to ask how to find a certain book this week, none of them knew how to use the catalog. I had even made a sign which I put right beside the two catalog computers, with very clear directions.

“But I was glad that they asked, because it gave me something to do. I walked them over to the computer, showed them how to get to the school library system’s global website, how to locate the school, and then how to click on the “Catalog” tab. Then I showed them how to type in an item and search, using the category icon (Author, Title, Key Words, etc.) Could they have gotten there by reading the sign? Of course. But did they read it? No. But they really seemed happy that they were able to find what they were looking for. They felt a sense of accomplishment.

“And you know what?” Agatha mused to herself, ” I get it. Computer databases in libraries always used to seem complex and forbidding to me. I always felt dumb when I asked someone to do a search for me (In those days, you couldn’t do your own searches–only librarians could do them.) I never knew what search words to use, and the whole process seemed mysterious and out of my reach.  But I would have thought that this generation, with their YouTube, their Tumblr, their PlayStation, their Xbox, their Nintendo, InstaGram and SnapChats, would totally get how to access databases. But they don’t. I think they don’t for two main reasons: 1) databases are dry and boring, compared to all of the  instant gratification they get from their other computer media; and 2) no one has sat down and shown them how to do research with databases, or convinced them that they should bother. So that’s my job.”

Agatha smiled as she settled down in front of her computer, smoothing out the wrinkles in her skirt, as she prepared to blog about her new job as a school librarian.