One challenge emerging for me in my new job is finding a balance between helping students with class assignments and empowering students to help themselves.
We do what we can for the self-starters and the independently minded (handouts, links on the website, etc.), but we also have a group of students who ask for help (“Please walk me through the entire researching and APA citation process”) every time a paper is due. They’re dedicated and hard working, but some have a technological knowledge gap that prevents them from doing the work on their own, and all know they can ask a librarian for help and receive ample one-on-one instruction.
On one hand, it’s great to see that the library has so many regular patrons, I’m thrilled that they are comfortable enough with us to ask for help, and most days we are not so busy that providing one-on-one instruction results in another student receiving less than adequate attention.
On the other hand, we’re not doing them any favors in the long run by stepping them through the process every time they ask. There’s little motivation to retain information or learn new researching skills when someone is available to conduct your research every time you go to the library. When I worked in a public library, the reference staff had a policy of providing brief computer instruction when asked, and referring patrons to the computer classes the library offered if more extensive teaching (more than 5 to 10 minutes) was required. At the time I thought it was a silly policy, especially when the reference desk wasn’t busy, but now I can see it as a way not only to free up the reference librarian’s time but to encourage patrons to improve on their skills.
So far my solution to this challenge has been to insert small “teachable moments” into the process (“Did you know a faster way to do that is…”) and suggest that they come back during their free time to get additional tips for successful researching. My fear is that an effort to empower them to do the work on their own by pointing them to broader resources or giving out APA handouts will be equated with an unwillingness to help, and they may not return to the library… these things must be done delicately.