The Librarian as Cool Aunt

Is there an ideal instruction librarian? Some ur persona that will connect with students in a 50-minute session, convincing them of the value of information literacy and building the foundation of a relationship for later question-asking and consultations?

Yeah, for sure. And it’s this person:

For a while now, Kevin and I, as well as one of our instruction mentors back East,  have been kicking around the idea that one of the personas that the librarian can successfully adopt is the cool aunt (or uncle). I was reminded of this a few weeks ago, while watching one of my peers in my library’s peer observation program, who just completely and totally inhabited this role in a super-successful way. She rocked out as the cool aunt to the faculty-member-as-parent, getting the students jazzed about the library and, importantly, made them feel like they come to her with questions.

So what does it mean to be the cool librarian aunt?

  • You’re not involved in the carrot/stick process. Unless you’re teaching a for-credit library class, it’s pretty unusual for a librarian to have anything to do with grading. This means that the librarian can provide a safe place for students to talk about how they really feel about their research assignment, and hopefully to admit that they could use some help. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to the analogy of the Librarian as Q.
  • You can be real, bro. I mean, obviously, you don’t want to undermine your credibility, but it’s ok to say that something is challenging, or that the printer really does suck, or that you’ve had a similar experience to what the students are going through. A recent study indicated that students engage in more “uncivil behavior” when instructors share more about their personal lives. The authors write, “Tempting as it may be for instructors to attempt to warm up students by being transparent about their foibles and excesses, extensive negative self-disclosure should be engaged in with caution.” It will be interesting to see if follow-up studies show similar trends, but there’s considerable literature out there that indicates that some level of self-disclosure leads to increased student engagement and motivation. So, be judicious in choosing what share, demonstrate your expertise in figuring things out, research-wise (as librarians, we don’t have to know everything about a given subject area, unlike a faculty member might be expected to—we just have to be able to find relevant things), and you can be an ally to students, and even kind of show that you get it.
  • You aren’t super attached to doing things one way. Faculty members often have one database that they LOVE and it totally works for their research. But students often come up with these super-creative paper topics, and there’s nothing in that one database about it. That’s where your library-worldliness comes into play—”Have you checked out this interdisciplinary database? What about looking in this related discipline? We just subscribed to this awesome new database that might have something in it!” If the faculty members are parents who are experts on their hometown, then the librarian is the aunt who has spent a few days in many parts of the world. We might not have the deepest understanding of all disciplines, but we can bring in new ideas and play off the student’s ideas.
  • Ice cream for dinner! Most classes at my institution are either lecture- or discussion-based, which works really well. While some information literacy concepts do lend themselves well to discussion, not all of them do—but they might lend themselves really well to a game. Students are like, “What is this??” But they usually wind up getting into it; it’s not every day that they get to go on a treasure hunt in the stacks during class time. Would playing games work in their everyday classroom lives? Maybe not, but it’s an interesting change for them several times a semester, and as long as the activity practices the meaning of the content, what’s the harm?

Personally, I don’t know if I quite embody the persona of cool aunt yet—maybe something more like older sister. But it’s something to strive for…


1 Comment

Filed under Library Instruction, On Being Human, Posts by Dani Brecher

One response to “The Librarian as Cool Aunt

  1. Pingback: Why I Became a Librarian | Rule Number One: A Library Blog

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