In The Zone*

Since my last post was a rant about students inability to understand what Silent Study means, I thought my next post would be a good place to discuss the whole idea of zoning and whether or not it works. It got pretty long, so click the cut for more.

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Friday Five

Five*… most irritating responses when you politely remind students that they’re in a silent area (and the replies I wish I could give):

5. “You didn’t say anything to them!” (while pointing to students at the other side of the room which I haven’t got to yet)

(Because I haven’t been over there yet, sweetheart, but rest assured I will say the same thing to them as I did to you. I will then come back and tell you off again if you even think about continuing your conversation, and then I’ll stand over you for the next 10 minutes, just to thoroughly cramp your style. Deal with it.)

4. “Yeah, just a second.”

(Don’t you ‘just a second’ me young man! Stop talking to your irritating little friend about the best way to ‘share references’ which we both know really means ‘cheat’ and do some work of your own! In silence!)

3. “We were just leaving.”

(But your intention to leave does not negate the fact that this is a silent area, nor does it mean that your incessant whispering can’t be heard at the other end of the room. Your discussion about whether or not to go shopping can wait until you’ve left the room and the door closes behind you!)

2. “I wasn’t talking…”

(Oh, so I’m just imagining it am I? I didn’t actually hear you talking from 10 feet away, and I also imagined seeing you sitting together at a PC when this is supposed to be an individual study area? Well I should go to a psychiatrist then, but in the meantime, how about you humour me by moving to the Quiet Study floor? Because you wouldn’t want to push me over the edge, would you, not when I’m obviously barking…)

1. “But you’re talking Miss!”

(*explodes in fit of rage and bludgeons students to death with Silent Study Zone signs*)

Got any more irritating ones to share? Leave them in the comments!

This is just an idea I had to make sure that I always post something every Friday that will hopefully be amusing and will allow me to get stuff off my chest. I’ve got a long list to get through, hopefully it will be fun!

Please Miss…

“Miss, where are the books?”

“Miss, why have I got a fine?”

“Yo Miss, why do I need to swipe in?”*

I have no problem answering any of the above questions, I understand that University and Library rules and procedures often seem quite complex** before you get the hang of them (and sometimes even after you get the hang of them) so it’s really not the questions that I have a problem with. It’s the Miss. Or, to be more accurate, the Miiiiiiiiiiiiiss. It’s that long, whining I in the middle, Miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiss. The only thing more likely to get my back up from the start of an enquiry is the thankfully rare “darling.”

What is the problem with Miss? I often get asked this by Americans, which suggests the irritation with the word is a UK thing (because I know from many, many conversations that I’m not the only librarian who feels like this!) In this country, the vast majority of children go to schools where, from the age of 4 to 16, they refer to their female teachers as Miss and their male teachers as Sir. There is nothing quite like hearing that whining Miiiiiiiiiis to send you straight back to the playground. And therein lies the problem; this is a University, not a school, and I am not their teacher. These are 18 year olds and this is supposed to be an adult environment. I understand that I’m here to help them, but calling me Miss puts me in a position that I am not comfortable with. It assumes that I have some sort of authority over them and their behaviour, and I don’t want that. If I did, I would have become a teacher!

Some people (see previously referred to Americans) argue that it’s a sign of respect, but I disagree. All of the questions at the start of this post would be perfectly polite and reasonable questions without the Miss in them. It’s not necessary! I wouldn’t go to the bank and ask “Miss, can I pay in this cheque?” Nor would I ring the Council and say “Miss, I already paid my council tax this month.” Nor, for the record, would I say Sir. Both assume a level of subservience; they are in charge and I am asking for help, when in fact, I am an adult speaking to other adults. I do not need to use a formal address, I merely need to be polite. Excuse me… Could I ask… Perhaps you can help… Maybe this is just a symptom of what the Daily Mail would call the Death of Good Old Fashioned British Manners, but I think that’s going too far. I just don’t think we’re going a particularly good job of teaching young people how to become adults. I’m doing my best to help, by encouraging them not to call me Miss!

There are other reasons that I dislike the word, one of which is that being called Miss is enough to make any young, fun loving librarian feel like they’re about 82 (because you never feel like you’re actually old enough to be a teacher.) The other is the assumption of knowing my marital status which does annoy the strident feminist in me, although I’m sensible enough to know that that is not the student’s intention and it’s just the patriarchy rearing its ugly head.***

Am I alone in this, lady librarians? Does being called Miss get your hackles up, or do you like it? Or do you not care either way? Have you been called Darling? Did the offender survive? And male librarians, do you get called Sir? And how do you feel about it? Let me know in the comments!

*Actual question that I just got asked. Innit.
**Kafkaesque, according to a student at the weekend, although he was caught in a loop where he couldn’t re-enrol because he didn’t have an IT account, but he couldn’t have an IT account until he re-enrolled, so that’s probably fair criticism.
** sorry, did I not mention that I’m a strident feminist? :p

Catching the bug

Oh look, I caught the blogging bug! However did that happen? I blame Library Camp personally and judging by the poorly tweets of other attendees, it wasn’t the only bug going around.

I’m not going to do a Library Camp post as lots of other witty and erudite bloggers have already done it justice, but it was the enthusiasm and interest of all the attendees that encouraged me to take the leap into the world of blogging myself.*

My aim for this blog is to provide a space to discuss the challenges that face Librarians daily; managing an environment full of hundreds of young men and women who have come to University to learn not just about their chosen subject, but about life in general as well. It seems to me that today’s undergraduates are increasingly sheltered and often seem to have been spoon fed through their A Levels. The complexity of a large university is often overwhelming for them, as is the environment of an academic library. Alongside this is the creeping commodification of Higher Education. The combined result seems to be a student who is often unable or unwilling to figure out a problem for themselves, whether that is printing or re-enrolment, but also expects help to be available and immediate due to the amount of fees they are paying. In some circumstances that expectation is not necessarily unreasonable, after all, they are the reason our jobs exist. But when they start emailing the Library at 2am demanding that someone renew their books for them instantly, or refuse to return a reserved item because they need it more than anyone else in the world could ever, we move into a more difficult area.

I know I’m not the only librarian with stories of demanding, unreasonable, unruly and downright threatening students and I will be sharing these** and encouraging you to share yours with me too. But although there will certainly be rants on this blog (in fact, I’m thinking about making it a regular feature) I’d also like to talk about solutions; things we can do and change to better engage with our users, to teach them how to approach a problem in order to solve it themselves.

And also to teach them what the phrase “quiet study” actually means…

So if that sounds interesting to you, please add me to your rss reader and I’ll do my best to bring you regular and interesting content! And in case you’re wondering, my next post will be about why I hate being called Miss…

(*I’ll be sure to add their blogs to my blogroll when I can figure out how the damn thing works…)

(**with all names changed and identities obscured, obviously, I don’t actually want to get sacked!)