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A slightly grinchy post for preservice folks

My latest arena of professional guilt: 

Around once a week now, I get email from a library school student asking me to answer five to ten questions about what it’s like to be a practicing librarian.  (I see these as posts on the lists too, so I know I am not the only one.)

I want to go on record as saying–I can’t do this.  (Well, maybe if I knew and loved the student I could, but really, I can’t.)

If they were the same questions over and over again I could paste from a standard document, but they’re usually not.  Some are about collection and some are about management and some are about technology.  You get the picture.  And there’s this–I hate templates.

My guess is that the assignment is likely meant to be an interview, some kind of personal interaction where the student and I chat and there’s winky subtext and energy and dialog and all that really good stuff. 

That just doesn’t happen when I stop for an hour to write a disconnected email essay.

My usual solution is to ask the student to phone me and I will talk as I wander around the library or I will talk at home while I fold the laundry.

And if they are local, I’ll invite them to visit.  We have lots of visitors.

I don’t want to appear unflattered, or unhelpful.  I visit many preservice classes, physically and virtually.  I think the learning that goes on in these programs is critical. Practical exposure and professional connections are among the most essential elements of this learning.

I really want to help.  But please, don’t ask me to write another essay.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. teacherninja says:

    Next time just tell them to do what I do. Read your blog.



    Aww gee. You man u don’t have a hundred hours of extra time to humor them? These are the students who haven’t had that realization of what they are getting into, and how much of your day is spent processing professional stuff. I think your answer is right on cue–“call me” and we’ll talk. Far too often the personality and subtle inuendos are lost or totally misunderstood in the body of a text, be it an email, a blog post, or an article written for a journal. I like your response, and if I’m ever asked to respond to such a need, will use the same response. LOL (when i grow up and be come a real professional librarian!)

  3. Doug Johnson says:

    HIya Joycie,

    Yeah, I get these requests too. I have two responses:

    1. See an article or column that I have already written on the subject (and softie that I am), provide the URL.

    2. Say I know nothing about the topic (which is often the case) and ask them to send me what they find out.

    Think of the initiative these students are showing by using a “primary” source!


  4. Ouchy, that smarts! As a preservice library student who has also had to do a similar project, I am crushed that you all don’t have scads of free time to respond to our (very real) whims! Perhaps you all could form some sort of consortium (kinda like AskaLibrarian) and post all of our similar questions and your responses? Don’t you all remember when you were library students (is the guilt thing working?)?

  5. joycevalenza says:

    Yeah, the guilt thing always works. This medium either blurs or emphasizes sarcasm, so I have trouble judging how much of a comment is meant as humor. Pam, forgive me if it looked like I forgot what it feels like to be a student. I remember, believe me I do. I have great sympathy and admiration. Visit, call, Skype me. I just don’t want to write those essays.

  6. Pam, I have trouble understanding the tone of your post as well. If you believe the consortium idea is a good one, then you can most certainly start building it as a resource. I would suggest though that you consider why students are asked to go out and interview professional librarians instead of reading articles and books written by experts on best practices instead. I would submit that in our profession, meeting the needs of our school’s community is #1 on the list. And asking questions about how we do things without showing interest in knowing the community you are asking questions about, will yield answers of little use to you except to answer your assignment. Also, that how you develop the relationship that gets those answers, will teach you far more about being a librarian than typing up a summary of someone else’s answers to questions that probably aren’t your own.

  7. Shonda Brisco says:

    I also get these emails and feel somewhat obligated to answer them, but sometimes work, life, and other obligations get in the way and I fail to respond. (Oh, the guilt!) I agree that it is important to mentor pre-service librarians, but I also think that the assignment should be changed (thus the reason for the problem). An outstanding professor that I during my Master’s program required us to physically visit three school libraries during our semester-long course. We had to set-up appointments, visit the campus, talk with the librarian, watch the interactions of the students, teachers, and the librarian, make notes of what we saw, examine the collection, and create a final evaluation of the library, the program, and the librarian. It was an eye-opening experience because each librarian set-up a time when it would very busy, very interactive and yet, the questions that we had to answer could easily be found by simply watching. I immediately saw what a great library program should be without reading an essay!

  8. Hi Joyce!!

    I’ve never gotten these emails – though yes, I’ve seen the post – and if you ever have someone who’d like to visit a South Jersey elementary library, you can refer them to me! I’d love to have them visit, too, like you suggest. We’re not too far from Springfield Twp, but over the bridge – Mt. Laurel.

  9. Laura N. says:

    Although it is true that it is hard to distinguish humor on a blog comment, I thought Pam’s post was meant to be light-hearted. As students, we become familiar with these big names in school library land (Joyce Valenza – yeah! Doug Johnson – yes! Shonda Brisco – sure!) and are aware that you are all very busy in your professional lives because we follow your blogs and the listservs, we attend conferences and read professional journals (and we can guess that your personal lives are full as well). So, I think that Joyce’s post will not come as a surprise to the many students that look to eventually emulate her programs or learn from the information she shares. I agree that students should conduct these sorts of interviews while visiting a library or after developing a relationship with practicing librarians. The program I am completing does not require that assignment as we must complete 100 field experience hours and two internships in various K-12 schools in our region (while documenting our experiences, observing, interviewing, participating, etc), so thankfully we get several real-life experiences similar to what Shonda describes. Joyce, because you are available on so many levels to both preservice and practicing librarians and because there are so many qualified professionals to help guide us on our way, I would say (in a friendly tone, without sarcasm and a smile on my face) let go of the guilt! We understand!

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