Librarians are at the intersection of so many things

I had a really interesting experience with a student client a couple of days ago. A wonderfully challenging & enjoyable interaction that really got me appreciating the intersections that influence so much of my working day, my professional ontology & my ever evolving professional epistemology (such as it is). I’m writing a post about because I don’t hear librarians talk about it but it seems really important to me, so I’d like to think about it a little.

The student is going into his fourth year of study & this involves undertaking a research project. The student is studying in a discipline which traditionally isn’t big on using scholarly literature as part of the learning journey. So, even exposure to some journal literature can be pretty mind blowing. The idea of being scholarly is completely new to these students (and the student with whom I was working).

I had expected the session to begin with a chat about the search strategies that he had planned & perhaps a bit of a chat about choice of database & GoogleScholar. A bit of a revision of work that he’d already done & helping him feel some confidence about how he was starting off this session. But, what actually happened was a wonderful conversation that revealed something of the complexity & excitement of his learning journey into the scholarly environment & the ways that librarianship lets me experience, understand & connect things. I hope that I can start to unpack it a little.

A discussion about his first strategy didn’t really end up being a discussion about the strategy & the initial results at all, though it could easily have been. The search results list actually became a launching pad to a discussion about being scholarly & how his understanding of scholarliness was evolving through his personal and business values – a willingness to sacrifice to some profit to produce the level of accuracy he considers that his clients deserve, accountability & transparency that he feels has gone by the way these days, a practice of prompting open & objective discussions with his clients, his responsibility to share his knowledge & experience with younger people in his field & to offer them support, the perfectionism that extends into his personal life & how his family responds, & his need to have a relationship with his supervisor that challenges him intellectually & demands that he aim high.

It was 2 1/2 hours of constructivism in action 🙂

Exploration of the research methodologies outlined in papers & his own research methodology came to life as he drew connections with his business operations & his obligations to produce accurate results. Determining how to discuss his methodology in his dissertation & in the conference paper that he is hoping to write with his supervisor gained meaning through their connections with the technical reports that he writes for his clients and how they need to be transparent so he can be accountable to them.

How that transparency in business creates an environment where he & his clients can have rigorous discussions about results that he reports and any assumptions that need to be made in his work or provisional elements that need to be flagged. And, how he came to relate this to research conversations based in objectivity & evidence rather than personal or business experience, perspectives, beliefs etc. And how that should be reflected in the literature that he uses to inform his research & how his information evaluation learning is letting him start to do that.

How the scholarly quest to ask the appropriate questions and identify the appropriate evidence drives the evolution of his search strategies, and how this has similarities with the way the different business environments influence the demands that his clients place on his work & the demands that he places on his work.

And, on this construction went 🙂

Because of the information literacy librarian’s place in the teaching & learning environments at a university & our engagement with such a variety of clients (all of the different world views to which we are exposed & have to work), I was able to take an active role in supporting his construction of the scholarly environment & his realisation that he is truly a scholar at heart.

I don’t think that everyone who works in teaching & learning environments gets this opportunity, simply because they don’t have to work with all the world views that we have to so we can be librarians.

And, it became even more interesting. The day after this conversation, he came to see me. There had been some technical problems overnight & he thought that his data had all been corrupted. He has lots of personal stuff on his plate as he is recovering from a life threatening illness. The data problem had led him to conclude that he needed to put aside his research project for the time being. But, then he re-read the notes from our chat &, that it was those notes that made him reconnect with his deep desire to enter the scholarly world, & that he wasn’t ready to put aside his research project. That, despite his illness, he needed to continue it for himself and the values of personal & business integrity that drive him to be the person that he his, the business man that he is & the student that he is.

Our profession lets us be part of journeys like that. It’s pretty amazing. And, to think that many people think that we’re spending our days checking out books. WOW!!!

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