Today begins with a typical undergraduate English research education session of about seventy-five minutes. A Yale English professor (I’ll call her Pam) contacted me earlier in the term asking if I could meet with her and the fifteen students enrolled in her first-year writing seminar focused on an introduction to the study of literature in order to give them an introduction to Yale Library resources for their upcoming term paper, which she calls “Essay #4: Research-Based Argument Essay.” Pam and I have collaborated on many such sessions over the years, and she is always a joy to work with because she often chimes in when I introduce a concept or topic to the students. This dialogue that we create has the effect of showing the students that their instructor cares about the library and values the contributions that librarians can make to the success of classes like hers. The students pay more attention and participate more readily when they witness this interactive method of instruction. This co-taught type of session is far preferable to those in which the professor sits in silence while I conduct the class solo, or worse, those in which the professor is absent. In the latter two cases the students are likely to get the message that the professor wants or needs a day off, and if that means subjecting her students to a “boring” library instruction session, so be it.
This section of this first-year writing seminar has as its theme “Writing Exile,” which was Pam’s idea. The students will be writing about one or more of Shakespeare’s tragedy King Lear, Nabokov’s novel Pnin, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (the graphic novel, not the film), Aleksandar Hemon’s novel The Lazarus Project, Colm Tόibin’s novel Brooklyn, and the film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Pam told me in advance that she wants the students to see how to find a book or anthology of articles (and order one through our consortial lending partnership with the other Ivies if it’s not available at Yale), as well as how to find scholarly journal articles on the texts and theory in two library databases: Academic Search Premier and the MLA Bibliography. She mentions that given the course theme of exile, the students may be interested in finding theoretical sources about exile as well as about the literature they are writing about. She cautions that because some of the readings and the film are quite recent, there may not be much scholarship published on the texts themselves.
We meet in one of the “electronic classrooms” in Yale’s Bass Library, the recently renovated intensive-use underground library that has proven popular among undergraduates. Bass lies below Cross Campus, the green in front of the gothic cathedral-like Sterling Memorial Library. The electronic classroom is nicely equipped with state of the art computers for both students and teacher and a projector that lights up a self-retracting screen. I introduce myself, brag a bit about Yale libraries and how lucky the students are to have such rich resources at their fingertips, and then launch into my spiel about how to search the library catalog and the databases for works of criticism about exile in literature as well as the books and film they are studying. Pam chimes in and highlights points I make as usual, and we generally have a great and productive session. The students, who are always polite, thank me sincerely at the end of the session, as does Pam. That is one of the joys of being a librarian: hearing “thank you” on a regular basis!
I devote the remainder of the day to a writing project to which I committed myself some time ago: authoring a chapter on academic libraries for a forthcoming Library Science textbook edited by the director of San Jose State’s Library School, Sandra Hirsh. While this project falls outside my duties as a Yale librarian, it is considered a valuable contribution to the profession and will contribute to the list of accomplishments I can claim in the “employee comments” section of my annual Performance Appraisal. For more junior librarians, writing, presenting, and publishing are just a few of the many activities that can count toward promotion through the ranks. If you are interested in reading more about rank and promotion within academic libraries, you can read my article called “Academic Librarians and Rank,” from the Chronicle of Higher Education.