02 March 2012

Starting with Why in the Classroom

We just finished our teaching load for first year students.  These sessions are always hard for me.  Admittedly, I prefer teaching about information more broadly than highlighting library resources.  And as I finished my own sessions and watched other librarians, I think I figured out why.

My last post was about my favorite TED talks and I listed Simon Sinek's as one of them.  His argument that "people don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it" has helped me reach a tipping point in my teaching.  In librarians' classrooms, we need to start with WHY.  Why are library resources worth the extra effort?  Because let's be honest, they are more, a lot more, effort.  If we want our students to use our resources, showing them all the features doesn't inspire them to use them.  And that is what Sinek is talking about: inspiration.

So why do we want students to use the library and what we have to offer, even if it's harder to use and even scary for them (and I think it is partly fear that keeps them with Google)?  I've heard some librarians talk about it in terms of quantity (we have so much stuff), or that their tuition affords them access to restricted content (it's expensive stuff).  Others talk about meeting their professor's expectations (it's scholarly stuff) or completing an assignment well (it's required stuff).  When I try those explanations on, they don't quite fit.  They aren't inspiring me so I doubt that they would inspire my students.  These are academic arguments.  In his "The Art of Teaching," Jay Parini talks about Robert Frost as a teacher who said that he hated "academic ways".  Frost says, "Think of what time we waste in trying to learn academically--and what talent we staunch with academic teaching."  

So if not these academic arguments, what then?  Why do I want students to learn to use the library?  For me, it's about adventure.  It's about challenge.  It's about growing and curiosity.  The library not only houses materials but it is a way of being, a way of thinking: it is about considering more than you know.  It is about getting your hands dirty in other people's minds, thoughts, and ideas.  How is that different than the Internet?  In some ways, it is very similar.  But, the internet is many many things.  The library is where you can explore without judgment, without someone interrupting, without any ulterior motives. 

Is this inspiring for students?  Maybe not.  But it is inspiring for me.  And that is a good place to start from.  If I know why I use the library, I can start there in the classroom.