When working at the Ellis Library Reference Desk, we had one dilemma that occurred quite frequently. Students would come to the reference desk the night before an assignment was due asking for help.
Most of the time, the students had not done any research. In these cases, the ease of the situation varied. If the student picked a topic that was easy to locate information on, they were not too hard to please. They were grateful for anything we located. Any information literacy instruction provided was seen as a wonderful bonus. If the student picked a topic they were locked into, but it was difficult to locate information for, we often had problems. We worked with them the best we could, but unless the subject specialist was there, it may not be enough. If we are lucky, we might locate something they can use. These students often left with mixed feelings.
In other cases, the student might have came to us after they conducted some research. Frequently, in these cases they cannot find the book they wanted in the stacks or found an article abstract. In the cases of the abstract, we can usually could retrace their steps and discover a way to the full-text, whether it be a link they missed or by using a link resolver to locate it in another database. If it was a book, there were often problems. The book might be checked out, in a branch library, in off-campus storage, or located at another university that shared our catalog. In these cases, the students became unhappy. If the book was in a branch library, they may or may not bother going there to retrieve the book; they frequently didn’t want the book if they couldn’t have it sent to Ellis. If it was checked out, off-campus, or at another university, they couldn’t understand why the book would be listed. We then had to explain the shared catalog and/or the fact our holding were so large that not everything could fit within our building. Sometimes they got really mad.
We would try to find other relevant resources that were online or in the library. However, the students really wanted that “perfect” book they already located. And they wanted it when they demanded it, not understanding if they had planned ahead we might have been able to get that off-campus copy or borrowed a copy from another library in our state’s academic library consortium. That borrowing process usually took 3-4 business days. The students often left us so frustrated I wondered if they would ever visit us for help again.
I found this latter scenario to be hard situation to be in. I wanted to help and did the best I could. With the students were unwavering in their desires, it was hard to help them see other resources could serve them equally well. I often felt I had failed these students. Nothing I could say or do got through to them.
I know sometimes a book is so perfect for an assignment, one just has to have it. I’ve been in that situation myself. But the problem in this latter situation is not that the resources couldn’t be located, but that the students procrastinated. By waiting until the last minute, the students did not provide time for adequate research nor the time to bring in outside material. Procrastination only hurts them academically. If the behavior continues, it could even cost them a job in the future. It is a hard, frustrating lesson for students to learn.
Part of the problem might be that today’s students are used to instant answers online. That might work for common answers, but not detailed research. Sure, there are e-books and databases that often offer full-text, but they are not the end-all solution. Sometimes printed works are necessary, especially in the humanities. Thus in the age of instant information, students just cannot understand why they cannot have a needed book instantly.
For those of you you have worked in library public service jobs or other customer service jobs, have you encountered problems like this? If so, what solutions have you tried? If not, how do you think you would handle a situation like this?
Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!