A group of 15-year old high school students from a nearby city have been visiting my college campus periodically since the 4th grade. They’re part of a pre-college program that prepares students to be the first in the their family to attend a four-year university.
This year, students have been focusing on careers. I was asked to give a 50-minute presentation on: My Life as a Librarian.
What???? I immediately panicked. How would I make a presentation about librarianship interesting to high schoolers? Was it even worth it to participate?
The quick answer: Yes, it was worth participating! I knew I wasn’t going to make mini-librarians out of anyone…nor should I even try. Plus, I’m dubious of pigeon-holing anyone into a specific career so young (says me who changed his college major three times!). What I thought was more important was:
- Seeing how high school students perceive libraries/librarians
- Getting that perception to be something positive
- Making students comfortable with the idea of the academic library and what we have to offer
Instead of going through the usual:
- this is what a librarian does…
- this is how much they make…
- these are the requirements for the job…
…because, let’s face it: BORING… I decided instead to pull out a few “fun” things and do some hands-on activities.
After welcoming the students to the library, we went into the Library Classroom and I introduced myself. I avoided rattling off my list of job duties because I had arranged for something more interactive. Our classroom has three interactive whiteboards. I split the students into three teams. Each whiteboard had this question:
What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?
Students brainstormed with their team members and used the touchscreen technology to record their answers. Here is where librarian stereotypes come into play. Students mentioned words like: books, old lady, mean, shhhh!, glasses, and checking in books.
Then I asked the question:
List 5 things you think a librarian does.
Again, we got stereotypical remarks such as reading, checking in/shelving books, etc…
From there, we had a quick little discussion about some of these stereotypes. I mentioned that I hadn’t shushed anyone but had been shushed myself–which brought out some smiles and laughter from the students. I also explained that our student workers are the ones who usually check out and shelve books. I even admitted that I don’t get to read as much as I like and I definitely don’t read on the job (for fun anyway!).
Each team had a teacher, chaperone, or one of our college students seated with the students to give some guidance. I got some great answers this way: develop programs, teach students, etc…
In my role as a reference/instruction librarian, I compared my job to a teacher: helping students find and evaluate information, helping with assignments and projects. That seemed to make the connection.
Because many stereotypes were brought up, I shared this slide of: What Librarians Do that I grabbed from the library at Otis College of Art and Design. Side note: when searching for images of “what people think a librarian does” most search results include the “sexy/naughty librarian” stereotype which may not be appropriate for all age levels. That’s why I liked this image and felt it perfectly encapsulated what librarians do for a high school audience.
What I do
Then I touched upon a few of things I do…
I mentioned that everything I do relates back to “stuff” (inspired by a keynote talk from Amy Buckland at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference).
And to do what I do, I only briefly mentioned educational requirements (yeah, yeah master’s degree)…but more importantly stressed QUALITIES you need: namely curiosity and helpfulness.
Then I segued into a few specific things that might surprise them:
Teaching & Research Assistance
I shared a few examples of research questions that the librarians have helped students with this semester, emphasizing that at a small university the librarians have to know a little bit about a lot things. The takeaway being: It’s OK to ask for help!
I briefly discussed books. Yes, books are still important, but they are not our only resource. We have books, e-books, and articles you can access online! To give the students a sense of history, I grabbed the library’s oldest book from Special Collections: a book about ecclesiastical law in Great Britain, published in 1604.
Showing the book to students, I asked:
When do you think this book was published?
Some guessed 1800s, some even said 1900! Nope, 1604! Students thought it was cool to see such an old book. It also helped reinforce the library’s mission: Collecting and providing information, regardless of what the format or delivery method may be.
Then I switched to something a bit more new: 3D printing. I ran through a quick explanation and demo of the 3D printer and let the students pick out something to be printed: In this case, a smiley face. I explained what our faculty and students use it for (science models, action figures, home decor, mechanical pieces) and why it belongs in the library (a place to collaborate and experiment!).
Because I wanted a free little giveaway, before the session I had printed enough small 3D items (smiley face, Pokemon “squirtle”, Ultimaker robot, Coffin’s cube, #MakeItHappen bracelets, and heart-shaped jewelry) to hand one out to each student.
Lastly, I discussed events that the library hosts: a party to welcome freshmen to campus, therapy dogs during Final Exams, etc… to give students a sense at how social the library is.
And that’s where we had some more interactive fun… I mentioned about hosting a Nerf tag event and that I needed to check to see if all of the library’s Nerf equipment was still in good working order. I asked:
Would you like to help me test of out the Nerf tag equipment?
A resounding “YES!” So we had a few moments of Nerf tag in the classroom.
Then I wrapped up with a quick tour of the library and a short reflective exercise:
- Name one thing you learned about?
- What was something that surprised you?
- What do you think about librarians now?
Forgoing the usual, “these are my duties as a librarian” lecture, I focused more on some of the fun, creative, tech stuff, and research activities that I get to participate in. It was less about me, and more about the library. Combining this with some interactive exercises made for a fun experience with these students. No one is going to decide to become a librarian (nor should they at this point), but hopefully they all left feeling that the library is a fun, dynamic, and helpful place.