"Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime" ~ Chinese proverb*
As librarians, many of us use this proverb as a guide when creating
library instruction programs. We spend hours discussing the best way to
teach the skills we want students learn. We
create activities that result in engaged learning. We avoid
doing research for students but rather choose to teach them how to research.
Ok, this might not be every
librarian's strategy but it is how I learned to help students at the
awesome University of Illinois Undergraduate Library. As a Graduate
Assistant I learned the importance of teaching
skills rather than telling students what to do. And I am incredibly grateful for that
experience and for the example of other librarians. I love looking at the bigger picture; I love thinking about how to empower people with information. (Obviously...that's why I became a librarian! :)) And as librarians We empower students and patrons when we take the time to
teach them how to find what they need.
But the embarrassing reality is: sometimes I don't like this method. Or rather am impatient
with this method. Lately, I have been overwhelmed with students asking
me to help them open a Facebook account, set up email, add a signature
to said email, proofread papers, type papers, create websites, add
attachments to emails, open email accounts, fix email account passwords,
research for homework, find scholarships, etc.
Let me say, though, I really am thrilled that they are asking questions!!
I often feel that as a minority 'mzungu' (white person) it can take
a while for people to trust me. I know I need to focus on the positive:
that people see me as a resource for information. But all these
questions can get overwhelming when several people are asking for
computer help, at the same time someone else wants books, at the same time
trying to catalog books, at the same time preparing for a class.
Maybe I'm just being challenged to grow in patience.
The truth is, when computer literacy is low, all those lovely instruction classes you taught in the US become less relevant. And the time it takes to explain things is much longer. Or you have to be more creative in how you present things. (You can read more in how I've tackled teaching information literacy in everyday questions in this previous post.)
My newest solution (admittedly, I wish I had come up with this months ago and am a bit embarrassed I didn't): stay after work and teach weekly or bi-weekly classes on various computer topics. Although I am still asked many questions each day, this has helped tremendously.
I know this probably seems like common sense but with all the things there are to do (ahem...catalog 10,000 books), it just hadn't occurred to me. Or maybe I thought students wouldn't come. Or maybe because I was so comfortable teaching certain databases in the US it took me this long to branch out. Or maybe it took me this long to figure out the trends in computer questions. Or maybe it was because I knew the best time would be when no classes are being taught...which is in the evening...and I'm sometimes a bit selfish about my evenings.
Regardless, I got overwhelmed by the big picture instead of on the pieces and how to accomplish each piece, i.e. teach computer skills while also giving myself time to catalog. And, it finally occurred to me: why am I answering the same questions over and over if I can just teach a class/workshop and answer them all at once?
So far, I have taught classes on: Google, email, Facebook, PowerPoint, and basic internet research. Each class or workshop was attended by at least 10 students, usually more. (Remember we have less than 100 students on campus...it's actually a great percentage considering the workshops were completely optional) I spent part of the time talking about various basics/'how-tos' and then allowed time for questions. I loved teaching these students about computers! And they want to learn. Things like Google Maps or how to send a photo to a friend or how to set up a presentation, were new things for many of these students. I love watching their eyes light up as they realize how much computers and the internet can do.
And, it saves me time during the day for cataloging because I've answered a lot of questions at once. I still obviously help students individually but I'm finding more time to get those 10,000 books cataloged.
But ultimately I hope I am teaching them to fish.
*My roommate is from Hong Kong and we talked about whether this is really a Chinese proverb since we have heard similar sayings here in Uganda. Regardless of where it comes from, we think it's true. :)