16 May 2014

Getting to Know 6,000 Students

One of the biggest changes in going from a theological college in Uganda to a community college in the Twin Cities, is the size of the college campus and student body. In Uganda, the college enrolled 100 students, at most. In my current job, the college has over 6,000 full-time students plus many part-time students.

In Uganda, I loved the opportunity to get to know the students on a very personal level. I helped the same students over and over. I learned their stories. They learned mine. We talked about the differences between African and American culture. We shared meals and discussed our families.

But working at a college with a much larger student body is obviously different. Not just because of the logistics, number of classes, etc. but because my role as a librarian is to support all these thousands of students. At first, I really missed the opportunity to see the same students every day. Some students are only on campus a couple times a week. But I am just as determined to get to know the students here.

These are just a few of the ways I've started building relationships with students:
  • Stop what I'm doing when a student asks me a question. I don't start typing, researching, or anything else until I've listened to their question. I look at them when they talk to me.
  • Follow up. If I help a student at the reference desk and notice them still at the computers a half hour later, I'll go over and ask how it's going.
  • We make Research Guides (like LibGuides) for the classes we teach. Instead of simply listing my name and email address on the guide, I've started including my office hours.These include a few of the hours I'm in my office each week. Most students are used to visiting professors during office hours. I wanted to use language that's familiar to them in order to make them more comfortable stopping by with questions.
  • Smile! When people walk by the desk I try to smile at them.
  • We keep a stapler at the Reference Desk for student use. If someone comes to just use the stapler, I try to greet them.
  • Sit down next to them, if I can. Often I will ask the student I'm helping to log into a computer so I can teach them how to research a particular resource or database. Instead of hovering over them, pointing at their screens, if there is an open seat next to them I sit down for a minute. I do this to try to make the interaction just a bit more personal. 
  • Or, ask them to sit with me. We keep an extra chair at the Reference Desk. I tell the students they can have a seat while I show them what I'm doing. Often once they're seated they will tell me how frustrated they are with research or about their assignment in more detail. It gives me the opportunity to ask questions and reassure them we WILL find what they need. Sometimes it leads to more personal conversation and I am able to simply listen to the students. I've heard of one student's frustration with being a single mom in college and about another's involvement with a non-profit in Kenya. I never know where a reference interview will lead but I'm always happy to be a listening ear.
The students here all have stories. And I've discovered that by doing these things, I'm slowly learning those stories.

Several students will make a point to stop by, say hello, and tell me how their research is going. Others start their question with, "Remember me?" Others still ask specifically for me at the desk. One student even wrote me a thank you note. :)

So, here I am in the same place I was in Uganda...getting to know the students, one at a time.

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