Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I have finished the January socks and taken a photo, but I have to leave in a few minutes to begin an all day reference shift at the University archives. I will post the photo this evening or tomorrow morning.

In the meantime, I'd like to write a bit about what I think about as I knit. The walrus and carpenter in Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and Carpenter poem may have talked about various things:

Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings.

but I think about more practical things. What shall I fix for dinner tonight? Can I delay doing the laundry for one more day? Does the SUV need gas?

And sometimes I think about libraries and archives, about stories and research, and most of all, about reference and providing customer service.

I was thinking about an article I'd read in one of my courses as I knit the second January sock. Entitled The McDonaldization of Academic Libraries, it was written by Brian Quinn (College & Research Libraries, 61(3), 248-261) and is based on a thesis by George Ritzer, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, that suggests that many aspects of the fast food industry are making their way into other areas of society. Drawing on the work of German sociologist Max Weber, Rizer argues that one area of society that is becoming increasingly McDonaldized is
higher education. University students view the university and library as consumers would, looking for cost, quality, and convenience. They want short lines, polite and efficient personnel, and the flexibility to “have it their way.” The result is a dumbing down of reference services in order to placate the student.

The problem is that university students are more, or should be more, than consumers. Their task is to learn how to do research and find the information themselves. These are key skills, necessary to do high level research.

I have found that there are times when some students are willing and yes, even eager, to learn how to do it themselves. They want to become less dependent upon others and not have to wait to get the information they are seeking. Others, however, have no interest in this: they want the information, they want it in the format they prefer, and most importantly, they want it now. How much of a disservice are librarians doing by not teaching library skills and information literacy to students? Should we be trying harder to teach them?

These are just some of the questions I ponder as I sit quietly and knit socks.

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