Wednesday, November 5, 2008

What would I learn from this?

Several months ago I was informally interviewing a someone for a position. I emphasized archival collections and mentioned some famous names that would be recognized. After acknowledging these collections, the prospective interviewee's response took me off guard:

"What would I learn from this?"

I was so flabbergasted I repeated the question in case I had misunderstood it. Here we were, a world-famous library, and a college student was asking what could be learned from working in it. In retrospect, the interview was over at that moment, and I should have told the prospective intern directly and sent them on their way. (If a person can not understand that working with people's personal documents has tremendous value, then there's no point in going on.) But I was nice and continued on for a few minutes.

I still feel justified in wanting to end the interview, but now I see the question is a useful one. Here was a typical college student who had very limited experience using a library. It was an potential opportunity to expand the mind of someone that was clearly limited. (Having worked on an elevator speech several months ago, I supplied what I felt was an appropriate response.)

How many countless other college students are like this? Students who've had all that they need or wanted in their textbooks, and never had to research anything that wasn't already known in their personal libraries or space.

I guess I'm spoiled in that I've always been curious about the world around me and have gone sometimes to great lengths to find out more about it. So maybe we have to get rid of the notion that a library is for "books" and start remaking and marketing ourselves as places to obtain knowledge, a space where one can not only relax but let one's mind expand - and that this is a healthy and necessary endeavor for life. Experienced researchers know how to do this. It's those who don't know and don't care that we must reach and move.

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