Today, I want to write about the experience I had teaching about 100 first year library students last semester. I want to reflect on the different kinds of students I taught, on their strengths and weaknesses, and also on the fact that I found them to be a very diverse group of people. I decided to write about them as personas that represent the profiles of quite a few of the students in my course:
- Straight out of school and into the degree – Megan M.
Megan loves reading and the idea of events, maker spaces and human libraries. Technology is not something she thinks about, she just uses it. She is not sure why cataloguing is still a thing, and is hoping for an exciting and ever changing job that does not get boring. She likes dealing with people and is not afraid of a bit of noise.
In terms of teaching the Megans in this world, I feel the need to encourage them to not discard ideas because they have been around for a while, to realise that they have to cater for all kinds of users as librarians, and to question all things new and shiny. It is always a pleasure to teach the Megans, because they are bubbly and enthusiastic and bouncing with energy, and I really really hope they are going to stick around the library world for a long time before they get excited about something else. Also, and this is very much a cliche, Megans do have to be told repeatedly that spelling and grammar are still important and will remain important.
- Second career librarians – mature age students – Julie H.
Julie has worked as a teacher for 15+ years, is well traveled and educated. She is hoping for a quiet career until she retires, with quiet meaning having a stable working environment where things don’t change all the time as well as literally quiet in terms of noise levels , interruption and general mayhem. Julie hopes that physical books will stay around (but is quietly concerned they may not), is ok with technology but does not like it advancing so quickly all the time – she feels she is always one step away from finally conquering it. Julie generally takes responsibility for her own learning and doesn’t expect to be entertained in the classroom; both of which are great.
Teaching the Julies reminds me of working with some library technicians in my former job. Lovely ladies and some gentlemen, whom I admired for their vast general knowledge and cultured minds. Every time I took the time to listen to them, I learned a huge amount as they had been there and done that, and were happy to share their wisdom as well as their failures. They are also people though who tell you they’d like a”quiet desk job please” where they don’t have to deal with clients too much and can go about their business in an organized and orderly fashion. I don’t like to be the one to tell them that they have come to the wrong course, so I try to wake them up gently…
- First or second degree, already working in a library – Leo B.
Leo is already working full time in a library and wants to finish his degree so he can finally have a say in his place of work. Harry brings a lot of “real life” examples to the course which enriches discussions and gets the others to think about matters more deeply. He shares his knowledge generously and helps others out which can be great, but he also tends to sound arrogant at times. Sometimes conversations with him have a flavor of “there is not much you can teach me, I am just here for that piece of paper”.
Teaching the Leos is interesting, because they often enrich the content of the course with their own experience, or let you be part of their learning journey by being quite open about the sort of things they will take from the course and incorporate into their places of work straight away, which gives me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. When they have their arrogant phases they can be a little more hard work, and make it difficult to get them on board and excited about the course and the content.
I enjoyed creating these personas, writing and thinking about them. Profiling and using personas like these is used quite often in the marketing world to assess and improve customer services (see a good explanation of how to create personas here) and – according to my husband – also in IT in creating user centered designs. Looking at my personas I can see how it would be useful to look at my course content and delivery, and making sure that I cater to the Megans, Julies and Leos alike.
But, it also has a lot of sticking people in a box and labeling them, and I am not so sure about that…
Anyway, teaching would not be as much fun as it is for me if there was not a good mix of different types and kinds of people in the course. It’s what makes it interesting, finding out what makes each student tick, trying to find out what excites them and then guiding them into the direction you think they should be heading, in order to be fulfilled and successful in their careers using their unique skills and personalities. When that happens, when you feel you have just shared with someone the right thing at the right time, or encouraged them at the right moment doing something they are passionate about, that’s when I love teaching the most.