November 22, 2017

Isn't It Great that the Students Are Gone? | From the Bell Tower

By Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA

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Steven Bell, From the Bell Tower

Our preparations to receive a new freshman class and other returning students made me think back to last spring, when I heard two administrator types talking about how nice it is on campus once the students leave for the summer.

We have a fairly robust summer session, but compared to the fall and spring terms the place is much less crowded. There’s less traffic in the library. Instruction sessions are down. There’s a shorter wait at the bookstore checkouts. You may actually get a table at your favorite lunch place—at noon. And even I look forward to a much less crowded campus gym; when the students are here in full force the locker room looks like a tornado hit it by early afternoon.

It was in that locker room that I heard the two talking. I always found this kind of comment somewhat off-putting. I replied “Wouldn’t it be great here if we didn’t have any students?” Unfortunately, I think I was taken seriously. I know colleagues say this type of thing without thinking, as a conversation starter along the lines of "looks like we’re going to have a nice day today." Given more thought, though, it seems to be an odd thing to say on a college or university campus.

Why I look forward to the students’ return
It’s true that most of my day is spent on administrative work, but it wasn’t all that long ago that I was doing a fair amount of frontline work along with running a library. Sure, it’s occasionally nice to have a few quiet days when the students are off, but that feeling never lasted too long. In no time at all I’d be bored and wondering when the library would see some real action. The absence of the students during the summer months left me feeling purposeless in some way.

It’s as if I and the library suddenly didn’t matter to the institution. What was I accomplishing? It’s not as if we librarians sit around twiddling our thumbs from June to August. Fall instruction sessions were being planned, subject guides updated, and minor chores we can’t get to during the busy times resolved. But the summer months, to me, brought back the realization that my colleagues and I are there to make a difference in the lives of our students. Without them, there was no difference to make.

Welcome back students
So instead of feeling down about the impending longer lines, fewer parking spaces (for those of you who drive—I take public transit), crowds in the restrooms, and a pump-up-the-volume noise level, I’m going to reflect on our returning students by sharing my list of the ten things I like about having students back on campus.

#10 – Arriving at the library entrance at 6:45 a.m.—and finding students waiting to get in.

#9 – Casual conversations that erupt with students as they mistakenly wander through the library’s administrative area.

#8 – Finally getting a chance to redeem myself for that spring instruction session that I really messed up.

#7 – The return of the student run newspaper and checking each issue to see if they had anything to say about the library.

#6 – The fitness facility once again opens up at 6:30 a.m. every day to accommodate the crowds (made possible by student workers of course)—great for us morning fitness fanatics.

#5 – Getting ready to launch those new initiatives and anxiously awaiting student reaction.

#4 – Walking through the library and seeing that hardly a seat is available.

#3 – Fresh student artwork is headed for the library.

#2 – Taking in all the action at the main reference/computing area—still a busy spot on campus.

#1 – Making a difference in a student’s life.

We will no doubt miss a few things about the less hectic pace of our summer months, but I suspect that deep down we really miss the students and do look forward to their return. What else are we doing here?

Want to share a reason you’re glad to have the students back? Add it in a comment.

Steven Bell is Associate University Librarian, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA.  For more from Steven visit his blogs, Kept-Up Academic Librarian, ACRLog and Designing Better Libraries or visit his web site.

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