I recently read an interesting article titled Make Room for Daddy…And Mommy: Helicopter Parents Are Here, which states, “Helicopter Parents hover over their children interceding as soon as the child faces an unpleasant situation or uncertainty. The parents are ‘over-involved’ in their child’s life.”
Although Helicopter Parents can be viewed negatively, not every characteristic is undesirable. Some Helicopter Parents return to land after they are sure their precious child is cruising at a safe and comfortable altitude. The latter, more moderate approach is ideal for Helicopter Librarians.
“Helicopter Librarians” can emulate the desirable traits of “Helicopter Parents.” Additionally, the term “Helicopter Librarian” sounds sufficiently lofty.
The main difference between great librarians and Helicopter Librarians is that the former are focused on providing excellent service whereas the Helicopter Librarians are committed to building radically great relationships that students are comfortable with, similar to their relationships with their Helicopter Parents.
There is no existing concept called “Helicopter Librarians” (trademark pending?) but the concept is a logical evolution based on the prevalence of Helicopter Parents. Current students have different expectations and are used to a greater level of support. This is an opportunity to transform the profession regardless of emerging technology trends or fiscal constraints. This Helicopter Librarians approach does not require intensive training; that is why I do not include any checklists to follow. I am not developing any metrics; and I am not advocating for data-driven anything! This is a holistic approach to a human interaction based on individuality and genuine compassion.
A study based on the 2007 National Survey of Student Engagement reports that, contrary to popular belief; children of Helicopter Parents excelled in deeper learning activities and reported higher levels of educational gains as well as greater satisfaction with their college experience. The prevailing perception of Helicopter Parents is that their over-involvement is detrimental to their child’s growth. However, such support appeared to be welcomed by most students and actually beneficial to their overall well-being. Thus the first positive attribute of Helicopter Parents is the fact that they are sincerely concerned with the success of their children. This genuine concern has to be shared by Helicopter Librarians.
So, without coddling patrons, Helicopter Librarians are can carry the first portion of the student’s load. When I introduce students to subject specialists, the students contact me with follow up questions for the specialist. This is not the shortest route, but I provide a level of comfort for students and eventually wean them off me empowered to confidently purse help alone.
I expect Helicopter Librarians to only hover until the student is prepared for take-off.
Building relationships with students is a crucial component of Helicopter Librarian instruction sessions. I make a strong first impression dressed either in a complete pirate costume or as a Wonder Woman avatar in Second Life. But even when I am not in disguise, students are extremely comfortable approaching me because they just sense that I am no ordinary librarian.
For example, I gave students that I mentored my cell phone number and told them that they can call me if need research help. They did, usually between 1 and 2 a.m. Their Helicopter Parents were either asleep or were unfamiliar with the specific research strategies they needed. Constant communication is a new change and is expected between students and their Helicopter Parents. Millennials have grown up with cell phones, and for them, this virtual umbilical cord enables their parents to hover effectively, from afar.
Helicopter Librarians who desire a more dramatic change will embrace new and unconventional methods for students to contact them. This is another reason there is no clear-cut checklist to follow. Some experiences we could not dream of as means for students to contact us. I built a relationship with students I met at the Reference Desk. They told me about favorite apps, such as Words With Friends (WWF). They eagerly signed up to play the games with me. Eventually, I left the University of Notre Dame and started working at Stanford University.
I had never used the chat feature on WWF until around 1 a.m. on a weeknight I got a notification. One former student sent me an emergency reference question via WWF chat! This was the only way to contact me because I logged off of my work email. This was an unforeseen, totally unconventional reference contact point; yet savvy information-assistance seeking on their part. This would not have been possible without an incredibly unique Helicopter Librarian relationship. They won’t teach you this in any library school! “Helicoptering Mission Accomplished!”
Helicopter Librarians can provide this type of service on a temporary basis, for limited hours, or for a select group targeted for increased library usage. Helicopter Parents perform incredible services for their children, but they do not extend themselves to everyone. This is a natural extension of Stanford University Library’s Concierge initiative, which aims to eliminate actions that result in our patrons having to run around.
In conclusion, Helicopter Librarians enjoy helping patrons navigate what they perceive to be a scary, overwhelming, or confusing maze of resources. Helicopter Librarians nurture the patron until they are comfortable continuing their research on their own. Helicopter Librarians create a genuine relationship similar to the one shared with their Helicopter Parents. Helicopter Librarians create an environment that reassures the patron that we care about their research success and information literacy ascension.
Felicia A. Smith is an Information and Instructional Services Librarian at Stanford University.