A Kind Reader sent in this amusing article with the subject line, “Take that, Bobst Librarians!” Obviously, I liked the subject line. Bobst is the main library at NYU, and at least one NYU student is very disappointed in the librarians there.
“I need a great librarian, and I’m miffed that Bobst doesn’t have any,” writes the student.
Insulting the NYU librarians by saying that none of them are great isn’t the amusing part. Okay, maybe a little. But the really amusing part is why the student thinks none of the librarians are great.
Here’s meat of the complaint:
The reference librarians are wonderful at coming up with bibliographies for my papers (and sending me research on quirky questions I think up in the middle of the night) but when I tried asking for a book recommendation, the librarian at the desk looked slightly concerned.
So apparently the Bobst librarians are great at the things they’re actually supposed to be doing. But it goes on:
Did I want to read for fun? Yes. Had I tried the leisure collection, the area on the second lower level that hold popular novels and non-fiction books? I had, but I want more than shelves with books — I want recommendations from people who love to read. The librarian ended up recommending a website. The whole conversation was depressing. We were surrounded by books, but there was nobody to help me pick one out.
The poor student didn’t know it, but what she wants is a reader’s advisory librarian. Perhaps someone at NYU could have explained that to her.
Helping students learn how to do research for essays is one thing, but to be a truly “great” librarian you have to be able to recommend some leisure reading for them, too.
Actually, it’s even more than that. This bit is quite revealing:
But there’s a special role for the librarian who knows your tastes and seems to have read every book in the library. She knows when to hand you a hard book you’d never have tried on your own. She knows (even when you don’t tell her) that you just got dumped and that you need the silliest, most distracting book known to man. She knows because she asks each time what you thought of the last book.
Goodness, that’s a tall order. Librarians not only have to have read every book in the library, but they have to be able to read minds as well.
Reading most books might not be that hard for the public librarian in the children’s or YA section of a small to medium public library, which I assume is where this ideal was nurtured. However, when considering most academic libraries, especially big university libraries like NYU’s, it borders on the ridiculous.
According to its website, the NYU library system has 5.1 million volumes. The Bobst library alone “houses more than 3.7 million volumes, 58,000 serial titles, and over 5.4 million microforms.”
Even at the rate of one book per day, which is relatively easy for YA novels but quite a feat for a lot of scholarly books, it would take a librarian over 10,000 years to read all the books. No wonder Bobst doesn’t have any “great” librarians!
And it’s not like there aren’t public libraries in New York City, after all. Not only do New York public libraries provide reader’s advisory service, but they even have a website to help more once the knowledge of the librarians is exhausted, which is inevitable since the NYPL system has many more books than NYU.
Maybe that’s a problem, too. If no librarian has read most of NYPL’s tens of millions of volumes, then darn it, they just aren’t “great.”
It might have been even better if the student had encountered a subject specialist who “loves to read.” “You should try this new book on the history of foreign relations between Turkey and Japan. It’s quite good.”
It seems to me that the only thing the Bobst librarians interacting with this student could possibly have done better is explain that different types of libraries have different functions and redirect her to a public library. What was really needed here wasn’t reader’s advisory, but user education.
The whole thing is comical because a student looking for a smallish public library stumbled into a big research library and had drastically misguided expectations.
Instead of admiring the immense resources put at her disposal, which with ILL would include the majority of anything ever published anywhere, she’s “miffed” at not finding a service that academic libraries almost never provide but that’s easily available elsewhere.
Or maybe the Bobst librarians should just start reading every book in the library for the next time something like this happens, at least if they aspire to greatness. They probably have a while.