Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Public Service announcement

This is not going to be a pro-gun or anti-gun post. nor is this going to be a rant for or against mandatory counseling or in loco parentis. Smarter people than I are going to be debating those questions for the next few years. As I look over my college days and my subsequent higher ed career, I can think of people who desperately needed help who fell through the cracks, some of whom self-destructed via suicide or other less dramatic means. I also, unfortunately know a talented would-be future teacher in need of a little reassurance who was driven out of a certification program by hyper-paranoid administrators worried that he didn't sufficiently fit the mold. So, what can we as librarians do, and how can we strike a balance between fear of and indifference to our students' needs?

Take a look around the library next time you're at the desk. See that kid? the one with the downcast eyes and closed-off expression? The next time they come to the desk, strike up a conversation, even if it's just about the weather or last night's ball game. Look them in the eyes. Make human contact. take a genuine interest in the subject they're researching, and offer to give them a little extra help, if they seem receptive. It might well be the only friendly gesture they've had all week. No, I'm not saying that you should be all hearts and butterflies with someone who's behaving in an inappropriate or threatening manner--that's when you do what's necessary to keep your colleagues and patrons safe, and call the campus police/counselors if appropriate. Nor am I saying you should try to be an armchair shrink.

From everything I've read, the student at Virginia Tech had some very deep-rooted problems that went far beyond what a friendly gesture would cure--at least by the time April 16 rolled around. But what about 6 months ago? a couple years back? I don't know that it would have made a difference in this case...but I do know that there are a lot of young, confused college students who can be helped with a smile, a helping hand, or a few words of friendly conversation. It's our responsibility as librarians--and as human beings--to be hospitable to these folks and steer them in the direction of help we can't provide. College is a wonderful, terrifying, stressful time for most students. We, as the adults they see regularly, have a responsibility to give them the tools to forge a successful path in life--and not just academically or financially.