Questions are tricky things - you may, or may not, be asking the right question, and you may, or may not, be asking the right whoever or whatever it is you use for answers. In the context of higher education, I have wondered whether a student would anticipate or expect that their questions (which may not, of course, be the 'right' ones) could be answered by a library? It's probably no great surprise to find that a quick google search for 'library FAQs' reveals that there are hundreds of sites to go to. But do library FAQs include the right questions? Do they answer the questions that are being asked? Are they even close?
Do students have the 'right' questions? Well, not always, but for them, they ARE the right questions. They're the ones which impact them NOW. Examples: I need to urgently print my essay for my supervisor - how do I do that here? How do I use the copier? How can I write a better essay? How can I improve the structure of my essay? What does this word mean? How can I read more quickly? How do I prioitise the books to read? Why isn't this book I want on the shelves?
So - do we try and train our students to ask right-er/better-er questions or do we accept that the questions they have are ok and work out how to put ourselves into the firing line of those questions? I think we should spend time finding out what it is they want to know and manouvering ourselves into the right position and be the people that answer whatever queries they have. They just may come back for more.
I've also been thinking about what people (me, you, students, academics, my children, my husband etc) DO when they have a question - about anything. What someone DOES probably depends on the urgency of the question or the need. A curious child's question of 'why does the grass grow?' (generally repeated endlessly despite the answers a patient parent gives) is different from 'how do I get hold of a taxi?' or 'how do I use this new can opener?' or 'where's AandE?!' The last three imply a need that would be useful to have fulfilled fairly quickly even if only the last one actually seems life-threatening. A student might want to know how on earth they get hold of some of the key books to read for an essay due in tomorrow.
What would you do if you had these questions? Some options:
- use smartphone/ipad/computer to get to the internet, google maps, youtube video for a demo (I actually had to do that with the can-opener thingy I bought recently). It's pretty quick to type in the keywords 'cambridge' 'taxis' to get a phone number - like wise the hospital. Use google books for the essay.
- no internet? I'd find a person - anyone would do at all for the taxi and hospital, but a knowledgeable friend - or teacher, would do the job nicely for the grass growing question. A friend who had already DONE the essay would come in handy at this point.
- I'd work it out myself (muttering - I can do this, I am capable) for the can-opener. For the essay a student might be creative and submit a timed exam essay on their supervisor - 'I thought it would be useful to see what I could do in a timed situation rather than read widely'.Or email the supervisor for some top tips after explaining why you couldn't possibly get the essay done earlier.
- Find a book - ideally online, maybe already one at home in my bookshelves - or maybe browse the library shelves.
Why don't we see what we can do to impact the places that students already go to for their answers. Students seem to think that their teachers are worth listening to, so perhaps this is where we should start; Pelligrino certainly seems to think so. Training our academics to send their students to us with their questions could very easily be our top priority for getting students engaging with us in our virtual or physical library spaces. Students *might* listen to their teachers more than us and, if we gain from that in the long run, what's not to like? I hope that *that* is at least one of the right questions........