We’re getting to the point in the year when the shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts get shifted to the back of the closet and the aisles at Target and Costco become festooned with Christmas and Hanukkah decorations for purchase. Here in the Big Building with Lots of Books (and lots of teenagers making substantial amounts of noise), we launch our own sales campaigns at, what happens to be, one of the most wonderful times of the year in our ‘berry.
We currently have 7th graders going through mini-research projects with their Library and Technology classes. As part of these lessons, our sevies learn: our research process (Big6); how to locate, access and use encyclopedias, reference books, and non-fiction books; how to use our online catalog; how to take notes; where to find publication information in a book (amazingly, they don’t know about title pages and versos … Oy!); how to use Noodle Tools; how to use call numbers, and how to use a copy machine. The list could go on and on, but that’s a good start …
About half of our eighth graders have been in for database lessons and research sessions as they build proposition and opposition outlines for debates being held in their debate classes.
Our frosh have been in to find secondary sources on research topics for their history term papers and are now venturing back in to find primary sources on their classical, middle ages, or Renaissance topics.
What do all of these activities have in common for us as librarians? SALES! SALES!! SALES!!! When it comes to a patron-base that is used to finding everything they’ve ever needed via Google, we have to sell the heck out of our stuff and our services!!! They’re not the easiest marks on the planet, but given the right approach and the right tactics, adolescents will buy what we have to sell from time to time.
Eighth graders will look at databases rather than Googling until the cows come home when they’re researching debate topics because they hate to lose! Our debate classes teach kids that a full debate argument has three parts: an Assertion, Reasoning, and Evidence. Debaters are also taught to listen for and challenge arguments that are not well reasoned or have strong supporting evidence so teams with best sources win much of the time. Our sales tactic here is to introduce databases very generally in seventh grade, then wait until kids have an information need that they really do own, before pushing hard. “Your information needs as eighth graders and as debaters are growing more sophisticated so the sources you use to meet those needs need to keep pace and be more sophisticated as well. At least, people that’s what people who want to win more would do …” I’m completely amazed at how well they take to this sales tactic!!!
Frosh sales always have to be a bit more subtle and a bit more nuanced. With frosh, you need to offer advice with a wink at some points, then wait for your chance to do good reference just when the opportunity arises. “Hey, you’re here to do your secondary source searching for your topics … Let’s say, you find this 400 page doorstop of a book on Eleanor of Aquitaine on the shelf, but next to it is this small square one. Do you want to read 32 pages to get the straight skinny on Eleanor this weekend or do you want to read the doorstopper?” [Wink, wink …] Frosh need to know that you “get” that they have busy lives and just want to get the work done.
As a school librarian, I have the luxury of knowing that they’ll be back (since we’re in cahoots with those teachers of theirs) which is when we really get to close the sale. “Hey, you’re looking for primary sources on the pre-Socratic philosophers, right? Has anyone ever shown you the Great Works? Specifically, do you know what a syntopicon is? Come over here and let’s take a look!”
At that point, frosh kids think that you are an information god or goddess!!!
More than any other lesson, what I want my kids to take with them to the upper school and on to college is, “I need to find this information. I should go ask a librarian!”
Now, if we could just figure out how to get them to speak in indoor voices …