The Power of a Good Question

Last month in ,I wrote about the language we use to talk to our patrons and the library impressions that are passed along from our communications. I left with the teaser that that I would use this month’s post to talk about collection statistics.

This spring, for the first time, I will be presenting all of the year’s statistics on circulation and database usage to the Head of the School. (She’s very supportive, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not nervous. Budget numbers will be on the line, as well as her respect for my judgment on the library’s needs.) While I recognize the need to keep statistics, I keep considering what a partial view of the library these same statistics provide. Don’t shoot me here, but I’ve been known to take a book—or five—home from the library over the weekend without entering anything into the catalog. I’ve lent books to teachers the day they arrive, keeping a sticky note on my processing cart reminding me that there’s an unprocessed “book in action.”  I inconsistently mark “in-class use” on books where students copy one page during class, and then return books directly to the shelves. Yet, circulation is steady and in keeping with past years’ numbers.

In thinking about what I’d like to include, qualitative surveys from students and teachers would help. I already follow up with teachers informally after research projects are due. However, students have short memories once projects are completed, with mindsets being more akin to “What have you done for me lately?” With the time crunch that all teachers feel, I’ve been unsuccessful in getting teachers to carve out times for a research survey the day a project is due. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thus, in supporting the library program itself beyond a discussion with the Head over print books compared with electronic or whether a specific database is warranted, I think it’s important to note the vibrancy of the library program as a whole. In theory, this could be shown through the questions I receive on a daily basis. They document people’s expectations for me and the library space. Keeping in mind the spirit in which this was intended, i.e. tongue-in-cheek, imagine if I presented this list as a way to demonstrate my usefulness.

 I set strict limits here, and these are exclusively questions from the last week, six in each category.

 Faculty Questions

  1.  Can you put a proposal for faculty summer reading books that support our five initiatives?
  2.  How do I share essays from a variety of magazines with my students without breaking copyright law?
  3. Could you cover my English class and offer feedback on their short stories?
  4.  What are appropriate expectations for 9th research regarding reporting on a subject compared with actually researching it?
  5.  Could <student> finish taking a test after school in the library because of his extended time?
  6.  How would you organize a statistics lesson with a class from Kazakhstan that wants to connect with our school?

 Reference Questions

  1. How would you organize an English paper about artists that supported Industrial Revolution ideals through their art?
  2. Can you tell me where to find some good websites reviewing young adult literature for my granddaughter?
  3. Why can’t I say that the Vikings went extinct in 1066 and what should I put instead then?
  4.  Can you help me find a book source about African culture in Brazilian art?
  5. My teachers said it would be hard to compare Fr., German, and British existentialists but I should ask you before giving up.
  6. How do you blunt the tip of a paper airplane so it flies better?

 Logistical Questions

  1.  Can you show me how to insert footnotes and when to use the full footnote vs. the author’s name?
  2. Could you proofread this college recommendation for me?
  3.  Can you show me how I can have two videos ready to play on YouTube where they won’t keep stopping in front of my class?
  4. Where did you put the library chess sets?
  5. Could you reserve the Reading Room at these four times?
  6. Will you set up a projector, speakers, and a screen for the faculty meeting?

And because it’s the 19th today , here’s an additional 19th question, one of my favorite’s of the past week. To be fair, I should mention that:
A) it was Valentine’s Day
B) the library has a moderately strict no food policy
C) this is a kid who wants to follow the rules.

Is a lollipop considered food?

 Questions are the quintessential example of something you can’t put on your to do list at the beginning of the day, yet they take priority each time they arrive.  Thus, questions much more accurately present what my life looks like on a day-to-day basis and how my community uses the library.

Think about it. I’d love to hear the most surprising questions you’ve been asked recently.

3 thoughts on “The Power of a Good Question

  1. Hi Christina,
    I put this post on my “to read” list ages ago–obviously! It’s just fabulous. I laughed, I cried.
    Really, it’s just so great to be encouraged to document what we do by way of documenting questions/requests we receive. I’ll be doing it in the spring with my Asst. Head of School, and I’m beginning to document the questions right now.
    Thanks so much for a great read,

    • Thanks, Ellen! It can be hard to “quantify” what we do, so this does help put everything in perspective for the people in charge.

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