I love my alma mater, the tiny and eccentric Bard College on the Hudson River in New York, and I love it even more after reading this Slate article about its new admissions option. The new option allows applicants to bypass the Common Application and instead submit four 2,500-word essays.
Bard commencement, 1998
When I was applying to Bard, I was a college admissions dream. I had really good SAT and ACT scores, AP classes, and extracurricular activities, and I was valedictorian. One of the things that appealed to me about Bard, though, was that it didn’t require SAT or ACT scores. I knew plenty of good students – students who went on to excel in college – who had mediocre SAT scores. I liked that Bard seemed to be looking at the whole student, not just data points.
Lots of people seem to think the answer these days is not much. Employers are looking for more specific, more technical, more professional degrees. Students fear a degree in philosophy or language will doom them to working in food service trying to pay off their student loans.
There certainly have been times when I wished I had learned a practical skill rather than spending four years delving into German language and culture, but on the whole I think my degree has prepared me well. For one thing, it (combined with experience working at the college library) got me into library school. But even without that, I learned transferable skills. Computer office suites have changed drastically since I graduated, and yet I have not only readily adapted to each new version but have often become that person in the office everyone brings their word processing and spreadsheet questions to. (Yes, I know – “to whom everyone brings their word processing and spreadsheet questions.”) Likewise, learning about the concept of information retrieval has helped me be a pro at searching all manner of online search engines – and has also helped me retroactively adapt to card catalogs and paper indexes in my current job.
Barbara Fister’s post What Can Higher Ed Learn from Libraries? is right on the mark. There is value to a general education – perhaps more than ever with the pace of change and the growth of new fields and careers today. Gone are the days when you got your liberal arts degree, started a job, and worked your way up within the company until retirement. The job and career mobility today’s young adults can expect is all the more reason to give them a well-rounded education rather than teaching them a limited set of currently relevant technical skills. But I suspect most librarians already know this.
Libraries have been debating what to call the people who use them for some time now — patrons? customers? users? See, for example, my post on retail reference from 2006.
Now, it appears the customer model is being advocated in higher education. In a letter to the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Bill Sams of Ohio University argues that students should behave more like customers, demanding value for their tuition dollars.
Students give little thought to paying $2,000 each to sleep through courses for which they are forced to sit for hours at a time in hard seats in auditoriums jammed with other students. Customers would instead download free podcasts from iTunes U and—curled up in their own warm beds with their iPods and earbuds—listen comfortably as the same material was presented by top faculty members from MIT, Harvard, or Stanford.
Really? The classroom experience is worthless and we’d get better value from a recorded lecture?
A second letter by Michael Armstrong offers a rebuttal:
A good student is not someone to whom something is done (teaching), but rather someone who does something for themselves (learning).
I’m beginning to think there is a reason we developed these specific terms (library, patron, teacher, student). Sure, “customer” implies a certain level of power and input. A customer can take his money elsewhere if he is not happy. However, a business is only invested in a customer as long as that customer is paying. Don’t we expect a more multidimensional relationship between a teacher and student, librarian and patron, or doctor and patient?
I recently wrote a blog post for the SLA Social Science Division about “loyalty strategist” James Kane. His ideas about the relationships between organizations and the people they serve are relevant to this discussion — especially the idea that customer satisfaction is only a base from which to build loyalty.
Blogging at Inside Higher Ed, librarian Mary George observes that the library can be difficult for new college students to find.
No, not the big hulking building on campus. The library web site, where students can find all those great online resources that eliminate the need to go to the physical library.
I recently scrutinized the home pages of fifty colleges and universities, all rated highly by U.S. News for their undergraduate programs. A dozen of the Web sites I examined do not have the L word in evidence, and some that do effectively hide it because you need to scroll or squint to find it.
I looked at the web site for the university where I work. There is a link right in the main menu for libraries. Then I looked at the home page for the research center where I manage the library. Yup, a link to the library right on the main page. Phew!
Steven Bell, writing on ACRLog, says that static personal web sites are becoming less common among academic librarians as they are replaced by blogs, social networking profiles, and other interactive web tools. He argues, however, that a static site can still benefit librarians. Brock Read, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus, asks, “Should professors and librarians delete seldom-used personal pages, or keep them around for posterity?”
More important than whether your site runs on WordPress or Drupal or hand-coded HTML is whether visitors can find out about your professional accomplishments. (I’m assuming here that your blog is not anonymous or pseudonymous, and that you consider it part of your professional self.) Is there a link on your blog to your academic credentials? to awards and honors you’ve received? to your publications and presentations?
In my roles as a conference and program planner for professional associations, I often look at personal and staff pages of all varieties looking for information. And I do sometimes rely on web searches to help me identify potential speakers. I’m much more likely to give you a call if I can find that you’ve already presented on a topic I’m interested in. In this day and age, why not also add video of yourself speaking?
I think (though I’m not as immersed in the culture) that other academics benefit from enhanced personal sites as well. I regularly research potential speakers for lectures and symposia sponsored by my organization, as well as prospects for open faculty positions. I can give the committee a much more detailed profile if I can find a recently updated profile (or CV or resume or whatever you want to call it). If I can’t find a profile, I have to rely on what I can find through web searches and literature searches, which is probably not as complete, nor as focused.
The bottom line: a personal web site, of any variety, gives you some control over how people view you. Here’s mine, also linked from the sidebar of DIY Librarian, and from my employer’s web site. OK, the design won’t get me hired as a web designer, and it’s nothing revolutionary, but it is up-to-date.