Libraries as Starfish Savers

You’ve heard the story of the person who spies a man on the beach throwing starfish back into the sea.

“What are you doing? There are miles and miles of beaches, thousands and thousands of starfish. You can’t save the tiniest fraction of them. What difference are you making?”

The old man smiles, replying, “I can make a difference to this one.”

As a dean, I spend a great deal of time working on a macro level–trying to structure learning resources so that the greatest number of students will benefit. Still, some of my most satisfying days are the ones that I just may have helped one student make it.

Take today. Although I don’t usually work Fridays in the summer, I came in today to finish up some paperwork. At 3:30, a student came in for help on a research paper. Now, in no way was she one of the desperate cases. She already had her thesis, her major points, and some source material. As we looked through the articles, she had a keen eye on what would be compelling evidence and what would not.

What she didn’t have was a great deal of confidence. Although she’d made A’s on all her papers so far, she was concerned that the research paper was a whole different animal and that she would never be able to write the five pages assigned. My main role was as cheerleader. “Great source.” “You’re really on your way!” And especially, “Yes, you have enough for five pages.” By the time she left, I hoped I convinced her. But I gave her both my and Emily’s schedules for Monday just in case.

These are days of data-driven funding and documentable outcomes and this one encounter won’t make any report I have to do this year. But I like being in the business of starfish saving. And if we in education ever forget how to do that, we are doomed and rightfully so.


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