Life Lessons from the Library: Make Someone Else Strong

In a move more inspired by more good will than skill, the library staff put out a chess board so that we could have a continuous match going with students. Only four of us play, so the odds were stacked against us from the beginning. Still, we expected to do better than 0-7, our current record.

Last night, a student stopped by and looked at our opening move for the latest game: “How cute,” he said. He told us how we would go down in defeat in five moves. And then he proceeded to beat us in exactly five moves.

But the story’s not over. He stayed around and gave us a lesson on the game and strategy. While we’re still not going to be champions any time soon, we are better than we were a day ago. We might actually win a game.

It seems to me that librarians and the students who use them seem to realize one basic fact about life: knowledge and happiness are not things that are in finite supply–the idea that if you get some, then there’s less for me. The student last night knew that if he shared his knowledge of chess with us, then we would be able to play a better game. And that would make it more fun for all of us.

Librarians, in general, want to share things. When I attended my first meeting of deans and directors, I was surprised to find none of the caginess or combativeness that sometimes marks academic meetings. If Chattanooga had something that my college admired, Chattanooga’s only concern was how to get it to me as quickly as possible. I quickly realized that this attitude was not just being nice to the newbie: it was standard operating procedure.

While the folks at other libraries are some of the nicest people I know, it is not simply their inherent goodness that makes them so likely to share resources.  They know that a system of strong libraries benefits more students than one or two strong libraries and lots of weak ones. No one should brag when students anywhere don’t have the resources they need. As one colleague once said, “Everyone cares about ‘my’ students. The thing about librarians is that every student is ‘my’ student.”

It’s a nice idea and one worth emulating. Imagine if instead of tearing each other down, politicians said, “Every citizen is my citizen” and then worked accordingly.

Okay, so the Jolly Librarian is allowed to fantasize, isn’t she?



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