Back in the fall, as our two gardening librarians were planning what bulbs to plant for our library garden, I mentioned that I like tulips. A few weeks later, Charles gave me some tulip bulbs.
After Christmas, I mentioned that I didn’t actually plant the bulbs until New Year’s Eve.
Charles asked, “You drove up to the library to plant tulips?”
I shook my head. “No. I planted those extras you gave me at my condo.”
He laughed at me. “Those weren’t extras. Those were for the library garden. I was passing off the responsibility for planting them to you since you were the only one who wanted tulips.”
I can’t even justify my position. My only defense is that I had never once planted anything in our garden, and Charles is known to give his colleagues gifts.
But the lesson is clear: Make sure you understand what the other person means and wants you to do. A simple question can often prevent tons of hurt feelings later.
Still, in our case, all ended well. The few tulips came up in my patch under the front window and then promptly had their petals blown away by the first March wind. And our library garden is lovely even without tulips.
Even before I came to work in one, I loved libraries. And it’s always been something of a mystery to me that libraries seem to be one of the first in line when it comes to budget cuts. Libraries provide the sort of support that is crucial in keeping democracies functioning. They provide free access to information. They provide instruction on how to analyze and critically evaluate that information. For many of our poorest citizens, libraries may be their only access to the internet and the information highway.
At Nashville State, we too instruct students on how to find and use resources. We try to ensure we have the appropriate materials for student, staff, and faculty. Many of our students do their homework assignments in the library because they don’t have reliable internet access at home.
But we also do a number of smaller things that rarely get press but give students a sense of belonging:
- We provide forks for the students who find themselves with a microwaved lunch but no eating utensils.
- One of our librarians met with a student each week as she prepared for her citizenship test.
- During allergy season (which, in Nashville, seems to be 11.5 months of the year), if students have runny noses, there are tissues at the front desk.
- We have comforted students who have just failed their first test.
- We provide candy during finals week to provide a little energy kick and happiness.
- We are confidants, supporters, and cheerleaders.
- When spring arrives and those new sandals are rubbing blisters on students’ feet, we have bandages.
- We look up their advisors’ phone numbers.
- We show them how to use the computers.
Studies show that one of the major factors in student retention is the relationship between faculty and student. And as a former faculty member, I know this is true. And as a former college student, I remember faculty whose kindness helped this first-generation college student feel that she could succeed.
But those of us who provide support also have a role to play in retention. We are often the first people students see when they decide to come to college. We work in the offices which are open after faculty have gone home. They may not remember our faces, but they will remember how welcome they were made to feel.
P.S. The only taxpayer dollars used in providing forks, tissues, and candy are our own.
Okay, I’m sure when you read today’s title, your first thought was, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Or “Oh no. The Jolly Librarian has read another self-help book.”
To be honest, I am still thinking about the self-help book I read last week: Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. And I too thought that no one has time to do a joy log when I first read about it.
But their example in recommending it is compelling. A student, Mortimer (not the name in the book. But I don’t have the book with me. And I think more people should be named Mortimer.) graduated in Civil Engineering and took a job in the field. A few years later, he was miserable, but he didn’t know what else to do. He got all sorts of advice, including go back to school in finance–since engineers are good at numbers and he could make all sorts of money with an advanced degree in finance.
But before applying for graduate school, he took the authors’ advice and kept a log of his happiest and most depressing moments on the job in order to help him find what his next career should be.
He discovered an amazing thing: He LIKED civil engineering. What he didn’t like was the budget and finance part. (Good thing he didn’t apply for the MBA.)
So, in the end, Mortimer, did return to college for an advanced degree in Civil Engineering. He now has a job solely focused on the engineering and is a happy camper.
The moral here: Know what makes you miserable. Know what brings you joy. And as odd it sounds, you can’t always trust your feelings. You may have to do some research.