Tonight, the Independent Schools Section of AASL will premiere a new recording of “The ‘What If’ Scenario”, a presentation I first did with Sara Kelly-Mudie and Courtney Lewis in 2018. It’s been updated because, let’s face it, the worst kinda did happen to our libraries. All our libraries. Next month, my Upper School Librarian, Joanna, and I will “present” at the AISL virtual conference, reprising our virtual presentation (at the New England Library Association) on “Meeting Student Where They Are: Tweaking the Catalog”. This post isn’t to gin up interest, it’s to talk about the difficulty of remote presentations.
Courtney, Sara and I recorded our presentation last week and AASL will upload it and make it go live. We will have no sense of how it’s being received, unlike the other two times we’ve done this presentation. Are people laughing at us, or with us? Are they laughing at all?? Do viewers appreciate our hints and tricks, or are they lost? Without the visual clues, we’ll have no idea what the in-the-moment reactions are, solely reliant on any feedback post-presentation.
Did I say “visual clues”? Well, I’m here to tell you that Zoom doesn’t help. Yes, Joanna and I could see the faces earlier but… there’s no mandate that viewers keep their cameras on, and you can’t tell really how things are going over when you have so many small faces to look at when the cameras are on. It’s even worse when you’re sharing your screen, when a potentially full screen of 20+ faces gets shrunk to 3-4. During Research Season I I taught several classes, doing the traditional start-of-the-project introduction to library resources. For some international students, this was seriously early or late in their day. For others, in California, an 8am class in Boston became a 5am class. Add to that Zoom fatigue and traditional student “here the librarians go again with the databases and NoodleTools” lack of interest and… let’s just say it’s easier in person.
All of which leads me to think about what happens when things go back to semi-normal. The last group of students we had a lot of interaction with either graduated or are seniors. We had some interaction with ninth graders during their Fall Semester study halls, and they’ll be juniors before they can come in “at will” and browse the shelves, study and do research, or even just hang out on our first floor. That’s assuming we’re talking about September 2021. Which means that the Class of 2024 won’t really have ever gotten to know us, and who knows how many students can come into the library if we’re still socially distanced, so the Class of 2025 may not really interact with us that much next year either. We could be talking about 2022 when we’re back to “normal” and then we’ll have only one class that remembered the library of September 2019. Yikes.
So how do we introduce ourselves to the students? By video? Email? Hope they pick up on our Instagram feed (which isn’t really “us”, right?)? Can we create opportunities for them to gather and talk about books, even if it’s distanced or on Zoom? Hope that we can advise a group of 4-5 students and that the word will spread about what we’re like? Ask to have a book/library column in one of the two student newspapers? Next year will be my seventh year at Milton, and by this point at my other schools I knew a lot of students, able to say hello to the “frequent fliers” and warn the miscreants by name and know who was waiting for what kind of book or how to help them to research. I was thisclose before we shut down… and now I feel as though I’m back to square one. With no clear idea what September 2021 will look like, all I can think about is my paraphrase of Mick’ immortal words, and ask for your Sympathy for the Librarian.