Monday, August 1, 2011

Waxing nostalgic about reserve readings

Do all bloggers check their stats as regularly as I do?  I hope so.  Otherwise I have a problem.

So the crazy weather of MN continues, this time featuring a thunderstorm, some tornadoes and humidity.  It's like the triple threat of weather. 

Oh, and it is Monday.  Oh, and it is August.

Wait.  AUGUST?  Seriously????

Even though summer month countdowns have all but disappeared from my repertoire since I joined the full-time working world some 9.5 years ago, I still occasionally experience a nostalgic twinge of panic that freedom is slipping through my fingers.

Of course, technically I am a student.  At least through this December.  So I guess that there is some freedom to be grasped in that I do not have any homework right now. 

Oh, but just wait.  Before you know it, my professors will have posted our syllabi for the coming semester.  Unlike my undergraduate experiences, most of my graduate professors like to assign things prior to the first class session.  Woe betide the fool who does not thoroughly read their course assignment calendars carefully!

For the most part, they only assign readings.  Lest you think that this is no big deal, let me tell you the truth.

Most of my professors are fairly cognizant of the fact that books cost money.  They will therefore usually try to keep the "required" textbook list to a minimum.  The trade-off for this is that many of the assigned readings will be journal articles that can be accessed through the school's library website.  Fine. 

If it were only always that simple. 

There was the time that the assigned reading had yet to be distributed by the publisher.  This meant that not only did the university bookstore not have the item in stock by the date class started, but the alternative resources like Amazon did not have it either.  After several stressful interchanges with bookstore staff, my professor finally announced that due to the fact that the book was unavailable, she would not expect that we had all read the chapters for our first lecture.

Then there was the professor who assigned two textbooks, one of which was out of print.  You can imagine the confusion that came from 24 students trying valiantly to locate a copy of the rare book that cost less than $240.  It was an epic failure.  This professor also relented by placing a copy on reserve.

It was this same professor who chose to put multiple books on reserve at the library.  I believe her intentions were honorable.  She knew that supplies of these books may be limited and she did not want to stress the budget of her students in trying to obtain them for purchase. 

Unfortunately, this led to a different type of problem.  To help you understand, you should know that this graduate program caters specifically to working adults who commute to campus.  Therefore, all classes are either in the evening or on weekends.  Many of us do not live on or near the main campus and therefore our trips to the library are usually carefully planned and scheduled.

Now imagine if you, the diligent student, made plans to come to campus on a Saturday when you did not have class for the specific purpose of doing the assigned reserve readings.  Imagine you arrive at the circulation desk, only to be informed that the books you require have already been checked out, probably by one of your classmates. 

You may be irritated.  But you will probably ask politely whether the library worker can tell you how long the book should be out as you know that the professor has put a two-hour checkout limit on the reserves.  The library worker does this and assures you that it appears that the materials should be back within 30 minutes.  You decide to wait.

45 minutes later, you return to the desk to check the status of your books.  The new attendant checks: they are still checked out.  She simply shrugs and says that they should be back "any minute."  You decide that you can wait a bit longer.  You casually peek around the library fringes to see if you notice any classmates, but you cannot find them.

In the interest of making sure that you are first in line to get the books when they are returned, you sit in the chairs near the circulation desk and try to focus on other things.  30 minutes later, none of your classmates have come back to the desk with the books.  At this point, you decide that an hour and a half is a bit long to wait, especially because you know that your classmate is well over their two hour limit.

Rather than leave in a huff, you decide to wait another 20 minutes and use that time to send your professor a message.  This message says that although you made a special trip to campus specifically to do the readings for her class, the reserve books are not available and library staff appears to have no interest in enforcing the time limits for check-out. 

Remembering that you like this professor, you take the time to carefully word this email because you don't want to sound accusatory, but you want her to know that this setup may not be truly conducive to this type of class. 

Just to be sure, you stop at the desk one last time before departing, two hours after you arrived.  No luck.

You drive home, muttering under your breath things like, "wasted time," "inconducive to learning" and "book hogs."

So... what has this story accomplished?  Well, it has made me appreciate the fact that I am currently in the pre-syllabus school break phase.  It has also made me happy that I only have one more semester to potentially encounter this type of situation.

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