Thursday, May 2, 2013

An Office in the Library

Hinckley Library, Northwest College
I like my office in the History Department wing of Boyer Hall at Messiah College.   A corner office with three large windows is one of the perks of being chair of the department.  But I have often wondered what it would be like to have a carrell in the college library.  One year I had a small desk in the library, but Messiah College does not have traditional carrells with doors you can shut and lock--a sort of place of your own amidst the stacks.

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, S. Renee Dechert of Northwest College (WY) describes what it was like moving her office from the English Department to the library.  She now has more encounters with students and has developed better working relationships with the college librarians.

Here is a taste of her piece:

Perhaps the most unexpected change for me was the way in which my new office forced me to re-evaluate my job as a faculty member. For years, I would finish class and return to my office to chat with colleagues. Often, we would debrief: "You won't believe what happened in class today." In retrospect, that environment can be very insular.

Now, after class, I return to my library office. I'm surrounded by students doing calculus or working on psychology papers. They're not particularly interested in what happened in my class that day, and watching students struggle to master material and pay bills has made me a more empathetic faculty member.

I spend time talking with the students who work as peer tutors—like "James," a math tutor who is trying to finish his engineering coursework and sell his house so he can transfer to the University of Wyoming. There's "Leia," an English and Spanish tutor, who is trying to find a college where she can continue her academic and soccer careers. Meanwhile, "Maris" juggles a marriage, being a tutor, and her job as a massage therapist while pursuing a degree in elementary education. They remind me of the very complex lives led my own students.

Changing offices has forced me to consider how I interact with students. For me, moving away from my departmental office helped me see differently what being a faculty member is all about.