I can identify the exact moment in library school when I realized I'd left behind serious intellectual inquiry and begun vocational school or worse. It was the moment I received a particular assignment in my introductory library class, you know the one most library schools have--"Introduction to Libraries" or "Libraries, Society, and You" or some such nonsense. It was one of the courses I had to take, so I couldn't just avoid it.
No, I had to take the course and I had to complete the assignment. "Make a poster presentation." A poster presentation! I hadn't had to do that since my third-grade science fair when I very cleverly made a volcano erupt, or rather I made a poster about how my dad had very cleverly made a volcano erupt. And now here I was again, after many years of schooling in between, being asked to make another poster. In addition to the simplified content necessary to a poster, I of course also had to master the intricacies of construction paper and rubber cement. Exciting stuff!
And it got worse. It was a group assignment, the bane of my existence in library school. I was used to reading and thinking and writing on my own. Group work meant I had to depend on other people, other people, I might add, not always as competent as I was. The library school "professors" would talk about how we needed to learn to work together because that's how the workplace is. Maybe. I suspect it's just a way to reduce the amount of grading for the "professor" and to make assignments even easier for the students. If you have twenty students and divide them in groups of four for projects, that's only five essays to grade. Not bad! It's also a way to avoid having to evaluate individual students and a way to reduce competition. We're so nice in libraries. We don't like to compete with each other. Groupwork is from everyone according to her abilities, to everyone according to her needs. It's also a way to make sure the students have to waste a lot of their time scheduling meetings to get absolutely nothing done. Wait, I guess that last is like the real library world, so maybe the professors had a point.
With group essay assignments, I would just take over the project, write the essay, and let the other students put their names on it. They might give me some notes, but I did all the writing. This guaranteed clarity and coherence in the essay and a sterling grade for all. Don't think I did this autocratically. I didn't just look at my fellow groupwork students and say, "Hi, I'm taking over this project. Go away." No, it just naturally gravitated to me, because I was willing to do the work and no one else wanted to do it. I would announce at the beginning of the project that if everyone was willing, I'd be happy to write the entire essay, using their notes when necessary. Everybody always agreed.
But this time something had to change. I thought to myself, I'm a grownup now, I don't have to make posters if I don't want to. I don't have to cut construction paper. I don't have to find cute little images or cartoons. I don't have to use school glue. You get the idea. I wasn't about to revisit the third grade and make this poster. I didn't like third grade the first time around, and I'm not particularly fond of third graders now.
And it's not like a poster requires much intellectual work. I was happy to make up an outline for the poster, but you can't put much information on a poster so not much work was required. It's mostly an artistic exercise, and I didn't go to library school to learn arts and crafts. I don't like arts and crafts. I shouldn't be required to do arts and crafts in "graduate" school.
There was no other solution. I had to become a free rider and let others do the work. I just couldn't bring myself to do much with this poster. Fortunately, in my band of four there was a very nice woman who already worked in a school library as an assistant and was now getting her MLS. She already did this kind of thing at work, putting together displays and posters and such, so she took over the project and did almost all of it. And she did a fine job. That was one good-looking poster, I can tell you. I paid her back by getting her another A+ on the final group essay.
Maybe that's a lesson on how group work really gets done, even as a professional. Division of labor. I'll do what I'm good at, you do what you're good at. I suppose that's an important lesson. But there's another, darker lesson. I'll work when it suits me, but I'll avoid what I don't like and hope someone else will take up the slack, and since I'm not being individually evaluated no one will know the difference. After all, if the group is large enough, it's easy to shirk your responsibilities. Maybe that's another important lesson for the workplace as well. And then there was another lesson--library school is a bit like the third grade.
A group poster assignment. That was the beginning of the slippery slope that led me from thinking library school was just easy to thinking it was an intellectual joke. I can never visit the poster sessions at ALA without reliving that ridiculous and painful experience. It's too bad, really, because there are some good poster sessions, but I always feel like I've stumbled back into the third grade science fair. I keep looking around for the display where they make the volcano erupt.