I am a big fan of stories. My huge interest in movies and fictions stems from the curiosity I have for people’s lives and their fascinating stories. The power of stories, as Michael Stephens puts it, lies in the fact that they “…[break] through prejudices and preconceptions” and that they “remind us of our humanity and our better natures”. Readings from Module 10 and the Director’s Brief Assignment really resonated with me and they also remind me of my own experiences at work.

As the supervisor of a team of 14 student employees, I’ve always been trying to find the best way to “manage” them. Quotation marks are used here because the word “manage” does not reflect my way of thinking in the process of working with these students. For me, to manage is also to balance my role as a supervisor and as a team player. A manager may assign tasks, give orders and set boundaries for employees, but a team player needs to understand what others think and learn from them in every possible way. Stephens in his article commends that narrative inquiry (NI) is “one of the best ways to gain first-hand knowledge of … the specific stories of our community” (2020). Although I came across this article only very recently, it was proved true in one of the encounters I had with a student worker.

At our library, we don’t include student workers in our library group email because we want to make sure that library users always get the most accurate answers from fulltime library staff who are well-trained in what we do and are also more experienced in communicating with users professionally. We don’t explicitly discourage students from doing that because it has never been an issue in the past. Plus, they are not able to do it in the first place (or, as we assumed). However, there was one time when we discovered that a student emailed a user from our group email address, which was both surprising and concerning. It was surprising because the student solved the user’s problem in a very professional manner and even received a thank you letter (which was also how we discovered this case); it was concerning because nobody knew how the student managed to send the email from the group email address and we even thought the student had hacked into our email account on purpose.

Before taking any further actions, I decided to interview the student and hear her side of the story. It turned out that the student had conveyed a misleading message while she received the user at the circulation desk. By the time she finally found out the accurate information, the user had already left. In order to find the user and get in contact with them, the student made use of our circulation system and located this user’s information from the circulation history which was recorded with a timestamp. Then the student sent an email to the user from within the circulation system because the email icon was right there on the interface! While we were all wondering how the student “broke” into our group email account, none of us was aware of this function in our circulation system, although we’ve all been working with this system for so long!

Instead of blaming the student, we decided to send her a gift just to thank her for her “new” discovery. As quoted in Eberhart’s article, “Storytelling is an important tool for libraries to engage their communities” (2018). We also believe in the power of stories and now we keep sharing this story with our colleagues and new student workers just to nurture their curiosity and goodwill. The lesson I learned from this experience is that we should never prejudge anyone if we have not listened to their stories. Because who knows? You might be pleasantly surprised!

The gift we sent to the student: a notebook.
Translation of the Chinese text: Thank you for your discovery 🙂

References

Eberhart. G. M. (2018, February 10). Sharing people’s stories: StoryCorps partners with public libraries. American Libraries. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/sharing-peoples-stories/

Stephens, M. (n.d.). https://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/course-modules/the-power-of-stories/

Stephens, M. (2020). Office hours: narrative inquiry. Tame the Web. https://tametheweb.com/2020/04/09/office-hours-narrative-inquiry/