Bursting the bubble: how can librarians equip students for the outside world?

I learned about a weird tradition in Oxford recently, where after they finish their exams students basically throw all kinds of crap all over each other. My more senior colleagues recalled seeing substances ranging from glitter and confetti right through to eggs, flour, ketchup and prawns, yes, prawns. Seeing numbers of students walking around in their confetti covered sub fusc, I got thinking about how the university experience is very much a ‘bubble’ and this seems especially the case in Oxford.

Oxford has a lot of strange rituals and traditions that are a quintessential part of the student experience there. To outsiders they can seem odd, but I imagine for the students it’s nice to partake in them, even if I don’t understand them. However, I wonder how much these traditions help to create and reinforce the bubble students find themselves in.

Like the metaphorical bell jar that trapped Esther Greenwood and distorted her view of the world, the student experience can be more damaging once we realise the bubble we’ve been living in. Numerous articles about the post-uni blues exist, the idea of a quarter life crisis has become prominent in popular culture, and it often seems to coincide with people graduating from university and being plunged into an ‘adult’, ‘real’ world they don’t know how to fit into.

Lena Dunham has capitalised on this notion, becoming for some, the voice of a generation. Her hit show Girls shows the trials and tribulations of not feeling like an adult in an adult feeling world and in her film Tiny Furniture, she perfectly encapsulates this notion of postgraduate misdirection.

Now, I am not saying that this is entirely the fault of the university experience. There are a lot of factors at play with creating this sense of misdirection that so many graduates feel these days, namely the poor job market and economy. I am not blaming universities for creating this issue, but I do think this issue exists and needs to be addressed. I think part of the answer can be found in the library.

I think we need to ask ourselves if we are fully equipping students for life in the outside world. Information literacy has long been the domain of education – ensuring students have the appropriate study skills to find and evaluate and use information accurately to enhance their studies, but it is now recognised that information literacy practices are important for life. It perhaps isn’t immediately obvious how the skills involved in using a specific e-resource may be transferable to real life or the workplace, so perhaps we need to identify that more and explain to our students that we’re not just showing them how to get a good degree result, but also how to effectively find and utilise information for multiple other applications.

We need to burst the bubble – it isn’t enough to help students exist within it. If we can relate more of what we do within the university environment to how it can be used outside the university (and I think this could be the case for other aspects of the HE experience) we may not eradicate the issue of the post-uni blues completely, but we may help make the transition into the real world a little easier.

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3 thoughts on “Bursting the bubble: how can librarians equip students for the outside world?

  1. Great blog post! It’s quite difficult working in a university library and having to feel both joy for the student who waves their freshly bound dissertation at you with a ‘thanks!’ and then gleefully runs out of the library, and also sadness knowing that that feeling of joy is (unfortunately!) short-lived, when students have to finally enter the “re-world”. From a personal point of view, it would be difficult for me (as a librarian) to help burst the student’s bubble as I know myself that part of the reason why I am interested in this career is that it enables be as close to that experience as possible (I always miss being a student!). However, in my library graduate trainee year, I have enjoyed the use of social media to (hopefully) encourage students to engage with not just wider university events, but also events that take place locally and nationally, to show that there is a world out there! It’s definitely a time to create more dialogue with students and ask them what they want to get out of the university experience and how EVERY student service available to them, can help them achieve this – especially libraries!

    1. Absolutely! Glad you enjoyed my post. I feel like there’s more that universities can do to be engaging with students with regards to really preparing them for leaving university, especially the library in the sense that we need to be more vocal about how the skills you use in the library (and learn from librarians) have so many real world applications!

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