Guitar Heroes, Juke Box Heroes, and Scholars

I think I will make another irrelevant and grasping video game analogy for today because this is an issue I’ve been thinking about for a while. Some of you may be familiar with the video game Guitar Hero. My nephew and his friend were telling me about this game. It’s played with a controller that looks vaguely like a Gibson SG, only without any strings or frets and without looking cool. The game plays rock music, and you’re supposed to press buttons at different parts of the song and act like a guitar hero. I haven’t played, but the description on the Wikipedia makes it sound like a rock version of that game Simple Simon, only with a different controller. I told them I didn’t think I would like it, since I know how to play a real guitar. If I wanted to pretend to be a guitar hero, I could pick up my Strat and start playing some rock music. At one point in my life I wanted to be a Juke Box Hero, and even bought a beat up six string in a second hand store. Eventually I realized that I like reading and research and ideas, and didn’t like working with other people in a band.

This contrast between the Guitar Hero and the Juke Box Hero makes me question the training we give students and whether it has anything to do with what they want or need. Academic librarians (and I think a lot of professors as well) want students to be juke box heroes, but the students only want to be guitar heroes. We want them to train them to be scholars, but they just want to play at being scholarly.

In one of the encyclopedias of library science there’s a distinction between liberal and conservative reference service. Liberal service is giving the patron the answer, and conservative service is teaching the patron how to find the answer. Obviously it varies within context, but usually for students I take the conservative approach. The idea is to make them independent scholars, able to locate and evaluate scholarly resources for their work. Some students enjoy this a lot. They want to be the scholarly equivalent of the juke box hero, with a book in their hand and their laptop slung low. I get the feeling that a lot of the students would rather be guitar heroes, going through the motions and putting on a good show, or in this case writing a decent paper, but they don’t want to be independent scholars. They want someone to hand them the resources and they’ll play the game.

Professors tend to like the students who are most interested in their discipline, and they love creating future scholars. I think librarians are similar. I like to encourage students to do research and see it as part of a life of learning rather than a chore for an essay assignment. However, one might question how realistic it is to think that most students have any interest in scholarship. And here I’m talking about very bright and well prepared college students, since based on my experience at a big state university and a mediocre liberal arts college, at many places most students have almost no scholarly inclination and are interested mainly in getting a diploma in any way they can because they think this will get them a job. It’s possible our research instruction falls mostly on deaf ears because the majority of students don’t want or need what we have to give. We want the students to be juke box heroes, passionate about scholarship, interested in research, but they want to be guitar heroes. I don’t see this as a problem, because our purpose isn’t necessarily to help all students equally, but to aid and further scholarship and scholars.