This past Sunday was an excellent day to sleep in. Fewer hours to dread Singles Awareness Day, more time away from the ol’ problem set routine, and skipping the annoyance of having to cook or purchase breakfast. I’m sure many of you out there were contemplating the exact distance from your bed to the floor, and whether you should navigate that gap yet.
For me, it was just another day at Cubberley Library, working at the circulation desk. Usually, it is great to work on Sundays; I get to open the library, shelve a few books, and spend the rest of my time doing my own work. Increasingly though, I’ve been getting strange patrons. People who don’t know how the Dewey Decimal System works, don’t know the call number or location of their needed material, don’t have their student ID, don’t have change for the photocopier…and are angry at me about it.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my job. It is relaxing to set off through the stacks, re-shelving each volume in its proper place. I like to think I’ve gotten quick about answering questions pertaining to source material, the layout of the library, and general goings-on here. I’m more than happy to give you a tour of our now earthquake safe facilities, or show you where the best picture books are in the curriculum sections. I’ll brave the harrowing microfiche collections, track down an elusive periodical, or even take a field trip down to the basement to find a book in storage.
What I could do without is the sudden huff, the grimace and glare of guests who dump their problems on me. Countless times I’ve been instructed to manually bypass the checkout system and load a student’s information and library code from the database, as though the person in question warranted jeopardizing my job. I’ve had people go off on me because the book they wanted from reserves got checked out in the time it took them to get to Cubberley, people berating me for moving source material to an auxiliary library, and a host of other unfair and unreasonable accusations and demands.
How do these rude, belligerent individuals even get here? I can’t help wondering if Stanford saw the true Mr. or Mrs. Doe as I watch their cranky silhouette disappear down the stairs. SAT scores, community service work, AP classes, a few extracurriculars and that’s it. How do you weigh someone’s temperament? A central dogma of the Stanford selection process is a vague but attractive idea that admissions tries to craft a coherent class dynamic. Make sure they have enough people interested in the arts, add dashes of exotic instrumental geniuses, work in some pre-professionals, etc. While this might mesh on paper, how are they to know whether someone can function in the real world?
The short answer is, they can’t possibly know. Who could fathom whether or not some student has the common sense and empathic power to restrain raging over a misplaced journal? Stanford couldn’t possibly schedule interviews, even if it could easily weed out some of the blatantly offensive people. In spite of itself, Stanford is forced to hope and pray that applicants have the genuine qualities associated with their resume and not simply a passion to get into college. Someone who volunteered all through high school, for example, could very well have a genuine interest in helping those less fortunate. They could just as easily know that colleges will perceive them this way, and the college application process has no real remedy for such cases.
Instead of worrying over whether or not applicants know how to behave in public, we could just go through the act of teaching them how to function when they get here. I would hope that, if you believe your institution is training up tomorrow’s leaders, some consideration would be given towards developing every facet of the individual, especially that face which is turned to the public for most of the day. If any class is made mandatory in the future, I think a pass/fail Interactions class should be first on the list. There is absolutely no reason to give someone the skills to master academia without seeing if they can handle basic human decency first.
Has anyone ever gone off on you for not bypassing the system? Tell Alex about it at email@example.com.