Posted by: Emily | October 15, 2009

The researching/writing boundary

So I’m in this MA program in writing and rhetoric at my university. It’s an English department MA in composition that essentially trains us to be freshman comp teachers. I’m taking some literature classes, sure (I’m looking at you, Derek Walcott), but the core of the program is concerned with how we teach people to write. It’s a natural fit for an instruction librarian, I think, and I’ve been amazed at how much all the comp theory I’m reading meshes with my things I experience in the library classroom. I expect that in a dozen more credits and a thesis, I will be a pretty all-around helpful person for a student with a research paper due next week.

That said, my expertise is in my making databases regurgitate resources. That’s my skill. And yet, the minute I start trying to talk about how to determine authority and relevance of a particular source (“Can I use this for my paper?”) I’m in the weeds of the writing process. The two–researching and writing–are like the two strands of the double-helix. They make each other. Separating them is artificial.

But I’m the librarian, not the writing teacher. How do you define your limits when you’re working with students? When do you say, “I can help you with this but not that, for that you need to go to the writing center”? When I drew that line yesterday, the student looked at me confused and in disbelief. “Really? You can’t just help me with that?”

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