Friday, January 22, 2010

Helicopter Parents in the Library

It has been a very long time since I've written a post on Library Cloud, but I didn't feel that I had much to add to the general library conversation and was busy with other projects. So I happily lurked in the blogosphere waiting for a topic to capture my attention.

I've heard of Helicopter Parents as I'm sure most people working in academia have by now, and read with amused interest the story that Time magazine did on the topic in November. I have mostly been immune to this emerging phenomenon due to my position in a rather specialized and small graduate school library. We have students of all ages so I am quite used to answering questions from student patrons ranging in age from late teens to senior citizens.

A couple of times over the last year, I have received reference questions that started off in a relatively straight-forward way until I began asking clarifying questions. In both cases, the truth emerged: "Well, my daughter wasn't clear on that aspect..." or "Yes, my son really wants more info about..." These parents were doing the research for their undergrads!

I'm not talking about picking up an odd article or book for their over-scheduled offspring, but as both reference interviews progressed it was clear that they were doing everything beyond the basic Google search where their child got stuck and asked mommy to rescue them. (Yes, one of the mothers used the word "rescue.") Both of them seemed a bit embarrassed, but resolute to help their busy children. From what I gathered, the student was still going to write the paper (or so I hope), which actually made the interview more difficult.

As a professional, in both cases, I tried my best to guide them to the needed information and gently prodded that their son/daughter would be better served by coming in themselves, but was left feeling like somehow I was helping them to cheat in some way. Isn't part of a college education (and a research project for that matter) learning to do the research for yourself? Isn't that what professors are assuming and factoring into the student's grade?

I looked for advice in other library blogs (admittedly not an exhaustive search) and only found instances (mainly from 2008) where helicopter parents were discussed as a trend or as potential avenues to market the library (one example: Lorcan Dempsey), but I didn't see any posts about parents doing their child's research or thoughts on the professional ethics. So I'm appealing to other librarians (or non-librarians) for your thoughts or experiences with this.

Is this aiding and abetting cheating? Or just filling a need? What are the ethical obligations to the University and to the patron? I look forward to reading your comments.

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