Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Making a Third Space for Student Voices in Two Academic Libraries

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Making a Third Space for Student Voices in Two Academic Libraries

Article excerpt

When we think of voices in the library, we have tended to think of them as disruptive, something to control and manage for the sake of the total library environment. The stereotype of the shushing librarian pervades public perception, creating expectations about the kinds of spaces libraries want to create. Voices are not always disruptive, however. Indeed, developing an academic voice is one of the main challenges facing incoming university students, and libraries can play an important role in helping these students find their academic voices. Two initiatives at two different academic libraries are explored here: a Secrets Wall, where students are invited to write and share a secret during exam time while seeing, reading, commenting on the secrets of others; and a librarian and historian team-taught course called History on the Web, which brings together information literacy and the study of history in the digital age. This article examines both projects and considers how critical perspectives on voice and identity might guide our instructional practices, helping students to learn to write themselves into the university. Further, it describes how both the Secrets Wall and the History on the Web projects intentionally create a kind of "Third Space" designed specifically so students can enter it, negotiate with it, interrogate it, and eventually come to be part of it.

In his landmark essay, "Inventing the University," David Bartholomae argues persuasively that "every time a student sits down to write for us, he [or she] has to invent the university for the occasion ... to learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the peculiar ways ... that define the discourse of our community." (1) Indeed, as Bartholomae goes on to claim, the student is immediately in a false position, implicitly claiming to be someone he or she is not by "faking" the academic voice. This predicament is doubly difficult for the student because this "voice" is not simply something to mimic. It is an entire identity. The academic voice is a voice of certainty, a knowing voice. To assume the academic voice, the student must pretend to know what academics know and to speak with mastery of the rhetorical and the analytic tools of the discipline within which they pretend to work, and they need to do so with confidence. This challenge becomes more difficult on a sliding scale based on how familiar students are with academic life and work. Students from nonacademic backgrounds are much less likely to be able to "fake" this voice than are those from homes and schools where Standard English is not the vernacular.

Bartholomae's essay is an important statement in our efforts to understand how academic expectations structure academic writing. In this view of academic work, the student negotiates a writing product with certain characteristics that she thinks will meet her professor's expectations. In addition to voice, the student's writing must show organization, development (or logic), an appropriately sophisticated vocabulary, correct grammatical structures, and appropriate use of evidence. All these are wrapped up into what may be called academic "genres." Michelle Holschuh Simmons has discussed the role of academic genres in the work of what she calls "disciplinary discourse mediators." (2) She suggests that as students learn to write and research in the academy, they often deal with professors so immersed in their advanced research work that they cannot provide the scaffolding students need to understand disciplinary conventions. She encourages librarians to take on the role of "mediator" between professors and students, to help them learn the expectations their professors have for them in terms of writing and research.

Our argument builds on these observations. Like literary genres, academic genres are advanced performances that depend on an understanding of audience and what they expect from a given written composition. …

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