On Bungling

Guest Post: Mary Whisner (she), public services librarian, Gallagher Law Library, University of Washington School of Law, whisner@uw.edu

Last week I gave a presentation about staying current to a group of visiting scholars, a Ph.D. student, and two law school staff members. I discussed the reasons to keep up with their fields, approaches to staying current, and some specific tools. I was well prepared: I had a resource-rich libguide, and a lean PowerPoint to keep us on track. I had examples prepared that I thought would mesh with the audience’s interests. All good.

But in the middle, I bungled. I wanted to demonstrate how to set up an alert in HeinOnline. First I ran a search—but the results weren’t at all what I expected. I looked at it and saw that I’d put a quotation mark at the beginning of a phrase but not at the end. I cheerfully told the audience that sometimes things like this happen: when your search results don’t seem to make sense, look back at your search and see whether you have a typo.

It got worse. When I wanted to save that search, I just couldn’t remember how to do it. I floundered a little. I showed the students how to look for help screens, because we all need to look things up sometimes. But I still couldn’t do it, and I just moved on, even though I felt unsettled. There were so many other great things to talk about.

Within minutes after the presentation, I was able to send screenshots showing what I’d missed. In fact, I added a slide to my PowerPoint, which I was sharing with them:

HeinOnline Example
Screenshot shows message:
Results 1-10 of 78 items searching for ("legal financial obligation" in Law Journal Library, sorted by "Relevance."
1. Run search.
2. Use "Please select an option menu to choose "MyHein Search Queries."
3. Choose email.Graphical user interface, text, application, email.

I felt kind of dumb for having missed that “Please select an option” menu, but that’s what happened. (You have to be signed in to MyHein—but you’ll be prompted if you aren’t.)

While I was floundering, I felt a little extra pressure because I had invited a couple of law librarianship students to observe my presentation. I like to present my best side to these students. They’re smart and discerning and I work with them closely throughout the school year, so I’d like them to see me doing a good job. But even as I was fighting my feelings of embarrassment and incipient panic, I also told myself that seeing me bumble would be good for them. Because it happens. Assuming they think I’m generally knowledgeable and competent, they should see that it’s normal and okay to have a couple of bad minutes in a presentation—even for someone who’s been doing this a while. Maybe they will be less likely to beat themselves up when they have their own bad minutes when they’re presenting. Maybe they’ll also see some ways to recover, like showing students how to consult the user guide and help screens, or telling the class that they’ll send better instructions after class.

Now I’d like to spread this message beyond those two students. If you teach or give presentations, you will sometimes make mistakes. Like me, you’re human. Sometimes, even when we have notes for our great examples, we will forget to click on the obvious link. When something happens, we don’t have to freak out or wish that we could melt into the floor. Model how to troubleshoot. Promise to fill in the information later. And move on.

This message is also for employers. When nervous applicants give their teaching presentations, they might have a bad minute or two. Cut them some slack. It could happen to any of us.

About malikahhalllibrarian

Malikah Hall is a Reference Librarian and Instructional Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University. She was previously the Diversity Fellow, Research Services Librarian, and Lecturer in Law at Cornell University. Malikah is very active in AALL where she is the current RIPS Law Librarian Blog editor, Immediate Past Chair of PEGA-SIS, a member of the AALL Diversity & Inclusion Committee, and a member of the AALL Legal Research Competencies Review Special Committee. Malikah graduated from North Carolina Central University with a J.D./M.L.S. joint degree. In her spare time, she enjoys playing with her sweet dog and anything true crime related.
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3 Responses to On Bungling

  1. This is very relatable! I briefly couldn’t figure out how to get out of a breakout room the other day.

  2. Stefanie Pearlman says:

    It definitely happens to all of us. Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. G. Patrick Flanagan says:

    All excellent advice, as always, Mary. Another tip (that I wouldn’t be surprised if I picked up from you too): invite the expertise in the room to contribute. “Okay folks, I’m missing something here. Can anyone see it and help me out?”

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