By: Julie Oosterink ’13
50 is the maximum number of books a student can check out from Van Wylen Library. I know this because I hit that number on more than one occasion during my time at Hope. As a student of English and history, I always juggled a few research papers or projects and found more than enough texts to help me.
I did not always juggle gracefully, and I hardly ever appeared graceful while balancing a stack of books, a coffee mug, and my oversized backpack.
During my first semester at Hope, I could hardly navigate my way through the library. I remember writing a research paper about the psychology of happiness and I could not figure out how to use the online catalogue. I just stared at the computer and started crying, stubbornly refusing to ask for help. This was a beautifully ironic moment which I could not appreciate until an awesome student reference assistant swooped in to help me.
Long story short: we found the books, I stopped crying, and I fell in love with the library.
However, I soon discovered that the number of books checked out or articles read did not automatically add up to a perfect research paper. In the end, I needed time to write.
I thought I would have this time in college.
During that first year, I gave myself time–time to walk to JP’s, time to run into a friend, time to check out not-going-to-happen-in-your-life dates, time to migrate to Lemonjellos aka Ljs (Have we made a decision on this yet?), and time to end the evening back at Van Wylen, ordering some more coffee from the Cup and Chaucer while inserting a cheery “busy, busy, busy” toast to fellow dedicated students in place of small talk.
I wasn’t procrastinating, right?
I had my highlighters, pencils, post-it notes, and Norton Anthologies all aligned next to my chocolate-raspberry muffin and coffee mug.
I had print-outs of articles that I had read at least once.
I made a nice outline on a napkin that nearly connected to a thesis statement.
I did not have a single sentence written for my research paper.
I wish I could say this was a single incident in which I failed the paper and learned that one should never ever ever ever procrastinate. Alas, I have always been more of a Hamlet than a Laertes.
By the next semester, I was able to apply for a job working at the reference desk. I wanted to help other students find the resources they needed, and selfishly, I wanted to be paid for hanging out at my favorite building on campus.
Surely, more time in the library would make me a better reader, writer, and student. Right?
Indeed, working at the reference desk improved my research skills and affirmed my love of helping others pursue their academic passions . . . or simply their desires to pass freshman level English. It did not, however, solve my predicament with time.
What did help me was the advice of one of my writing professors, Heather Sellers. She encouraged her students to be “good moms” by timing ourselves whenever we wrote. A generous, “good” mom will give a 5-minute warning before the kids have to pack up their toys or come inside for dinner. For writing, this would help us not get stuck on the first line of a poem, waiting for inspiration to strike while wasting an afternoon away. Writing thrives on immediacy. Writers need time, but unlimited time sometimes becomes a vacuum to creative productivity.
I fostered my “good mom” habits and discovered that limiting my time on writing opened up more opportunities for enjoying Visiting Writers’ Series events, marathon reading sessions of The Hobbit, or any number of other opportunities the English Department presented, like decorating Christmas cookies. Yum!
I could even make time for a second job at the David J. Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing. Then, I was able to help other students work through the wonderfully frustrating and satisfying struggle of researching and producing papers.
Each semester working at the library continued to affirm my passion for helping students write and my passion for becoming a teacher. I loved meeting students from every area of study and helping them find the resources they needed. I enjoyed learning a little bit myself as I searched with students to find out more about global politics, geology, dance, nursing, and literature, too. Then, I could see where their ideas progressed as they wrote outlines and drafts for the writing center.
It was in the library that I truly appreciated Hope College as a liberal arts institution. The flow of students and professors researching, writing, and sharing ideas with one another inspired me to also read, write, and share ideas. It inspired me to conduct research in Washington, D.C. with Dr. Jeanne Petit, study in Vienna for a May term with Dr. Stephen Hemenway, and it shaped me to become the person I am today. What helped me most about my experience at Hope College was not one class or one professor, or even one fascinating book. It was the culmination of all the parts of the liberal arts education which helped me discover the kind of teacher I want to be.
I am so thankful for the time Hope gave me, so I can teach my students how to make the most of their dreams in all the time they have.