The Writing Center and the Library

At the institution where I work, the writing center is a kind of strange appendage to the library. To get to it, you have to go into the library and through the stacks, yet the center is administratively and practically separated from the actual library. (The center’s entrance is a former fire exit.) Library staff have only the writing center’s flyers to rely on for staffing hours, and are sometimes forced to merely grimace sympathetically when a frantic student can’t find writing help and the ref desk is swamped.

A dear friend of mine is a graduate student in English and works part-time in the writing center at her institution. She and I have had discussions trying to find the boundary between the library and the writing center. When one of her students has a paper that is grammatically solid but lacks good references, does she shoo him onto the library? She’s trained in composition but not library structure and information literacy. When a student comes to the reference desk with a request for resources that don’t match the assignment he’s working on (or his other sources), do I recommend contacting the writing center? Why are these entities separate? Is it primarily an administrative issue? (Writing center staff is often composed of graduate students in English or Composition.) Is it a territory issue? It is a space issue?

LIS literature has shown that undergraduates tend to research and write to the assignment, in a model unlike that of advanced graduate students, faculty, or librarians. (See Fister 1992, Leckie 1996 and others for more on this.) To put it simplistically, our students want to write effective and well-researched papers because they want to get good grades. Our faculty want our students to write good papers because they want to pass on the standards that shape their professional worlds.

I as a librarian and my friend as writing instructor want the same things from and for our students. Physical location of the writing center into the library is a great first step. One-desk service models that include writing center staffing are even better. I’d like to see cross-training of writing center and library reference/instruction staff. Make it clear what resources are available. Develop relationships among writing instructors and librarians. Academic libraries are moving to a model that’s more enmeshed with coursework and teaching. Shouldn’t strengthening our relationships with the academic service whose mission is arguably closest to ours be a top priority?