How Ted Lasso Changed My Librarianship | Backtalk

Like many people around the world, I have become enamored with Ted Lasso. This comedy from Apple stars Jason Sudeikis as the titular character in a show with storylines that are funny, sweet, sad, and, at their heart, kind.

Ted Lasso Promotional image with Jason Sudeikis in foreground on English football fieldLike many people around the world, I have become enamored with Ted Lasso. This comedy from Apple stars Jason Sudeikis as the titular character in a show with storylines that are funny, sweet, sad, and, at their heart, kind.

Lasso is a coach. He says many times that he doesn’t care about wins or losses, that he wants his players to become better people, to infuse his team with optimism, joy, and camaraderie. To some extent, that is similar to librarianship. We don’t often have to deal with the end results of whatever patrons come to the library for. We are there to help them along their way, and to hopefully teach them about tools and resources to help them become successful—to help them become better, whatever that might mean to them.

In one scene, Ted Lasso affably tells the story of driving his son to school and seeing the quote, “Be curious, not judgmental,” from Walt Whitman. He has the epiphany that all the people who have underestimated him throughout his life haven’t been curious; they haven’t asked a single question about who he is. I’ve read Walt Whitman before, but it wasn’t until I heard the words said in this context that they resonated with me.

As librarians, we deal with questions all the time, from “Where’s the bathroom?” to “How can I connect to the Wi-Fi?” to “Can you help me access this incredibly rare primary source document in two days for a paper I’m working on?” We see students and patrons when there is something they need, whether it’s a place to sit for a few hours or to come to a library program or to get help with a project.

When I watched Ted Lasso, it invigorated me. It, in all honesty, changed my life. It changed the way I think about interactions with people every day. I do not only deal with the questions people ask me, I ask them questions in return. By asking questions of our patrons, our students, and our visitors, we can help find the nugget that helps them get to their successes more quickly.

“How do I connect to Wi-Fi?” is the first step of what might be a larger project. What do they need the internet for? Are they familiar with the websites they might want to look at? Is there something that has brought them to this space, an unvoiced question that we can better help with once we understand?

The questions we ask of our patrons are not judgmental questions. We meet our students, our regulars, and our walk-ins wherever they are that day. We are being curious. It’s no more than we ask students to do when they begin their research journeys.

Perhaps this all seems obvious, and like something many librarians are already doing. Once the thought wedged in my brain, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I should have been doing this all along. In college, I wanted to become a librarian to help people. Ted Lasso gave me the phrasing, the motto, to act as my guidepost.

Especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, optimism has been hard to come by, and I’ve worked with colleagues, librarians and teaching faculty alike, who find it difficult to be continuously understanding, to offer endless extensions. It has helped me, in this time, to ask more questions. What is the issue behind a late assignment? How can we address the root of the problem?

When working with students, which I do regularly as an academic librarian, there are often pitfalls and stumbles, especially with students who are coming to college for the first time, students who are first generation, students who have little to no support network, but also with the students who have every resource available to them. When I meet students, I come to them with no expectations or preconceived ideas of what they might know.

The term “digital native” gets thrown around often  about a generation of students who grew up with technology, and there is an assumption among many college and university librarians that this means students come with a lot of skills already, and they shouldn’t have to be taught. But we have to be curious, and we have to ask those questions, because assuming students know something, and becoming frustrated when they don’t, can alienate students from coming back.

“Be curious, not judgmental,” is the best advice I can give any library professional. We are coaches to all the information seekers out there, and the best way we can teach them it’s okay to ask questions is to be okay with asking some questions of our own.

Beth Carpenter is a student support and engagement librarian, Lockwood Library, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.

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