Librarians Know – They Really Do

A nice story in today’s Australian by a philosopher, Cordelia Fine, on starts with how librarians can predict academic success.

Every year, with near-perfect accuracy, a librarian working in a university library would predict which third-year undergraduates would be awarded first-class degrees.

She didn’t know how their essays were rated, what grades they had under their belts, or how they scored on IQ tests. (All information many would say was essential to forecasting final results.)

All she knew was how often she had seen students in the department library: reading course notes, photocopying journals, borrowing books. And the handful of students who she saw a lot – conspicuously more often than the other students in the same year – were going to get a first.

Patterns of library usage are so different and personal yet they reveal how each of us engage with knowledge and explore the domains of information.


  1. That is certainly true in law firm libraries as well. Tell us how many students were hired back as lawyers and we can very accurately provide the names. Like the academic librarian in the article, we never see the output — the memos or the drafts of papers that students prepare on the basis of their research. Unlike the academic librarian, we do have other variables that we can factor in aside from the amount of time and effort that students spend in the library. Is the student often working on matters for the same instructing lawyer? Does the student demonstrate a sense of the appropriate point in any research project to enlist the services of library staff (depending on the project, it could be at the outset, after some preliminary digging or as a final check for any sources that have been missed)? Does the student generally seem to know when to stop researching or when to change the approach to research that is not producing the desired results within a reasonable period of time? And finally, does the student convey a sense of confidence in his or her own judgment (as long as it is not misplaced!) and a willingness to take a position based on that judgment?