26 January 2012
The number of students who attended the first-ever Student Paper Info Night at the University Library of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) was much larger than expected. Director Dr. Andreas Brandtner was highly pleased with the enthusiastic student response to this event.
There aren’t enough gummi bears, quiz pages have to be reprinted, and there isn’t enough space so that many students are happy just to find a place to stand when they couldn't find a seat. The staff at the University Library never expected such a massive response to its first Student Paper Info Night.
"If this event proves to be a success, then we will sure hold another one," promised Dr. Andreas Brandtner at the official opening at 6 p.m. By this time, however, the Director of the University Library already knows that he had a success on his hands.
Shortage of gummi bears
Library staff passes out small bags of gummi bears until they run out. The quiz pages for the evening also go like hotcakes. Before long, the staff is calling out "We need more!" as the students just keep coming. And this remains the overall situation in the central library until about 11 p.m. The motto "Student Paper Info Night - Put-off, overdue, or not even started?" must have resonated among students.
"I don't have any problems with my essays at the moment," explains Islak Kaya, a third-semester student of book science, "but I might later. So, this is a kind of precautionary visit." Fellow student Dana Kintra, on the other hand, has concrete expectations. "We had a course in academic skills," she says, "but it was a piece of cake. We'll see what they've managed to come up with here."
The library as a service provider
Students can choose from among several programs over the course of the evening. The Office for Learning and Teaching, the JGU Center for Data Processing, the university’s Psychotherapeutic Counseling Center, and the University Sports Center teamed up with the University Library team to provide a variety of options. "There are no constraints and you can select the format that's most likely to be helpful for you," explains Brandtner. "As a service provider, we're here to help and this is something that we really want prove tonight."
The director invited Professor Dr. Mechthild Dreyer, Vice President for Learning and Teaching at, on board as the evening's official patron. "I was once a student, too," she recalls. "And regardless of one’s own perspective, essays are always a source of both pleasure and pain. It doesn't matter if you're the one writing the essay or grading it."
Everything from Guttenberg to Yoga
As the sun set, Dr. Christoph Reske of the Institute of Book Science asks, "What are academic methods?" In his presentation, he focuses on basic principles such as Humboldt's ideal of the unity of research and teaching. He also touches on the plagiarism scandals that have recently rocked the world of German politics. When it came to the case of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, he has a clear opinion: "I don't just find his behavior inexcusable. I also think his examiners behaved questionably. But there hasn't been much said about them in the media."
While Reske gives his talk, Christiane Kinzelbach offers relaxing yoga in the room next door. Her voice itself is calming as she tells those in the room to "breathe out very, very slowly ... lower your legs ... very consciously."
In the rest of the library, however, everything is much more animated. In one suite of rooms, representatives from different subjects are available to answer more specific questions about essays for their respective disciplines. Karen Stuckert, for example, gives tips on how to do research in philology. "The problem with search and research is that people think that they already know how to do it," she notes. "Nowadays, you can always find something on the Internet, but it's often not really what's relevant." She sits down with each student who comes for advice for about a half an hour and has been always been able to help them all in some way.
How to get started on an essay?
Anna Mauritz emerges from the room next door. She is a first-semester undergraduate studying history. "I'm supposed to write an essay on Russian expansion into Asia in the 19th century, but it can't be more than eight pages long," she says, explaining that she really has no idea how to deal with such a broad topic in just a few pages. "But now I've got some ideas and I think I'm ready to get started."
Dr. Bettina Kaufmann-Grebe and her two colleagues from the JGU Psychotherapeutic Counseling Center deal with somewhat more complicated cases. According to Kaufmann-Grebe, "the problem we hear about most from students is that they put off writing an essay until the night before it's due." In her daily work, Kaufmann-Grebe spends a lot of time with students. At the JGU Student Paper Info Night, though, she focuses on giving some basic tips to help in cases like these.
Writing can be learned
Students scurry from one option to the next throughout the library. On the door to the meeting room for the topic "Finding secondary sources in the Humanities" there is a sign that reads: "Sorry - full up!" So, how about "Formatting essays in Word" instead? Unfortunately, there is a long line forming in front of that group work room, too. The presentation "Writing can be learned" is also popular, and, once again, there aren't enough chairs.
Brandtner stands to one side, relishing in the number of students who came and still come. He pithily sums up the library's philosophy: "Our condescending attitude towards those who come here is a thing of the past - they are now our customers who have the right to make demands." With the JGU Student Paper Info Night, Brandtner and his staff have shown that they do indeed mean business.