The Unclassifiable Library Remix

Friday, September 23, 2011

What Students Don't Know

This is a philosophical argument that is not new, but is definitely a topic of current discussion. Do you give them the fish or do you teach them how to fish? Are all people meant to be researchers? Do you try to force them to love learning or just give them what they need for the assignment? While I as an individual much prefer to delve into research and revel in my nerdy side, I also have enough common sense to realize that most undergraduates just want to get their degree, finish school, and get a job. They are not necessarily academics by nature. I try, when I do my librarian thing, to assess each patron individually. Some you can tell really do care about the research - and those I teach to fish. But for other students, you can tell they just want to complete the assignment and get on with the million other things they have going on in life. For those students, is it really so bad to just give them the fish?

 Amplify’d from article of 8/22/11
This is one of the sobering truths these librarians
have learned
students rarely ask librarians for help, even when they need it. The idea of a librarian as an academic expert who is available to talk about assignments and hold their hands through the research process is, in fact, foreign to most students. Those who even have the word “librarian” in their vocabularies often think library staff are only good for pointing to different sections of the stacks.
One thing the librarians now know is that their students' research habits are worse than they thought.
“The majority of students -- of all levels -- exhibited significant difficulties that ranged across nearly every aspect of the search process,”
They tended to overuse Google and misuse scholarly databases. They preferred simple database searches to other methods of discovery, but generally exhibited “a lack of understanding of search logic” that often foiled their attempts to find good sources.
If we quietly hope to convert all students to the liberal ideals of higher education, we may miss opportunities to connect with a pragmatic student body,
“Now more than ever, academic librarians should seek to ‘save time for the reader.’
“the extent to which students appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school.” Even students who were high achievers in high school suffered from these deficiencies
In other words: Today’s college students might have grown up with the language of the information age, but they do not necessarily know the grammar.
Even when students turned to more scholarly resources, that did not necessarily solve the problem. Many seemed confused about where in the constellation of library databases they should turn to locate sources for their particular research topic: Half wound up using databases a librarian “would most likely never recommend for their topic.”
Years of conditioning on Google
instilled them with a stunted understanding of how to finely tune a search in order to home in on usable sources
“Students generally treated all search boxes as the equivalent of a Google search box, and searched ‘Google-style,’ using the ‘any word anywhere’ keyword as a default,” they wrote.
Unsurprisingly, students using this method got either too many search results or too few. Frequently, students would be so discouraged they would change their research topic to something more amenable to a simple search.
not one asked a librarian for help.
students were just as unaware of the extent of their own information illiteracy as everyone else
Another possible reason was that students seek help from sources they know and trust, and they do not know librarians. Many do not even know what the librarians are there for. "I don't think I would see them and say, 'Well, this is my research, how can I do this and that?' " one senior psychology major told the researchers. "I don't see them that way. I see them more like, 'Where's the bathroom?' " Other students imagined librarians to have more research-oriented knowledge of the library but still thought of them as glorified ushers.
Unfortunately, professors are not necessarily any more knowledgeable about library resources than their students are.
And many professors, like many librarians, overestimate the research fluency of their students.
, “One of the professors said, ‘You mean they come to the library without the assignment?’
“Yes. Yes, they do.
In her contribution to the ERIAL tome, called “Pragmatism and Idealism in the Academic Library,” Thill wrote about the tension between library pragmatism -- the desire to satisfy the minimum requirements of a research assignment -- and library idealism, which glorifies the tedious unearthing and meticulous poring-over of texts. Unsurprisingly, most students tacked toward pragmatism, while “librarians and professors [repeatedly] wished that students could invest more time in contemplation and discovery, painting an idealized portrait of students leisurely wandering the stacks or pensively sitting down to await inspiration.”
Teaching efficiency is not a compromise of librarianship,
understanding the limitations of library idealism in practice, and acting pragmatically when necessary.

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