and received a 2018 Web Seal of Excellence Award.
In 2010, having always had an interest in the research continuum, I posted a message to the Infolit listserv, asking college librarians, “What do you see as your college freshmen’s strengths & weaknesses? How can I better prepare my high school students for college research?” Apparently, this struck a chord, and I got a barrage of replies.
In addition, the librarians cited a lack of knowledge about periodicals and journals. How to locate journal articles from a database, to differentiate between popular magazines and scholarly journals, and to recognize the significance of peer-reviewed articles.
In terms of citations and ethical use, they wanted their college students to know how to paraphrase and when to cite sources. They wanted students to be able to write and comprehend the components of a citation, and to know there are different styles (MLA, Chicago, APA) for different purposes. The following bullet points were also mentioned.
- To read critically and synthesize from gathered sources
- To know how to turn a topic into a research question
- To understand the concept of a library catalog & be able to use it to find books on the shelves
- To know how to use index and table of contents of print resources
Since I questioned the listserv so many years ago, I decided recently to do it again to discover if there were any major differences in desired research skills in today’s rapidly changing digital environment. There was still huge interest in the topic from college librarians, and I got many responses. Once again, to no one’s surprise, the need for critical thinking and the inability to properly evaluate information were still the most mentioned concerns.
There were a few newer themes that emerged that reflect our world today, and further emphasize those themes. One librarian mentioned that her students had become so distrustful of journalism that they tend to avoid it altogether. She emphasized there was a need to teach the difference between ethical journalism, versus satire, false information and manipulated images. Many other librarians also cited the inability to recognize bias or to seek out authority in a source.
Another factor mentioned is one I believe we have all experienced. There is a shorter attention span and an impatience for the process of finding information these days. Our students are used to googling or asking Wikipedia or Siri for a quick response to a question and getting an instant reply. Many college librarians (and many of us) struggle to make students understand that research takes time. Students increasingly lack the ability to “read academically”. Substantial background reading is usually needed in the research process. The research process is dynamic. The first answers aren’t always the best answers. Students need to know that it may be necessary to abandon their initial search strategies and rethink their process, or their thesis as they proceed. This is a hard sell to teenagers who aren’t always used to focusing on a task for the long term.
The problem of students settling for the first result isn’t new of course. Several years ago, a student researching the playwright Neil Simon in my library, printed and was about to leave fully satisfied with an internet story he had obviously not even looked at, about two British brothers named Neil and Simon. The problem of impatience these days just seems to be even more pervasive (and not always so amusing).
The subject of types of sources being recognized in both print and digital formats also came up. How can we teach the different kinds of information & the different ways of navigating books (table of contents, index), magazines, newspapers (bylines, issue, volume, editorial) and academic journals (abstracts, bibliographies, peer-review) so that students can recognize and approach them in both print and digital formats?
One item often mentioned by college librarians was the need to be able to use MS Word and all it’s tools. As a 1:1 Chromebook school, which relies heavily on Google Docs this really surprised me. Apparently in many colleges, if students use Google Docs they may need to know how to convert their work to Word. The reasons seemed to range from professors expecting that format, to lack of student ability to properly format citations on Google.
Lastly, and probably the most important point of all, was that students should use their college librarians as resources. They should not be afraid to ask questions or to come for help.
For high school librarians, this list of skills is a huge challenge which can only truly be met with the collaboration of our faculties and resources from our administrations. Unfortunately, the playing field is far from level out there. How many of our districts have certified librarians starting in elementary school, strong collaboration from their faculty, and the budgets to purchase quality print and digital resources for our students? I’m guessing not many of us. Hopefully, in the meantime we can continue to reach out to one another for strategies and resources in our efforts to best prepare our students for their information seeking lives after high school.