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College Bound Students and Independent School Libraries (part two)

Posted by lpearle on 20 June 2011

After John Palfrey’s keynote, we then had a panel discussion with Beth Rohloff of Tufts, Kwasi Sarkodie-Mensah of Boston College, and Susan Gilroy of Harvard University.  These are three of the people my former students will meet in September, and their insights into what those incoming students will experience and be asked to do was invaluable.

Beth Rohloff

  • She starts from the assumption that incoming students have received no formal library instruction, and tries to teach them to use the space for search, research, etc..  Beth strongly recommended the article “Closing the 12-13 Gap” as a basis for our “collaboration”
  • Faculty often limit the use of websites, requiring databases or print sources (fewer worries about credibility, less time spent choosing the right resources)

What are the challenges she faces?

  • students are overwhelmed by the choices available – they tend to choose one or two sources and stick with them
  • students don’t know how to handle website redesign
  • access points aren’t always obvious (particularly with databases)
  • students don’t know how to limit searches or make them relevant
  • full-text is really important, but students don’t know how to get there (the same problem exists with print)
  • there is a real need to increase library instruction time
  • the library needs to be a friendly place to learn, not socialize
  • students are confused by the difference between opinion and fact, credible websites and reputable sources
    • they need to learn evaluation skills
    • the need to learn to become comfortable with depth, not just broad-scope articles

The three biggest questions/concerns we need to focus on?

  1. what is a library and how can librarians help them learn?
  2. research concepts, not tools – tools change
  3. respect for authority (CNN vs. JSTOR)

Kwasi Sarkodie-Mensah

BC goes give a summer orientation that includes the library, but students will forget it all by the time they come in September.  The library has a heavy integration with their English 101 class: if you don’t bring your students in during Writing Seminar, you’ll lose your job!

These incoming students are not prepared for research, and the biggest lesson is that they need to slow down while doing research (my question: is this a reflection of the speeded-up process I see teachers pushing? three weeks for a 5-7 page paper is not enough if they’ve never written something that long before; one week for a 2-3 page paper is definitely not long enough!)  They’re afraid to use new media (eg., podcasts) and special collections for research.

  • they already use controlled language, so we need to make the connection between Facebook and their life
  • plagiarism is a huge problem, with few students understanding the penalty
  • citation management is a critical tool they need to master (BC uses RefWorks; Noodletools seems a good entry point)
  • learning how to grab information for their digital research profile is another critical tool
  • their source evaluation skills are also poor, as most grab the first five resources, which might not be the right ones

We need more than 50 minutes with students, and we need to create a culture of 1:1 help.

Susan Gilroy

Harvard has created a Library Starter Kit.  Why?  They find the 12-13 transition is clumsy, even for students from exceptional prep schools: Harvard University is really different than high school.

  • they don’t know LC, only DDC
  • they don’t know about the resource list
  • they don’t know what the library means as a college student
  • they don’t know how to do deep reading and how to engage with a text
  • they need to learn to have a conversation with a text

And then there’s the question of ethics: they know it’s important not to plagiarize, but not why they shouldn’t.

Other challenges?

  • learning how to find things (including using the OPAC properly)
  • they’re confused that scholarly articles don’t live in the catalog, they “live” in databases
  • they resort to what they know
  • we (librarians) need to teach databases, not vendors
  • keywords help them get their bearings – they need this skill
  • they don’t know how to construct a topic
    • how do you ask valid questions?
    • what interests them about their topic?
  • we need to help them develop a fund of language with which to talk about research
  • they need to pay attention to where they’ve been and how they found it (directly opposed to the way in which they usually operate on the web, where it’s trial and error often without real understanding)

Authority is different than plausibility or credibility: students do not know this!

While all the “2.0 tools” are fun, college projects are about how to articulate information and thus are mostly text-based.

Group discussion suggestions:

  • find out what they (faculty and students) are working on, and then show them how they can be helped by the library
  • get administrative buy-in to give us more time with classes, but integrated, not stand-alone; co-teach skills with the faculty
  • look at college websites – use their resources to show students “what’s next” as well as using them now

Remember, libraries are a critical third space, not just a physical space.

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One Response to “College Bound Students and Independent School Libraries (part two)”

  1. [...] June was the College Bound Students and Independent School Librarians day in Boston (posts here and here),  ALA Annual in NOLA (posts here and here), and the conferences ended with AASL in Minneapolis [...]

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