The Gift of Cite

This is one of those “just publish already” posts, one that’s been sitting in Draft status for a while.

Let’s start with two posts that my friend Chuck pointed me to, one by Kevin Marshall and one by Kristi Gustafson Barlette.  Kevin’s came first, Kristi’s a few days later.   Coincidence?  Possibly… except they know each other, and the former probably influenced the latter.  Notice there’s no mention of any influence, no citing of the original source for the second post.   Is it plagiarism?  By the standards we teach our students, the answer is a resounding YES.

But… what about in our own lives?  I’ve posted on a number of topics and then seen friends/peers/colleagues posting similarly themed posts without suggesting that they’d perhaps read mine and been influenced.  Do I go after them and say “hey! cite your source you plagiarist you?”  No (quiet steaming and perhaps a pointed comment to someone else, on the other hand…).  I do remind myself to not fall into that trap in my own posts.

Posting is one thing, but what about tweeting?  There’s the obvious RT, which clearly “cites” the source.  On the other hand, I see a link… I click on the link… I like the link… I tweet the link (knowing that many of my followers won’t have seen it; sometimes I check Is It Old first). When I’m tweeting directly from the website, using Add This or some other widget, perhaps I want to add my own comment or highlight a phrase, or I’ve simply forgotten who sent me to this page in the flood of tweets received.  It’s not intentional, but I’m not citing my inspiration – according to what we teach students, this is plagiarism.

The same applies to anything added to LiveBinder,, Delicious, etc.   Even more dangerous is Pinterest, which is facing some real copyright issues.

In many of the conversations, seminars and workshops I’ve attended that deal with the K-20 continuum (or some portion thereof) one of the biggest concerns the academic librarians have is students ability to synthesize information and to cite their influences.  Paraphrasing is a skill that many students don’t have.  Knowing that if they got information from another source is another skill they seem to lack.  There’s a great tutorial that I’m going to incorporate into my teaching of research skills.  Academic librarians seem to think these skills are “writing skills” to be taught in the classroom (per the ILL-I discussion on “Citation Instruction and Mission Creep” – archives here); at a K-12 school they should be co-taught by teachers and librarians.

But what about the ways in which I teach students to collect information using curation tools?  Do we need to worry about this?  Isn’t it important for us to start that conversation with our students, and to catch ourselves when we fail to live up to the expectations we have for them?

There’s also an on-going discussion about how to cite, which I’ve already covered here. Suffice it to say, with all these new tools the ways in which we cite information are constantly changing and – in my opinion – getting obsessed with the exact format is detracting from the need to cite. The more complicated it is, the less anyone will want to teach it, learn it or do it. At all, let alone “properly”.

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