Last year one of my colleagues told me that her students just couldn’t face coming in to the library. They’d just finished an intense three week “research season” where they created a 5-7 page paper, and even though this was a n entirely different project in an entirely different field, the very idea of coming in again was traumatic. Reader, my heart sank, but in many ways I understood.
Thing is, we (librarians and teachers) don’t always do a great job of convincing students of the joy of research. We may be fantastic in many ways, sharing our love of books and teaching the steps/skills of research and conveying tips and tricks to become information/data literate. But do we really convince students that research can be fun? That the be-all and end-all isn’t necessarily a perfectly formatted paper-and-bibliography, but the hunt for information that you, the researcher, synthesize and analyze? That you, the researcher, are teaching me, the reader, something new about a topic?
I’ve always loved the hunt. Even today I do it – just the other day, reading a book about Paris in the age of Louis XIV, I spent a lot of time going down rabbit holes online and in other sources to find information about palaces and locations (does this street still exist? I’ve never heard of that town, where is it? how bad was the Chateau d’If? etc.). Yes, that slowed me down. And I’d bet that many students do the same on their own when they find something that interests them.
That’s the key, though, isn’t it? It needs to interest them. I’m pretty good at helping students take a passion and finding a way to turn it into a research topic that fits the parameters of the paper. But the compressed time frame, the insistence on meeting the deadline of xxx notecards and yyy sources (and limiting how many of which type of source), the persnickety nature of bibliographic format (even when they use Noodletools to help them with that), and all that process stuff can turn them off.
This year there’s at least one teacher who wants to work throughout the year to help dribble out the skills and steps so the actual research season isn’t as stressful and as traumatic. My fingers are crossed that more teachers will also want to do this, and that the message to all our students is that when they’re doing research, they should be not afraid. And that should those students be in this other class, when the teacher says they’ll be working on a project and they’re going to come to the library, they’ll convince their classmates that it’s not traumatic and (perhaps) actually a little fun.