Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Librarians: Visit Them, Love Them, Learn!

My students are working on a research paper. I know they've had research paper assignments before, because the faculty who teach the first two years of English courses tell me they all give research paper assignments.

We started the assignment by brainstorming about possible research questions. That went well. The students came up with interesting potential questions, then I gave them feedback, and they refined, and I gave them more feedback.

And their first step in the research process was to start by looking up some broad information, preferably in the library. I emphasized how helpful librarians are. And then I mentioned again (and again) that librarians are super helpful and know how to find all sorts of information.

This week I've been holding office hours as they prepare their first draft. Some students come in and they've clealy gotten a good start, found some resources, started organizing. Those are the students I don't worry about.

The students I worry about come in and sit down, and then look at me. I ask them a starter question, how's your paper coming along? What can I help you with today?

We've worked on some bubble maps and outlining, so maybe they pull out a bubble map, and we look at it. And I ask them how the research is going; what have they found out. Then they tell me they've looked on the web (ahh, source of great potential, both good and rotten), and can't find anything. Or they pull out something they found on the web, and we talk a little about it, but it doesn't really apply.

So I ask the magic questions: Have you been to the library? Have you talked to a librarian?

Hesitation. No, not yet. So if it's a topic I think I can find helpful information about, I may show them how to do a search, BUT the problem is that I can't read kanji, so I'm not using the Japanese resources they've got good access to and should know how to use. So mostly, I suggest a talk with a librarian, and then ask them if there's any help I can give them. And usually there's not. (Sometimes they want to check that their question really is good, or something, and I can do that.)

If I could convince all college students (heck, all people in general) of one thing, it would be that you can usually get really good help finding good information about things if you visit the local library and talk to a librarian.

They know things. It's like magic. They can find basic information; they can find in depth information. They can put their hands on weird bits of information. (Who was the first son of an English monarch to use the title "Prince of Wales"? I asked that at a local library in a small town once, and it took maybe two and a half minutes for the librarian to find the answer, and she didn't look on the web.)

Best of all, they can help you figure out really solid, useful sources of information, so that you don't get confused by stuff that's too technical or so far off the wall that it's not helpful.

I love librarians. I only wish my students would, too.


  1. oh, i'm so with you about librarians! there is an awful lot of information that is not on the web. they are living search engines, able to frame queries in different ways and look to sources that are not totally obvious.

  2. I agree with your entire post, and what Kathy A. says as well. If your students learn only one thing this semester, if it's that a librarian is an invaluable resource then they've learned something they'll be able to use forever.


  3. You've been blessed with helpful librarians, obviously! Small town librarians, in my experience, kick butt, but academic librarians find lower-level undergrads to be beneath their notice. Unless you take the guided tours (good, but not helpful with specific research), you're pretty much on your own...

  4. Kathy A, I know! They know how to find stuff in the most amazing ways!

    Artemis, I wish they'd learn that.

    Highlyeccentric, You're right, I have been very lucky. But the academic librarians at schools where I've taught seem very interested in helping my first year students (and others). I get glowing reports when students have actually asked for help. Maybe you've had worse luck; sorry to hear it!