Friday, August 26, 2011

Along the Same Lines as Yesterday

I ran across this story in my wanderings, and since it reinforced one of my constant themes, I thought I'd share. A two-year, five campus study of how students view and use their libraries on campus reveals that "they rarely ask librarians for help, even when they need it"--which, when you think about it, is the only time you'd be asking a librarian for help, right? Now let me say this about that. Librarians are one of the most unappreciated, underused, and unknown resources in our society. These people are skilled academics who are far more versatile and deeply knowledgeable about a broad range of subjects than is generally realized.

Librarians themselves conducted the study. Rather than rely on surveys, they conducted, as is their way, deep research, obtaining "deep, subjective accounts" of what students, profs, and librarians thought of libraries and each other. Their findings will be published in a series of papers this fall.

Students' research habits are worse than they thought. (Not news to me. After teaching at the university level for numerous years, it was obvious to me.) Here's a summary of what they discovered. Students evinced difficulties over just about every facet of the search process:
  • They overused Google (What a surprise . . . the kids I taught thought Google and the Net were the only sources they ever needed; some probably thought that was all the sources there were) 
  • They misused scholarly databases
  • They preferred "simple database searches to other methods of discovery."
  • They did not understand search logic, so they failed to find good sources.
It wasn't only students' fault. Librarians frequently overestimate the students' research skills. Professors do too. "Both professors and librarians are liable to project an idealistic view of the research process onto students who are often not willing or able to fulfill it." (Absolutely true, I'm guilty of it myself.)

The most alarming of the findings was that "when it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy." Although Google was the tool most often mentioned by the students, they were pretty bad a using it. Clueless about how Google organizes and displays info, so they didn't know how to build a decent search for good sources. They lacked, shockingly to the librarians, "the most basic information literacy skills." And they don't ask librarians for assistance, even when they are struggling. Most don't even know what librarians are there for. Most thought of them as "glorified ushers"--i.e., where's the bathroom?  Good grief.

I wonder why these were shocked. The inadequacy of our educational system to prepare students for such things as research, critical thinking, and critical reading, not to mention cultural literacy, has been long known and lamented.
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