Thinking about Library Instruction

All week, I’ve been thinking about my upcoming library instruction session tomorrow. The clock is ticking: come 11:15 on Thursday morning, 24 wide-eyed undergrads are all going to be staring at me, waiting for my wisdom. I will be teaching a Public Speaking course, so the students are likely freshmen (or, as my dad refers to them, “mush heads”) with a smattering of sophomores thrown in for good measure.

How do I feel? Not nervous, though maybe a little foggy due to a persnickety cold. I’ve been tweaking my mental map of the instruction session over and over again, but I think that’s just par for the course. After all, I’m passing over this invisible yet significant line, going from non-teacher to teacher in a 50-minute span of time. For so long I’ve thought of teachers as people who are so much higher on the food chain than me, so to be considered makes me feel vaguely imposter-like.

For the first library instruction session I’m teaching, the instructor wants students to learn research skills so that they can compile and cite relevant sources for a persuasive speech: a pretty standard library resource one-shot session and a great starting point for me. Because today is the day before the BIG day, I thought that since I’ve been thinking about instruction anyway, I might as well blog about it!

In many ways, I think that if you an observant human being who survives K-12 education (and certainly your undergrad years) you’ve seen enough effective, ineffective, and so-so teachers in your life to really know what it’s like to be a member of an audience. You’ve had people waste your time, put you to sleep, condescend to you; likewise, you’ve had people make you laugh, explain things in a way that completely changes your understanding, and slow down patiently to let you catch up. All of these spectral half-remembrances are affecting the way I think about teaching, and of course my own experience as a freshman during a library instruction session plays a big role too.

The way I see it, as a library instructor communicating with students who are mostly coming directly from high school and who probably have not ever dealt with library resources, I have a few responsibilities to them. Of obvious importance is to meet my three session goals:

  • Students will be aware of library resources for finding books/articles
  • Students will gain experience searching in catalogs and databases on a topic related to their course assignment
  • Students will understand the importance of citation and how to compile citations in APA Style
But, perhaps the greatest of all:
Why should they use library resources instead of Google or Wikipedia?

I think a lot of library instructors see this question as being implicitly answered when they conduct a standard instruction session. After all, you show them how real resources work and they realize instantly that it is superior, right? The new knowledge of the library resources supplants the memory of Google and Wikipedia almost instantaneously…  right?

I don’t think this is true. 

Like it or not, Google, Wikipedia and their ilk are here to stay. Google and Wikipedia serve many functions, and as a starting place for research they are fine. I use both often, just like the rest of the world. But (to state the glaringly obvious to an audience that I’m sure knows exactly what I’m going to type) the problem comes when they are used as the end-all be-all by students attempting to do scholarly research. Sooo often in instruction sessions I have attended, the big G and W have been the elephant in the room as library resources are taught; they just linger, rarely acknowledged. 

I don’t think this is productive.

So, tomorrow I will be dividing my class of 24 into 4 groups, each assigned a topic to research and a library resource. Additionally, members of their group will also complete a search for the same topic on Wikipedia and Google. They will need to show their classmates the steps they took to search the library resource, then report back to their classmates: 

WHAT the differences were between their findings on W, G and Library Resource

WHO would be best suited to use which resource?

My idea is that implementing a direct comparison in class between Google, Wikipedia and Academic Search Premier’s results for say, capital punishment, will bring a natural understanding about the differences between the three. 

I don’t know, maybe this is old hat… I’ve been skimming the library instruction pedagogy that has piqued my interest lately, some refreshingly relatable and some laughably self-important. I have not read about dealing directly with the big W and G during instruction sessions, though I’m sure other library instructors are doing it.

It’s important to me that as an instructor I am not tricking them, I am not lecturing them, merely facilitating a deeper level of thinking that relates back to their current comfort/knowledge levels. That way, I hope that if they later fall back on, “Oh, I’m just going to go to Wikipedia to find information,” they will remember the way the library resource had tools that allowed for locating more precise and relevant information.

Three cheers for library instruction experimentation!

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