Thursday, April 7, 2011

College Bound Students

This week I attended a meeting called "Independent School Libraries & College Bound Students."  It was to discuss what library information skills students should have in their "backpacks" to be successful in college.  A good question.  The meeting was held at the Harvard Graduate School of Education library and there were librarians from Tufts, Boston College and Harvard.  But first, we heard from John Palfrey, author of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, which I'm sorry John, I have not read.

John spoke about how there are many challenges facing young people, but these challenges present opportunities for instruction.  Although people who are born after 1980 often are referred to as "digital natives," they aren't all "digital natives" (duh).  Not all kids grow up with cell phones and computers, because not all families can afford those kinds of things.  Also, some adults use technologies just as well, or as poorly, as kids do.

It is vital to make libraries cool and important, not just serious.  John spoke a bit about how kids these days are multitaskers, and how we know that when kids multitask they don't learn as well, but they're going to multitask anyway.  We need to embrace this and work with it.  While students want newspapers, magazines and journals to be digital, the majority still want print books.  The major issues students have, says John, are figuring out credibility, dealing with too much information, and understanding intellectual property.

The panel discussion that followed wasn't so much a panel discussion as each of the librarians from each school talking about their experiences and what students need the most help with.  First was Beth Rohloff, first year library instruction coordinator for Tufts.  Beth's introduction to college freshman include thinking critically about the research process, such as understanding the available library services and identifying key concepts; searching and retrieval skills such as understanding that there are different databases available for different purposes; resource evaluation skills like understanding the difference between scholarly and popular sources, and evaluating and selecting resources that meet assignment requirements.  Beth finds that students are overwhelmed by too many options.  They have difficulty constructing searches, and sometimes how to just find an actual book on the shelf. 

Kwasi Sardodie-Mensah, instructional services from Boston College libraries and Susan Gilory, librarians for undergraduate programs for writing at Harvard, said pretty much the same thing.  Harvard has a nice toolkit you might want to check out.  In summary, the issues that college freshman had when researching?  All the same issues they have in high school.  Sigh.  Sue also mentioned that many students have difficulty transitioning from Dewey to LC, and having to deal with so many libraries.  The students want everything to be immediately available online.  But sometimes you need to go to another library to find what you need.  And sometimes you need to request stuff and it takes a day to come.  That's real research.

We broke into smaller groups to discuss further.  My group, for the most part, spent most of the time talking about the difficulty of getting teachers to give us the time to teach the skills they need.  Yeah.  True story.

At the very end of the year, I go into the senior English classes and do a "Library 101" class with them.  This is an idea we adapted from Harper Hall School in Nashville, Tennessee.  I teach them LC and talk about the different kind of citation software that's available.  Then I have each student go onto the library web site for the college she is going to next year.  They have a number of questions they need to answer, like what are the different ways they can contact the librarian, the hours the library is open, and how many different libraries are there at their school.  I think it's helpful for the students to take a look at what's available before they get there.  I also try to convince that they really, really don't want to miss their college library tour during orientation.  They'll need it.

In conclusion, during your college years, the librarian should be your BFF.


  1. This is so very true. I almost can't believe how unprepared students are when they go to college even when it comes to writing a research paper. Working in the Writing Center for my university, I really had an inside look at some freshmen's assignments. It was remarkable how much work needed to be done just to fix mechanical errors in their papers.

    Honestly, I think it's great to have a "Library 101" in both high school as you did, Arianna, and college. The first would be in the student's senior year to prepare them for what differences to expect when using academic library resources. The second would take place in the student's freshman year to give a more detailed insight to their college library's particular resources both print and digital. Looking back, I believe we had an introduction to our college library, but I don't remember just how detailed the "tour" was.

    I work for a public library now, but because of a connection with the community college, we also have to help the students in locating more academic resources. Unfortunately, being a public library, our physical resources are limited, and we have to turn towards digital resources either through our databases or the college's databases. It does keep us on our toes when it comes to knowing our own databases as well as the community college's sources.

  2. I think it would be wonderful if all freshman had to complete a research skills type class. It's such a switch researching in an academic library. Most students need the help at the beginning to figure things out. I had no idea how to use my undergraduate college library. I think I did a library tour, but it didn't do much besides show us around the building. I ended up avoiding my college library, and I don't think I ever asked a librarian for help. It would be nice to allow the students to see how the librarians can help, and help them to feel comfortable asking questions.


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