Should Learning the Library be Formalized?

Inside Higher Ed’s article, “What Students Don’t Know,” is hitting the web big time since I first read it.  Dare I say it has become viral?  It is now on Mashable and USAToday among other places.  I have been kind of reading the comments on the article from Inside Higher Ed and other places.  As with all comments on blogs and news articles some are helpful, some are not.  However, the 8th comment down on the Inside Higher Ed site, “What happened to K-12 education? Standards?” Posted by JMH was intriguing.  JMH says that “if we really want to see a change, we need to influence current K-12 educators by providing free online research workshops that address some of these skills.  If those teaching K-12 students and university students are not aware of their own lacking in online research skills, how can we change things for the better?”

I have a K-12 child.  My oldest child is just entering the 3rd grade. Last year in 2nd grade he had several projects where he had to do research.  I remember the projects very well because a lot of whining and crying was involved (not just my son but me too).  As vivid as those projects were, I don’t remember the teachers ever making an issue about finding the information, doing the research.  Nothing was sent home about how they were teaching the kids about research or finding information on the Internet, just information on what facts we were supposed to find for the report.  For example for a poster on Dwight Eisenhower we had to have what number President he was, birth and death dates, family members, where he was born, and one interesting fact about him. 

During the Eisenhower poster I fought with my son about using the top Google listing for information.  While I am sure the information in Wikipedia was correct and fine for a 2nd grade poster, I didn’t want him to get used to using it.  I had to explain to him that the White House’s site might have better information since he was a President.  I had the same problem with an endangered species report.  Again I had to explain to him that Kids National Geographic was probably a better site to find information and pictures than some of the other sites that popped up. 

For both of these projects I don’t remember ever seeing anything from his teacher or school librarian that they discussed how to search for information or how they would like us to search for information for the reports.  I’m sure other non-librarian parents went on Google and didn’t make as much of a fuss about the source of information as I did.  Shouldn’t the teacher or the school librarian have taught the students something about this?  By all rights they may have, and it went in one ear and out the other of my 8 year old. If they taught them shouldn’t a flier be attached to the project assignment reminding the kids (and informing the parents) about finding information? 

Oh I forgot to mention this is at a school that was a National Blue Ribbon recipient and is rated Excellent in Ohio.

If they don’t get the foundations in school, do you think they are going to have a good research skills in their medical careers?  Remember Anna Kushnir’s hatred for PubMed. She was never instructed on how to use it and scoffed at the idea of database instruction. “I don’t think I should have to be, or enlist the services of, a medical librarian in order to do a simple search on a literature search engine. PubMed should be an intuitive search engine such as Google, or others.”  According to the “What Students Don’t Know”  report students can’t even Google well, so Google is even too hard. Poor research can even lead to the death of otherwise healthy people as we unfortunately discovered from the death of Ellen Roche, a healthy, 24-year-old volunteer in an asthma study at Johns Hopkins University.  If the average undergraduate isn’t using the library nor considers the librarian to be anything more than a breathing sign pointing to the bathroom, what do you think those same students think as they become medical students then doctors? 

What do you think?  Is college too late to address some of these things?  Should we start by having a more proactive and integrated approach in grade school?  Should we as librarians be a more cohesive group and start at looking solving this problem together from the bottom up?

5 thoughts on “Should Learning the Library be Formalized?”

  1. After my teaching my first research workshops in the library, I started likening them to making up for “damage” already done in K-12. I quote ‘damage’ because the problem is how formalized education is structured. Teachers have a difficult enough time teaching standards let alone adding anything more. I definitely think there needs to be a more integrated approach. I think I may be clairvoyant, because I wrote a response to your answer in a former blog post:

  2. I feel like there is a problem not just with knowing where and how to search, but also why as well. It seems like a lot of people don’t get taught a way of research for exploring a topic, as a process, but rather get the “write about this and give me 5 citations” type of assignment in which the references are an afterthought rather than a base for building knowledge and discussion. So, yes, I think they need to get the skills for searching earlier and better, but also more understanding of scholarship as a process.

  3. I remeber being taught research skills at primary school in about year 5 or so when we were putting together bigger reports than 1 page posters. This was something like going to the library for a class about how to look up things in encyclopedias (this was pre www – back in the early ’80s.) So yes, teaching these skills should be the school librarians job with the teacher working with the librarian. Teachers should be taught research skills for young people when they are at school themselves.

  4. I worry that it’s too late for librarianship to do anything about it. We’re already seeing a trend towards losing school librarians (and in Canada these were mostly just teachers with some librarianship training) so not only are the very people who could be helping with the problem not being hired anymore, they’re not even in the environment to bring attention to the issue to those that could: teachers, school boards, parents, etc.

    As a medical librarian, I was frustrated by the pattern of info lit versus reception: if it was taught too early, they didn’t see the need and didn’t care, and if it was taught too early, they complained that they should have been taught it long ago. I think the sweet spot was probably about 5 minutes long. lol

    Now as an eResources Librarian, I see a pattern of use that reflects the “I shouldn’t have to think about searching” attitude. I’m just happy when they are aware of resources now, hoping that that awareness will translate, at the right moment, to use.

    Bottom line is that everyone SHOULD be taught more younger. That’s not just info lit, but research skills, technological concepts, math, language, critical thinking, science, and the list goes on. I wholeheartedly believe that being exposed to more education and ideas can solve almost anything but the problem is where to start and where to stop. We only have so much time.

  5. This was the comment I wrote when I shared this post to my Reader stream; it’s rather similar to Catherine’s:

    Such a good idea. But I do remember learning in grade school from the librarians and my teachers how to look in the index of a book, and some basic skills on recognizing good info from bad. But I’m an old enough millenial that while I grew up with the internet, teachers weren’t using it as a research tool until I was in high school. But even then I still had a library research session in english (this is all in public schools, although they were small) that also dealt with your basic bibliographic skills (how to write a citation, quote a passage, etc.). So these things aren’t done any more? I think teachers are still in the evolution of trying to navigate and use the internet and these kinds of tools themselves, so how can they *teach* navigation and use? Can we get information literacy skills as part of teacher accreditation (or are they there already, and then maybe they need to be updated, and librarians should play an active role in the training of teachers)?

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