Most of my career teaching in higher education has involved teaching introductory level writing courses that involve research papers and projects. It has always seemed odd—especially in an era in which education is under scrutiny for its economic value—that students do not take full advantage of the assistance offered by the university’s librarians.
Please note that I am talking about the talented professionals who work in the library rather than the electronic resources. In the Information Age (IA) in which we live, content is rapidly digitalized. As I wrote last year, we are moving closer to the wonderful search tool known as “Computer” on the Star Trek series, which would allow users to converse with an electronic database full of the world’s knowledge with little delay in retrieval. Yet, this does us little good without librarians.
Why? As information and technology develop rapidly, it takes a specialist to keep up. On top of all of our other duties, can any one of us really stay current with the latest developments in electronic information storage and retrieval? Attempting to do this on our own would be a bit like standing on the bridge of the starship Enterprise, needing to interpret the information shared on a screen by the Library Computer Access and Retrieval System (LCARS) (the fancy name for “Computer”)? We would need a well-trained expert like Dr. Spock or Lt. Uhura to assist us, right?
Therefore, students must be willing to ask for the assistance of the informational literacy experts known commonly as ‘librarians’ to help them retrieve information.
As Dr. Steve Matthews explained in a post for his 21st Century Library Blog (12 October, 2011), the role of librarians has changed from centering on face-to-face customer service functions such as checking books out. In fact, Matthews points out that librarians:
• “Serve the broadest spectrum of customers in history.”
• Are “guides for information literate participants.”
• Need to be useful in ways a LCARS can not help.
• Provide technical assistance to patrons who lack information literacy.
• Face the potential to be seen as obsolete. (12 October, 2011)
However, students seem unaware of this change. In part, students see librarians more as service desk functionaries of a bygone era rather than the information literacy experts they have become. Furthermore, there is another force at work here.
In an Inside Higher Ed post on “Improving Research Skills,” Steve Kolowich discussed evidence that first-year college students tend to avoid the campus library because it is so intimidating. Instead, students tend to retreat to the familiarity of that outdated stereotype of librarians by attempting to do research at their local public library instead (1 June, 2012). In fact, as Kolowich points out, according to Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) studies, students are reluctant to ask academic librarians for help, confused about what the role of a librarian is, and less computer savvy than most would think. This includes digital natives (22 August, 2011).
Students must change their outdated view of librarians and, as Matthews called it, the “devaluing” of the librarian and library’s role must change (12 October, 2011).
The library is a free and near boundless resource for students as they pursue their education and future careers. They must take the initiative to go into the library and fully utilize the assistance of the librarians. Most students simply walk into the library, not fully understanding or utilizing the assistance of a librarian, but expecting help. There are many misconceptions about library research, such as the idea that all you need to do is have the librarian help you find books that will enable you to patch together quotes for a paper.
Now consider some of the assistance the librarians can provide in this sample video from Austin Community College:
Note that students must take the initiative to attend informational session(s), workshop(s), and ask questions in person, online, or by telephone. They must take responsibility for acknowledging the partnership between themselves as patrons and the librarians as the information literacy professionals they are. Working together will produce better results in a short time for students.
By taking advantage of the free assistance librarians offer, students can typically find more relevant research for papers and other projects in their courses. But why stop with courses? Students could benefit even more by seeking out librarians to assist them in researching other areas of concern, such as types of financial aid and career information or options.
The good news is that colleges are successful at providing students with the research skills needed to be competitive academically and professionally (Kolowich, S., 1 June, 2012). However, the process could become less painful and more efficient with the assistance of a librarian. Students must be willing to connect with these talented information specialists. At no additional cost for such assistance, librarians are a bargain.
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net