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Learning Library Skills is Still Important

Although Google seems to be an omniscient entity and searching it seems the most effective way of finding information, for academic research, this may not be so.

Google searches are great preliminary starting points for research but once students make it to the academic big time of college, they need to know how to navigate an academic library to ensure optimal success.

When I was in college, the enormity of the college library overwhelmed me and therefore I avoided it at first, only to realize much later the foolishness of my choices. The sheer size often promoted anxiety and after walking in, I'd quickly walk out no better for the experience.

Of course, I didn't have the option of doing all of my research from my dorm room even if I wanted to, as the internet was only in its infancy.

Despite knowing how to use my public library and my high school library, no amount of practice in those settings would have adequately prepared me for the wonder that is a university or college library, and who better than a college librarian to help navigate this new space. But being relatively shy, even asking someone I knew who was there as an expert was scary.

Librarians are tremendous resources and the same way teachers love to help students succeed, librarians are very knowledgeable in how to navigate information both online and in the building. Knowing this as an adult, and having had the experience I did as a student, I knew if I could get students into an academic library while still in high school, this would demystify it in a meaningful way for their immediate futures.

So a trip to the local college library was planned and it has become a staple of spring learning in the AP class once the exam is over. In an effort to prepare them for the kinds of papers they will have to write, the year ends with a 12-15 page research paper that allows students to show their mastery in most of the skills they have learned and practiced throughout the year.

When the students arrived at the library the first time, they learned about developing a thesis statement and developing keywords for searching. They were led through an activity showing them how to think of their topics in terms of Boolean Operators during the morning session.

Beyond that students were taught about searching the book catalog and understanding the Library of Congress classification system. We were taken on a tour of the stacks that they would likely be visiting and the areas where reference books were located as well.

Students did an activity to review the kinds of materials inside of different reference books and had to consider how they are organized, thinking of applications to their individual assignments.

The afternoon session centered on academic databases and searching for keywords.

Kids are eager to start work on their projects, but I keep urging them to listen to the librarians as they won't be with us when we return for our second, third, and fourth visits unless they seek them out at the help desk area.

Admittedly I'm hanging back, trying to give them a college experience without stepping on their toes. It's interesting to see which students are doing what and to see what will happen when they are on their own next year. As an observer, I need to bite my tongue to allow students to find their own way like I would my son. Sometimes you just can't protect them from their mistakes and you shouldn't.

That being said, I suspect there will be frustration in the future of some that probably could have been avoided to some degree. This is their lesson to learn though and I will be there to support them when it happens.

How can we continue to support our outgoing seniors to be strong, independent learners without enabling them? Please share your thoughts.

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress in May 2016


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