Fighting the Good Fight

28 Oct

When I started library school, a couple of second years indicated that one of my required classes was basically “how to search Google” and a total waste of time. Perhaps they had a much worse experience, but I’m finding it useful. Certainly, much of it is review, but coming from a small liberal arts college to a major university, I had no idea how to find, much less use, many of the resources available to students at UW.

Last night in class, my professor mentioned this blog post by Peter Pappas, which in turn was a response to an article in Wired magazine (which I haven’t read, but which is quoted at length in Pappas’s post) debunking the myth that digital natives are adept searchers. In it, I found one of my responses to my fellow students’ criticism of the course. Pappas writes two sentences that make me want to scream THIS! EXACTLY THIS!!!:

We live in an information age that puts a premium on the ability to find, decode, evaluate, store and communicate information. Today’s student should be in training to become a critically-thinking citizen.

This is where I, as a future information professional, want to be. I want to get in there, throw some elbows, and assert my value as an educator imparting crucial skills. To “sell” myself, I need to step away from the idea that I am the guardian of knowledge, holding facts and information behind my desk, and instead become a facilitator for others to find the information they need. Because knowledge is not facts and figures, but engagement with them, and the understanding that results.

Before you protest that this idea is absurdly idealistic: I know. To concoct my magical the-world-values-librarians brew, I also need a time-stretching machine, unusually indulgent administrators, and probably a giant pot o’ cash. A girl can hope, right?

Alas, the real world. Again, Pappas:

Teaching information literacy is everyone’s (and no one’s) responsibility in school. (And I fear most of the librarians who were “fighting that good fight” didn’t survive the latest round of budget cuts.)

The fact that students aren’t as good at searching as everyone thought is not news to the library world. They’ve known it for as long as there was an internet to search, and many who assert this claim come off (to the outside world) as curmudgeonly librarians who can’t face their own obsolescence. In college and university settings, the problem is exacerbated by professors who think students come to college already knowing how to search and evaluate materials (I’m not blaming professors; it’s a reasonable assumption to make), and by the tight schedules educators have to maintain to cover all their content. And students, faced with mounting student loans, second jobs, and limited “real” job prospects, need to work with maximum efficiency, grabbing the information that’s at hand, even if it’s not perfect. Who has time to take a full class – or several – to make sure students can identify a scholarly article or search a database?

As for me, I went to a great high school and college, and I was lucky to receive information literacy classes in both places. Still, I can’t remember using any scholarly database other than JSTOR. Which, if you aren’t already aware, a) does not contain the most current information, and b) is certainly not the right database for the one semester I was a psych major (maybe that’s why it didn’t last?!). Again, not a criticism of my school librarians. They tried, but I was probably too busy making sure my shoes matched my purse.

I’m thinking about a career in academic librarianship, and I can’t help but feeling that I want to up the game. I keep being told that librarians are valuable because they know how to search better than their patrons. But I don’t want to search better than my patrons – I want them to search better. Accomplishing THAT will make me a better asset than being some sort of advanced desktop Google.

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One Response to “Fighting the Good Fight”

  1. Dana November 7, 2011 at 12:22 am #

    I think it’s a completely reachable dream! The way information literacy is being taught right now isn’t working. At least, it wasn’t when I was in school. Because we grew up digital natives (for the most part) and grew up using Google, we approach those “how to search” classes in undergrad AND grad with an eye-roll and a scoff. I don’t think it has to be that way!

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