A Waste of Time and Money?

What if you were told by your powers that be that the library was no longer going to provide web-based homework support? No more categorized links to web sites on topics covered in the classroom. No more 24/7 Ask a Librarian for homework. No more special web sites that are just about how to do homework.

If you were told this would you think, (and maybe say out loud) “Oh no, this is impossible, we have to have web-based homework support for teens? The teens need it?” Why would you think that? How would you know the teens not only need it but they want and use it?

Maybe it’s time for libraries to re-think their notions about web-based homework support for teens. How many teens do you know that go to the library’s homework help pages before or instead of going to Google or Wikipedia? How many teens do you know that think about the library at all as a place to go for homework help when on the web? Is web-based homework support for teens a waste of time and money?

It’s true, that by providing this support libraries show the community (including teens) that the library is available for homework help – face-to-face and online. But, maybe it’s not worth spending the money and the staff effort to keep such an endeavor going.

This isn’t to say that libraries shouldn’t have a web presence in order to help teens with homework, and of course other information needs that teens have. But, instead of making the teens come to the library web site it’s time to start being where the teens are and perhaps give up the clunky web presence that rarely can compete with Google or Wikipedia. For example, some libraries have already created applications for popular social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace so that teens can search the catalog from within the social network instead of having to go to the library web site to do that.

There needs to be more of this kind of library web development for teens. What if database vendors created applications for social networking sites so teens could search the database without leaving their online social home? (BTW, some vendors already do this.) What if the library created applications for Facebook or MySpace to help teens write citations? What if there were applications for building searches successfully? What if there were applications for….

If teens are going to Wikipedia for information, what about making sure that Wikipedia entries on topics that teens in your community have homework on reflect the informational needs of the teens? (Anyone can add or create a Wikipedia entry, wouldn’t it make sense for librarians to be in Wikipedia working on the content in order to support their communities?)

Where are the teens in your community going to find homework information? Where do teens spend most of their time on the web? Lets face it, it’s easier to go where the teens are in order to help them then to make them come to us. So, why not take the easy path? Give up the big web presence and find out how you can have a homework presence in MySpace, Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, Ask.com, etc.

Published by

Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

4 thoughts on “A Waste of Time and Money?”

  1. I tend to agree with this assessment… and as the social web becomes more “flat” with commonly used APIs, the landscape starts to look more like a jigsaw puzzle for students. They can pick and choose what they want to “live” in their environments, ex. Twitter modules that sync with your Facebook status. This is a huge trend that is not going away… and it’s a good impetus to reassess how we deliver homework help online.

  2. A way to SAVE time on building teen web site — is to use these application modules you’ve mentioned on the library’s web site as well.

    i.e. catalog search widget
    popular teen database widget
    Rss Feeds for new books
    Ask a Librarian widget

    The teen page then is dynamic for the users that do visit it. But those same widgets are used to reach teens on facebook and MySpace, etcetera.

  3. I think I see “homework help” differently. To me, looking up information on databases or Wikipedia is research. Research that supplements homework, maybe, but not help in terms of “how do I do this math problem?” or “how do I analyze a poem?” I don’t see teens using Wikipedia in that way at all. That sort of thing requires more personal intervention or at least books/websites designed to talk students through sample problems that they can model with their own work. We get hundreds of hits on Tutor.com a month, for example, because of the personalized, patient help that teens receive. Instead of “how can we substitute this resource with social tools that are inept at handling this task?” we could consider how we can use these tools to facilitate access to other tools that are equipped to provide homework help (e.g., a proxied log-in box to Tutor.com via Facebook). Wikipedia is not an online pathfinder, so trying to infuse the geometry entry with links to Ask Dr. Math, for example, would be a violation of its use. Library websites are important because they rank high on Google searches when they provide resource lists. If a teen types in “homework help Pittsburgh” into Google, the first link is the Carnegie Library’s homework resources page. Neglecting the library website as a place to deliver homework help pathfinders to teens is a mistake, in my opinion. Eventually, I’m sure that teens will be able to text math problems to a server which will parse them and create personalized step-by-step instructions for solving the problem. Until then, this post feels like “homework help” is kind of attached to a general call for libraries to use more social technologies, when it doesn’t relate very well to this specific issue. Normally, I love your posts, Linda, but I think this one misses the mark a little bit. I mean, I would be happy if people could receive homework help through the automatic impulses generated by a worldwide neural network that harnessed the brain power of the entire population (talk about “social networking”), but I fail to see how the current spate of technologies listed can really do the job of delivering it.

  4. I have a bad taste in my mouth from my last comment. Can I also say that I really appreciate when people (people like Linda) are taking the initiative to pose the question, and challenge us to come up with solutions? So bravo to this post for that! I mean, it took me a solid 30 minutes to consider my reply, at which point I came up with some neat ideas for my library. šŸ™‚

Comments are closed.