Teach a Man to Google

I’ve been working at my new job for less than a month, but already I’m raising some eyebrows. And for once, it’s not the piercings or tattoos.

And, no, it’s not even the shelf of new books (wildly popular new books, I might add) that maybe kinda sorta definitely have some risque content.

I’m not even talking about wiping out the library reservation system our teachers knew and loved with one fell swoop.

So what am I doing that’s so controversial?

Instruction.

Direct instruction to students was a vital part of my GSLIS school library teacher program, most notably my practicum experience and the internship I worked just before and after I graduated. From our required coursework on instructional strategies and curriculum frameworks to planning a lesson to teach fifth graders how to evaluate websites, I’m pretty comfortable when it comes to library instruction.

But mention that I want to give bibliographic instruction, and you’d think I’d suggested kicking off the school year with a bonfire using Catcher in the Rye as kindling.

If recent conversations on Twitter are any indication, some–perhaps many–librarians firmly believe that bibliographic instruction isn’t a librarian’s job. From worries about time pressures to a more philosophical belief that librarians should help teens find information, not evaluate or use it, concerns about bibliographic instruction raise more fundamental questions about my role as a school librarian.

Are we really here just to help teens find information, and should we just walk away if they have questions about how to use it? When it comes to content that classroom teachers could or should be teaching (and when that content is research skills, that’s probably a conversation in itself!) do we decide instruction isn’t worth our time? And heck, do teens even need to know how to do bibliographies by hand?

Personally, I’d say the answers are no, no, no, and sort of–but what do you think? And does it make a difference if we’re school librarians or public librarians?

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.
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11 Comments

  1. Great observations. It sounds like you are talking more about one-on-one instruction rather than whole-class. I have been in schools where librarians were loathe to give advice about what to do with found information because of fear of treading on teacher’s toes, or out of anxiety that if the student lost points, the librarian would be blamed. I think that tends to happen in the more competitive schools, and those school librarians can hide their lack of service orientation behind “fostering independent library use.” In schools like my own, where few students are really college-bound, I think there is more an “all hands on deck” philosophy. The teachers can be particularly grateful when anyone is willing to take on instruction, be it whole-group or one-on-one. I’m just sad few new teachers, not having been exposed to any notion of collaboration in their own licensure programs, realize the instructional role of the librarian.

  2. Well, it’s true that the time concerns speak more to one-on-one instruction, but it’s also a question for whole-class as well–if you have limited time to instruct to a class, and you want to hit search skills, citation skills, website evaluation… the list goes on and on, and a period only lasts so long!

    Interestingly, I’m at a pretty competitive school, but there’s a degree of “all hands on deck” here as well, at least where research is concerned–I spoke to the science department last week, and some teachers seemed Thrilled when I mentioned bibliographic instruction.

  3. You are absolutely right! Instruction in how to look at information critically is vital, and it is the librarian’s job. It is not only the librarian’s job, however. Any adult who has any dealings with children should take it upon themselves to guide the children to be info-savvy whenever an opportunity arises. Finding information is not difficult – it is everywhere. Finding the most appropriate information to one’s needs and being able to identify biases within the information is the challenge.

  4. Your point about other adults is a good one, and this, I think, is the trick when it comes to working in a school setting–with so many other capable adults in the building, we (I mean the global “we”–librarians, teachers, other staff) often assume someone else must have already taught them xyz, right?

  5. I’m in a public library, and Nancy’s comment is right on – it’s not finding information that’s difficult, it’s making sense of what’s been found! I think that collaboration and communication about what’s being taught (and for what purpose) is perceived by some as intrusive or “adding” to our professional duties, but it’s something that benefits the youth we serve. Taking a few extra minutes to help a teen patron use new information, apply the information to a task, or to think critically about the source or similar isn’t overstepping boundaries or helping them to “cheat” somehow. It’s helping them to successfully and meaningfully deal with information, and is a critical component of serving teens in the 21st century.

  6. Please don’t ever assume someone else has done it. If you take the opposite approach and assume that no one else has taught critical thinking, the worst that can happen is the student will indicate that they already know. And there is no harm done in that, right? Repetition is a good thing too, isn’t it? What your colleagues may need to hear is that you are re-affirming the lessons taught in the classroom. Your goal is to work with them in preparing these students to be active participants in a world of information.

  7. Thank you for your efforts. Your mention of “…teach[ing] fifth graders how to evaluate websites…” is the perfect illustration of why Library Science programs are thankfully wedded to Information Science programs in colleges: how to find, vet and properly use information should be part of a librarians job. Librarians shouldn’t be happy just to send a student off with a couple of photocopies, and if the answer is wrong-hey, blame the source; if the sources don’t really pertain-blame the student.

    Librarians and teachers working *together* to help students develop information literacy skills (or whatever they’re calling it these days) would be even better. This is/was the purpose of many a research/term-paper assignment even before the days of the internet. Students would need to find *proper* magazine articles geared toward their topic, in addition to library books, newspaper articles and encyclopedia entries.

    A great resource is Carol Kuhlthau’s research into the Information Search Process. Available at http://comminfo.rutgers.edu/~kuhlthau/information_search_process.htm you can really see where a librarian can mesh into the stages and help the students (and teacher) planning and conducting research. This helps find *meaning* and not just raw information to be regurgitated to the teacher as if the assignments were just a sort of pointless scavenger hunt.
    Another thing I like about your approach is that in addition to countering the old-fashioned notion of librarians as mere gate keepers to the library and “shushers”, it allows students to see librarians themselves as resources-which helps to dispel ‘library anxiety’ (one of my favourite research areas while in Library School). I remember the most popular answer to the question, “Why didn’t you speak to a librarian?” was that patrons felt that librarians were busy and they didn’t want to be a bother.

    I truly believe approaches like yours help dispel the notion that librarians are too busy, aren’t supposed to interact with patrons and their information. It helps build the image of a librarian as an information *Professional* and not a circulation desk-jockey: no offense to circ desk workers-but there is a reason this job requires a Masters degree.

  8. Yes! Librarians do more than just check out materials. Direct instruction in locating, evaluating and using information is the responsibility of the school librarian and while this may occur more one-to-one than whole group it also belongs in the public library.

  9. mk you write:
    “If recent conversations on Twitter are any indication, some–perhaps many–librarians firmly believe that bibliographic instruction isn’t a librarian’s job. From worries about time pressures to a more philosophical belief that librarians should help teens find information, not evaluate or use it, concerns about bibliographic instruction raise more fundamental questions about my role as a school librarian.”

    I’m assuming most of those who felt it wasn’t their job to provide bibliographic instruction were public librarians. And that’s perfectly natural. I would find it hard to believe that school librarians don’t think that bibliographic instruction is part of their job. In California and elsewhere we are known as “teacher librarians” (formerly library media teachers) which I prefer to the term used in most of the rest of the country, library media specialists. The fact that the word teacher is part of our official title means we can’t get away from instruction. For SLMSs or TLs, one of our primary tasks is instruction. I am appalled that any of us would say that bibliographic instruction isn’t part of our job.

    I could understand a bit more if this was the response from public librarians but even there more and more practitioners are realizing their role as instructors. I would think, however, that public YA librarians should be able to rely upon schools to provide the bulk of instruction in information skills. After all, PLs are not trained as teachers the way school librarians are. Unfortunately, with more and more schools losing librarians it’s only going to get worse for those in the public libraries. We are all in this together and we need to build on one anothers’ expertise and practice.

  10. “I’m assuming most of those who felt it wasn’t their job to provide bibliographic instruction were public librarians.”

    Au contraire, mon frère.

    Public librarians do bibliographic instruction almonst everytime we recieve a reference question — with everyone! As information professionals to the entire age spectrum , public librarians accept the duty to promote life-long learning. We provide our customers with the knowledge to evaluate our and others offerings.

    Those public librarians that do not, like their school counterparts, are simply abdicating this duty and would probably be more fulfilled in another profession.

  11. I am a reference librarian at a university that mostly caters to adults. When I am showing them where to find citation guides online, how to use the citation style guides, or hints/tricks to make it easier for them, they say “I wish I had learned this when I was young.”
    The older generations are wishing they had been exposed to this more often (if at all) so lets give it to their children!

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