Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why Good Librarians
are So Darn Nice

This spring, the faculty Library Committee is looking at student research skills in the JH & HS: what skills they should be learning, what they are learning, and how the library can help bridge whatever gaps there may be, either by teaching or supporting faculty as they teach research skills.

I've been reading up on national standards for high school students, and on the college student's research experience. We recently completed a survey of recent Paideia grads on their preparedness for college-level research; we're doing pretty well, they say, but there are always areas for improvement.

Two documents have been really interesting reading this week. First is the American Library Association's Standards for the 21st Century Learner, an outline of learning/research skills all students (and adults, for that matter) need to master for true information competency/literacy. It's much more succinct and snappier than Chapter 2 of 1998's Information Power, an earlier outline of "information literacy" standards from AASL.

The other is a progress report from Project Information Literacy. Entitled Finding Context: What Today's College Students Say About Conducting Research in the Digital Age. The description of the college students interviewed in this survey sounds not too different from high school students. They rely on Wikipedia for big-picture context when starting research (high school students also rely on SparkNotes for literature support); no matter how long is allotted for a research assignment, a majority will wait until the deadline looms to get started; and that settling into a topic, or "finding the right question to ask," is one of the hardest parts of the whole process (especially tricky since that's a first step and holds everything else up!). Here's what they said about libraries and librarians [emphases are mine]:

Students, who used libraries, looked to them, and especially to the reference librarians they consulted as sense-makers. Librarians helped students satisfice [ I learned a new word! It means 'make do with good enough'] their individual, often time sensitive, information needs. One student said, “librarians on this campus can be saviors, you need them to show you how to navigate a complex library system.”

Many participants considered formal library instruction (one-time, individual class visits) of little value to them, too. Throughout our sessions, participants reported that “library talks” (i.e., bibliographic instruction) made sense at the time, but that it was hard to recall and apply months later, when students were working on a research assignment. [the 'teachable moment' for these skills only happens when students have a burning need-to-know]

Other participants reported that they infrequently consulted librarians with the search terms they entered into scholarly research databases. Students told us “we are just as capable to enter basic search terms as librarians can,” “that I’ve been able to get by, so far, without librarians,” and “I don’t need a tour of the library, I just need to find one thing...now.” One student said, “my first step used to be the library, but it was too much information, now I just go to the Web.”

We found, generally, that when students did not receive (or request) the service they value delivered at the moment they need it from librarians, they quickly change course. Participants found a solution on their own, which is usually found online and derived from self-taught techniques that help them find the context they need. [Yikes!! The pressure!! :-)]

An ACRL (Association of College and Research Librarians) blogger wrote, rather pessimistically, that the report wasn't news to research librarians, and that what he took away from it was for librarians to keep on doing what we're doing. I have a little different take. What I read from it is that librarians who are successful in helping (and yes, teaching) students to conduct research absolutely must be available and approachable. We don't get a lot of chances to convince a needy student that the library is a dependable place to go for research needs. The ACRL blogger had it right, though, when he said it's all about building relationships.

I was heartened one day when, after explaining to a group of students that they needed to quiet down because "I'm mean and cranky," one student just looked at me and said (with a smile), "Yeah, right." Phew! There's hope yet. Ya' just gotta' love 'em (most days).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New Art on Display:
Bauhaus Masks

Joe's high school Art Foundations class recently studied Bauhaus masks and the theories of Oskar Schlemmer. Schlemmer's sketches, from "Means of Transforming the Human Body by the Use of Costume," are concerned with the transformation of the human body by means of the disguise known as costume. The function of costume is to emphasize the identity of the body or to change it. Costume expresses the body's nature or it purposely misleads us regarding it.

Students created their own creature masks that either disguise their identities, or emphasize certain aspects of personal identity (interests or identifications), or both. These creations are on display in the Library until after spring break. Come see!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Graphic Novels Get Respect
from the New York Times

Remember how the phenomenal sales of Harry Potter pushed the New York Times into creating a separate Bestseller List just for children's books? It appears that the growing popularity of graphic novels has done the same for that format. Today's ArtsBeat blog announces a new Graphic Books Bestseller List, which although it's heavy on superhero stories, it does include a few others, including one called Beanworld that looks interesting. I'll be keeping my eye on the list for future additions to our library collection.

In the meantime, you can explore our already surprisingly large collection of Graphic Books (or "graphic novels," if you prefer. Both terms refer to sustained narratives that depend on comic-style pictures as much as dialogue and sparse description to tell a complete story). New Yorker artist Art Spiegelman's Maus is an early example of the form; Marjan Satrapi's memoir Persepolis is another well-known one.

Browse our collection online through the library catalog, starting with "More Than Superheroes", a recommended reading list of graphic novels in the Paideia Library. Then come on in to check one out (metaphorically and literally) in person. Discover, and enjoy.