The Thrill of the Search and the Agony of No Hits

I work in post-secondary setting with access to some form of training on EBSCOhost.  For those with a DIY streak either by necessity or choice, the database offers a variety of ways to learn how to search.  I noticed power point presentations, adobe flash videos, and even YouTube.  In fact EBSCOhost has its own channel with a variety of tutorials depending on the library setting.  It’s part of giving students a fighting chance, especially those transitioning from high school expectations to college or university.  The YouTube clips can serve as a great take away for students, especially those more visual in their learning style.

 The other reason I wanted to point out these tutorials harks back to the earlier mentioned DIY streak.  It may come out of necessity as staff cuts may make human help harder and harder to find.  Those with a willing do-it-yourself style may appreciate the resources to see how to search various databases, then try those skills themselves.  Whatever the case it’s still all about the hunt.  I love research.  I love stumbling about and finding interesting articles, or trying to find articles based on my own geek interests in EBSCOhost from time to time.  For some students, research look intimidating and time consuming.  If one asks a question, one feels stupid.  (Somebody hijacked question posing into an intelligence test.  Asking questions proves intelligence not keeping one’s mouth shut.  That’s another post.)

Meredith Farkas wrote a fantastic entry on the pressure to search entitled I need three peer reviewed articles” or the Freshman research paper  on her blog called Information Wants to Be Free. Students can get their articles for a given assignment, but do they know why they got them beyond fulfilling a rubric.  It’s the question faced at reference desks on any given day, in any given library, by any given librarian or library tech.  Ms. Farkas’ experience talks long term goals in searching as building transferable skills rather than the intense, and soon forgettable, focus on a given assignment. 

In my undergraduate days, my most unforgettable research assignment happened in Canadian Social History, a first year class focusing more on people and events than dates.  (Although I seem to recall a heck of a lot of statistics.)  The assignment involved using the municipal archive and seeing what happened in Winnipeg the year we were born.  I recall seeing the city council minutes introducing Folklorama as part of the Winnipeg centennial.  The object I most remember was a letter from someone uneasy about John Lennon possibly visiting Winnipeg or something to that effect.  (I think he started his bed ins for peace around that time.)  I waded though lots of archival material to get a sense of what happened the year I was born, what now passed into history waiting to be discovered.  I never forgot that assignment.  I never forgot the car, the process, the discovery, and the thrill.  It didn’t feel like work at the time.  However you are reading the words of a person whose last entry dealt with a bloke I never met.

Whether a student learns how to search by a YouTube clip, or one on one at a reference desk.  The goal remains the same:  Give students the tools to gather information as active learners.  If they are active, creative learners they will be active creative people in whatever field they work in after graduation. 

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