DIY Searchers And The Nearest Library


Time to bring this blog back to its roots. October is Canadian Library Month, and it’s time to talk libraries. Let’s start with when does self-taught end and ‘pulling a Hermione’-running to the library-begin.

Futher Note

I want to make ‘pulling a Hermione’ a thing.

I had periods the self-taught way to learning proved both cheap and satisfying.  Books from the public library, and one parish library, along with a hand-full of websites, fed my knowledge about the Roman Catholic Church from its history to the seven sacraments. My goal wasn’t to defend but to learn the faith, in my case one always in the background like a radio station. I picked a tangent, like sacraments, diving into the depths to turn over words, gestures, you name it. My style does not follow A+B=C all the time. I knew what I wanted, but in case I didn’t, perhaps all I had felt like a vague idea, I found the general thread and began plucking the tapestry, unraveling everything, before putting it back together.

My library experiences, beginning from the time we went down for book exchanges and story time as a kid, shaped me. My school had a teacher librarian. In fact, all through my school years, I had:

  1. A decently stocked library.
  2.  Teacher-librarian supporting teachers and students, even conducting lessons themselves on how to find books by subject or title, tag-teaming with teachers on how to do more than copy whole passages from a book.

Even my go-it-along university years, when in doubt, ask a staff member if I got stuck. I didn’t feel stupid or embarrassed and if I had an asshat during my encounter, those proved rare but possible, the person found themselves mentally filed under ‘never deal with that person again.’ (It turned into ‘never be that person’ in my professional life.)

Something happened in the decades after my school and technology make one part of it. When my nephew graduated from high school, student after student walked across the stage, their blurb read out by the emcee, saying something akin to ‘thank you Google/Wikipedia/ Yahoo Answers for all your help.’ Not remotely kidding. Most I suspect read Harry Potter, but not one student decided to take Hermione’s example and go the library, even get into the restricted section. It’s not about finding books but accessing expertise in finding resources period. While asking someone in the field can help a topic, students often go to that one person in their family or their instructor/prof for answers.

The latter come to me wondering ‘what is going on?’ Students can’t research from finding resources to formulating those questions. They return reports or written assignments with nothing but Wikipedia pages or highly questionable website found on Google. Nobody verifies, checks,  make connections among their readings, or any of the other things taught in the beginning.  Students arrive in post-secondary with barely a clue. I came with a need to sharpen my writing, but I knew where to go to find my resources and learned a few new things along the way.

This year, I decided to take my observations and began reading. I had a vague idea (what else is new), but I wanted to find out about student search habits, what libraries have discovered in academic settings, and maybe if they tried something that worked. With my starting words being ‘college students’ and ‘search skills,’ I went down the rabbit hole until this article below popped up:

Vinyard, M., Mullally, C., & Colvin, J. B. (2017). Why do Students Seek Help in an Age of DIY? Using a Qualitative Approach to Look Beyond Statistics. Reference & User Services Quarterly56(4), 257-267.

I grabbed the search terms in the results with the works cited at the end of this article a goldmine of information about student information search strategies. I wanted to know:

  • Why students still resort to Google and Wikipedia?
  • Why do students shy away from library resources?
  • Why do they turn to them?
  • Did I need to review my approach?

The last one proved vital as I took on more and more reference questions. It’s one thing to do reference assignment, but a heap of databases will come to nothing if I don’t tease out what the student needs to the best of my ability. The big takeaway from the reading, it’s not that students don’t care. They just don’t know, and they don’t want people to know they don’t know, or else look stupid.

I had no idea ‘library anxiety’ existed until I started to read about it. It’s second nature for me to talk a student down from feeling overwhelmed by searching. I tell many students today I still evolve as user interfaces change, information changes, and that the only constant thing is change. Those skills picked up searching databases, including the setbacks, the frustrations, the sifting piles of information, carry over into life. If it’s not a journal article we comprehend, it’s a newspaper, it’s a television, and it helps us take one look at ‘fake news’ and counter with ‘this is bullshit and I will lay out why.’  This skill can’t wait until college or university. It starts sooner and it doesn’t have to stay with the post-secondary track kids. Everyone has a natural BS detector needing a reboot. My job involves helping either keeping it going or control-alt-delete for a reset.


One thought on “DIY Searchers And The Nearest Library

  1. Interesting. I think funding cuts in the schools have made a big negative difference too. One of the elementary schools my older son attended was very small and was down to a librarian being on site only half a day per week. Luckily the next school had a larger student population and hence more funding. We also have a well-staffed public library.


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