An easy introduction to your library’s online resources

It’s still July, and way too early to be thinking about a new school year! But perhaps a lesson from our summer Kickstart program will be a useful first library research experience for your students.

Each summer my school holds a class for a few incoming freshmen who need some summer enrichment to prepare them for the rigors of the high school curriculum. The library typically has a minimal role in this program – we give students a tour, make sure everyone is enrolled in our patron database, and encourage students to check out whatever books they would like to read. Three years ago, the Kickstart history teacher (who is also the history department chair) decided it would be helpful for these students to have some basic research instruction as well, and she asked me if we could create a kind of glossary of our most accessible online databases. And thus the Database Notetaker was born.

We all know it – introducing students to a collection of online resources is boring. It’s also hard to give an overview covering a number of resources when the students don’t have any immediate application for that knowledge. We sold this idea to the students by describing it as a tool – something they would use right away for a quick project, and then would have as a reference all year long for future research projects. We spend a good deal of time during the school year teaching our freshmen how to organize their work by keeping assignments and readings in a binder, and this database tool was designed to live in front of their research projects where it could be consulted as needed. We told these Kickstart students that they would hear all of this information again with each research project but that they would have an easier time remembering because they had this reference page.

The actual lesson that year was pretty short, with a quick introduction to several primary and tertiary source databases, along with JSTOR for secondary sources. We explained the concept of primary, secondary and tertiary but not in depth – again the point of this lesson was to create the tool, not to conduct actual research. Students filled out the form by hand (more on that below), describing the database content in their own words plus indicating which types of sources could be found there. They turned in their completed form for the teacher to look over, then filed it in their history binder where it could be referred to during each research project.

When we began our first freshman Modern World History research project that fall we quickly realized that ALL students would benefit from using this reference page, so the same overview lesson was used (Kickstart students were advised to see if they could add any new information). Since that time a new version for sophomore US History students has been created, and several “unofficial” versions have popped up. A couple of those versions included databases we longer subscribe to, so I linked the current versions on our research databases page for everyone to use. This guide has developed into tool that is often referred to by faculty as we begin a research project, and I’ve enjoyed seeing teachers adapt it for their electives.

Regarding the “write it out by hand” concept: it’s a real challenge to balance the digital doc/sustainability issue with the perception that students retain information better if they write it out by hand or read a physical paper. I’m very committed to the idea of using less paper, but I’ve seen a decline in writing quality as we moved our docs online, and I’m not the only one at my school to comment on this. Of course as they say “correlation isn’t necessarily causation,” and there are studies on both sides of the paper vs digital reading comprehension issue, but for now we are sticking with our belief that having freshmen write out their notes on paper and file the page in a physical binder is the most effective approach. It’s also much easier to find when needed, as Google docs have a way of disappearing into a black hole of uncategorized documents.

I hope you are enjoying your last days/weeks of summer!

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