If it is possible for one’s PD cup to run over, mine is. In the past two weeks, I have been to two amazing conferences. First, NEAISL at the lovely Milton Academy for a one day, action packed conference. Just a few days later, I headed to Los Angeles for the annual AISL conference, where I found myself surrounded, once again, by world class librarians from across the US and Canada, visiting beautiful, innovative library spaces in and around LA. My next thousand blog posts could be reflections on the new ideas that I have come home with, consider yourself warned.
What I thought I might attempt in this first reflection piece is to identify a common theme that ran through both conferences. It’s about access to information.
NEAISL & Ebsco’s Discovery Service
NEAISL proved that our regional EBSCO rep has been very, very busy of late. Most of us are either-mid trial, in our first year or two with the product, and a few of us are well seasoned, early adopters of the technology. I don’t refer to EDS here in the ‘to have or not to have’ context, Alyssa did an excellent job in sharing the pros and cons of the program in an earlier post. I do want to share a catchy quote that I heard at NEAISL though. One librarian observed, “Our students don’t care which database their information came from. They only want to access the information quickly, to find valid results that are easy to cite, rich and varied enough to make their teacher happy, then they’re moving on.” Truth. So yes, I do like Discovery. That isn’t the point of this post, though. The point is ACCESS, with or without Discovery.
Jenny Barrows of the Hopkins School said, “our students will never find our best materials if we have crappy records”. She and her colleagues believe that our shelves can practically sparkle with a quality, well honed collection, but the reality is that our students are still going through the computer to search for sources. Like all the time. They do not browse. They WILL NOT find our books if they are badly cataloged.
She and her team of 3 began a descriptive catalog project, hoping to increase access points. Read all about it and learn the steps it takes to implement in your own library here.
In essence, bad cataloging blocks our students’ access to information. This is going to take some time, but we need to be as diligent in weeding our records as we are in weeding our shelves.
Welcome to Katie’s Summer Project Numero Uno. Good times!
Speaking of cataloging/barriers to access, Liz Gray just shared this thought provoking article via Facebook. Do you check to make sure that your records are politically correct and not potentially offensive to your community?
On a semi-related note, do you think about teenagers’ natural language searching or do you stick with standardized subject headings?
AISL16 & Access: Source Illiteracy as block to access
How can we access that which we are not aware of?
The next ‘access issue’ that I want to address is one that I thought long and hard about after attending what was easily one of the best conference sessions I have ever experienced. It was given by Nora Murphy of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, and is taken from an article that will soon be published in KQ…be on the lookout! Note: Nora is one of my new librarian sHeros. Check out her amazing library website.
Nora did not present the material as an access-issue, per se. I’m taking liberties with that part, but just go with it for a moment. I
think hope that it will make sense in the end.
Nora began her presentation by showing us an image of a frog and an axolotl. Frogs are the publications that we are familiar with–magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals, etc. (Note: not all of our kids know that these frogs are frogs.) Axolotls are things that resemble frogs, but really aren’t–they could include trade journals, government documents, blogs, and social media.
We as adults and professionals observe, categorize, ask questions. Our students aren’t typically this savvy (or simply have no exposure from which to draw).
Nora argues that we are missing a piece between location & selection of sources.
<——-Source Literacy goes here. This gap gets in the way of research in a serious way.
Source literacy requires knowledge of source types. What it is, where it exists, what it contains, who creates it, and why. Like anything we teach, we have to expose kids repeatedly to sources or they will forget. Nora suggests that we systematically create a bank of knowledge for them to draw on in the future.
She is all about the Source Bank.
Here’s an example she gave:
9th health class asks, “Why isn’t everything in the grocery store organic?”. What sources do you imagine will have relevant information on this topic? They think of some newspapers, a magazine or two, but really they don’t know much and aren’t able to predict what kinds of sources would have good information on farming, the food industry, or current trends.
How do we expand their source literacy beyond basic, standard publications?
Here’s another idea for a US History class. Convince their teachers that kids MUST know what an oral history is. It’s critical. Invite the teacher(s) to plan with you, to co-teach, co-assess—a unit, a year long goal, over next 3 years we will x, y, and z, whatever fits your school culture, but knowing that the repetition of a concept is what it takes to place it into long term memory.
9th Create assignment, what is an oral history? Characteristics? Do something with it.
10th grade: Studying the impact of religious, cultural, or racial persecution.
Explore sources that contain oral histories:
- Holocaust Museum
- Documents of the American South
- LOC Civil Rights Project
Create a Digital Sourcebank. She likes Trello because it allows students to annotate (how they used a source, what they thought of it at the time, etc.
Nora is piloting Trello with a few of her students. She showed us an example of a students’ work exploring the China/Tibet Relationship. The student had created columns in her source bank which included: Preliminary/Informal sources (idea generation), Core sources (print and digital), Necessary Bias—she needs to consider, but knows it represents a particular point of view (HOW GREAT IS THAT REALIZATION?!), and finally, Visual Texts. Notice: the student is categorizing her own sources.
The benefit of the source bank being formed early in the research process is that it allows for source assessment EARLY ON, not when the bibliography is turned in.
There are so many wonderful, free resources out there, but if our students haven’t had exposure to a lot of different kinds of publications, frogs and axolotls alike, how can they possibly generate the kind of sophisticated, open source, research that could lead them to relevant results?
If we do not make source knowledge a priority, then aren’t we ourselves, a sort of human barrier to our students’ access?
I’ve hit you with a lot of information here. What are your thoughts? Please comment below. And please, if someone’s comment resonates with you, chime in! The more we can discuss, the better.
Nora is a genius. This has been the problem that I have been trying to define for years and haven’t been able to properly define it. And she did. I love her for that. It was such a great session. You encapsulated it perfectly. Thank you!!
Sorry I missed this session…but kudos to Katie for her excellent post and sharing some of her takeaways.
I agree, Nora’s “Source Illiteracy” session is one of the most useful conference sessions I’ve ever attended. Presenting this as a barrier to access is perfect, Katie — like inadequate cataloguing, it’s a barrier that we can overcome if we have the opportunity to co-teach info lit skills. The real takeaway from Nora’s session for me was her brilliant strategy to ask recent grads to forward their college/university assignments from schools across the country to her so she could see the skills students were expected to have at the university level. She compiled these over time and took them to her school admin, indicating that as a university prep school they were not adequately preparing their students for the reality of post-secondary research. The evidence was irrefutable, admin bought in, an info lit scope & sequence was introduced and now collaboration flourishes at all grades. Kudos!
Quotable quote: “our students will never find our best materials if we have crappy records.” I’ve been thinking and writing around this concept for a while as I’ve been doing recon, but this really says it all. My current struggle is dealing with the lack of access points when my students are searching our catalog. We’re not alone, Karen Coyle, has a piece about it here, http://sco.lt/8j7cqP but having company in the misery doesn’t make a solution any easier. Thanks for giving us the nice framework. Thinking of these concepts as “barriers to access” helps me find some clarity!
Thanks so much, Katie! This is a wonderful recap to say the least!
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