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Faculty, librarians and student research skills: are we on parallel paths?

September 27, 2010

ResearchBlogging.orgOne of the themes I’ve been writing a lot lately is that department faculty and librarians aren’t talking to each other as much as they should, especially in areas that they are both concerned about.  One of the biggest areas we need to be talking more about concerns student’s library research skills (or information literacy skills).  Librarians aren’t doing a lot of publishing in disciplinary college teaching journals, and we aren’t going to a lot of disciplinary conferences.

So when I saw two articles in the August/September issue of the Journal of College Science Teaching written by department faculty that included heavy doses of information about teaching library research skills, I began to be convinced that departmental faculty and librarians are on parallel paths with this issue.  It is wonderful that we are both exploring these issues, but the fact that our paths don’t intersect may lead to frustration on both sides.

Davies-Vollum, Katherine Sian, & Greengrove, Cheryl (2010). Developing a “Gateway” Course to Prepare Nontraditional Students for Success in Upper-Division Science Courses Journal of College Science Teaching, 40 (1), 28-33

Kitazono, Ana A (2010). A Journal-Club-Based Class that Promotes Active and Coorperative Learning of Biology Journal of College Science Teaching, 40 (1), 20-27

Both of these articles describe courses in the sciences in which information literacy skills make up an important part of the course content.  In both cases, the faculty consulted a librarian for assistance in teaching students about database searching, and the authors of both articles found this assistance to be helpful. But in both cases, the authors don’t cite a single article about information literacy from the library literature.  This is hardly surprising – these articles would be almost impossible to find in the typical databases used by scientists.

In a completely un-scientific perusal of articles from library journals concerning information literacy in the sciences (i.e. those that were on my computer or filed in my desk), I find that librarians aren’t citing this disciplinary literature either.

So we are both trying to figure out how to equip students with the skills they need to effectively search, locate and understand the scientific literature.  We are both writing articles about classes and exercises that can help students develop these skills, but we don’t seem to be talking to each other about these issues, at least in the formal literature about college-level science teaching.

I have had a lot of interesting conversations with faculty about how to develop these skills.  How can we move this discussion from informal hallway conversations into the formal literature?

I think this is up to the librarians.  I don’t think we can expect the faculty to start reading the library literature.  We need to keep our eyes on the disciplinary literature, take the opportunity to publish in them when appropriate, and present at disciplinary conferences.  And maybe get out of the library occasionally.

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