Library research does not need to be taught in every introductory course.

In four years of college, I’ve tried to get both depth and breadth into my class schedule, as a good liberal arts student should. In addition to computer science classes (my major) and Japanese classes (my minor), I’ve taken introductory classes in philosophy, math, cognitive science, history, English, and physics. However, taking a breadth of classes has led to an unintended consequence: I’ve had to endure four or five different introductions scholarly research.

The format is always the same: a research librarian comes to class, loads the PowerPoint deck, and proceeds to tell us how to search the library catalogue, order books from Interlibrary Loan, cite a source, and use Google Advanced Search. They’ll probably throw in a few slides on why Wikipedia is unreliable as a scholarly resource. We’ll get more research sources related to the class context (like specialized history databases and science journals), but for the most part, the content is always the same. The class is pretty informative the first time, but by the third or fourth time, the repeated basic information is unbearably tedious.

Obviously, in the same way college students should have a basic understanding of mathematics and a foreign language (both graduation requirements at my college), we should know how to do scholarly research. If a background on basic research is going to be a class requirement, my preference would be for the library to host a lecture on the subject a few times a semester. Everyone would be able to attend the seminar once and receive a note on their transcript. Students would attend the lecture concurrently with or as a prerequisite for research-based classes, and professors with extra resources to introduce could do so without wasting excessive class time teaching us stuff we already know.

What really gets me is that the information the librarians present in these lectures is already listed online with links and step-by-step instructions. Even though I’ve posted before that I prefer attending a lecture and taking notes over getting notes online, I think online instructions are adequate in this case, especially for students in our generation who already understand how to build search terms.

I realize I’ve griped about my college enough in the past few weeks to change the name of my blog to “Carolyn Complains.” I just think that if research tools really need to be presented in class, the presentation does not need to take the entire class period. The professor can skip showing us Google, Wikipedia, and the library catalogue, move right onto the Interlibrary Loan and specialized databases, and refer students to the reference librarians if more help is needed.

  • Paul Bonamy

    The second of my undergrad institution’s two mandatory English courses served as a general intro-to-research course. The section I took, at least, required everyone to write a research paper on a major-appropriate in the format favored by their field. I’m sure it was tricky to grade a bunch of papers in different formats from people in many different disciplines, but it also guaranteed that everyone had at least basic research experience so we didn’t have to do that again. (It also highlighted, for me, the abysmal state of our library’s CS resources at the time. That has since been improved, however.)

  • Shep McAllister

    You nailed it. My school even has these sessions in some upper division courses.

  • Emily Chapman

    My school does these, too. It’s frustrating for students and for the librarians. I did have one really good version of this, though, which showed me how these can be done well. It was for a class on death and burial, and we did three sessions which involved working through how to write an ethnography and formulate appropriate research questions for a type of writing none of us were that familiar with. Plus, the librarian went over Zotero. However, I think that that was a function of the librarian being young and enthusiastic about research and the professor being open about what we needed from her; without that, I’m sure the presentation would have sucked.

  • Jessica

    The college I graduated from had an introductory English class required for all freshmen where they had to write a research paper. (I assistant-taught the class for two years after I graduated, actually!) The class goes into a lot of detail about how to research and find information in the library, etc., etc. (A lot of the students would probably say “ad nauseum.”) Anyway, I thought that was an excellent approach because none of the other classes really covered it. It was assumed you learned how to do it in freshman English, so there was no point wasting class time teaching it again. I even had to write a research paper for a computer science class where the teacher said, “Just do what you did in freshman English.”

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