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.