In 1997, while I was taking Comparative Civilizations 11 class at Stelly's Secondary School in Saanich, I chose to write a research paper on Stonehenge. I couldn't find enough on the topic at my school library, so I expanded my scope: I decided to visit UVic's McPherson Library instead. I distinctly remember searching for appropriate books on the computer and navigating the third floor mezzanine; I remember the old-paper smells, the stifling warmth, the entire atmosphere of that first-time library research experience.
After two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree that spread between 1998 and 2016, I've adapted to different library research processes. Through my undergrad, I used books and articles as much as possible; I'd spend hours in libraries, ordering the books in from other libraries, copying articles in the reading room, searching through microfiche, and now and then through JSTOR and other archives. I enjoyed this overall, perhaps because I got to spend so much time walking around, thinking, reading, assessing and whatnot. For my master's degree, between 2012-2016, however, I spent most of my research time in front of a computer, reading through pdfs of archived articles in various journals and ebook publications. I felt this wasn't quite as enjoyable, although this may have also been a matter of content.
In the classroom, I've noticed a similar process. Early in my teaching career, I developed some good research project assignments that gave students good research skills that they could apply to any library or resource. I had them use their school libraries as much as possible and they made some genuinely good assignments. Students got used to using tables of contents and indices, and got familiar with the ways we can find information in multiple places in a library. I enjoyed teaching this so much that I even made research projects with the students themselves.
But over the last few years, this has been distinctively more difficult and discouraging. Assignments intended to improve students' research skills, much like my own research project for my Master's, have moved largely online. And with that move, online problems have moved to the fore. The school library isn't being stocked in the ways I wish it was for their topics; instead, they're reading ebooks on a screen. This is their normal, so I can't complain too much. But it certainly seems problematic when I feel like they haven't learned the basics of how to assess whether a text is legitimate or not.
In light of the "fake news" phenomenon, there's something to be said about how easy it is to self-publish an ebook, post it to Google Books, and have it appear as a legitimate source. As much as I've tried to create assignments and ideas that help students sift through the legions of unedited sources out there, there's no easy answer for them.
I need to find ways to help them understand how to assess these sorts of books critically. I also, however, distinctly remember spending time in the public library myself, taking time at the end of the day to do the research work when the school library didn't make the cut. It's hard for me to sympathize fully with them when I know the work I would have done to make my own work... work. I like that the Internet has made so much information more accessible, but it's made people expect information to be at their fingertips. Even with access to the UVic libraries' database, I always was ready to look for physical books myself, to take a walk and search through the indices of a tangible book.
Ironically, there's a public library branch right next to the school where I work. I have feeling, however, that I use it far more than most of my students ever would. And as much as I know this is related to my upbringing and age, I find it sad that I can't seem to motivate students to check out the library themselves. I need to find a way to make that happen despite myself.
So how do I make visiting the library more appealing to my students?
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