Not so long ago, the classroom could function comfortably apart from the library. The library was the place where students went to conduct research for class assignments. That world has vanished. Information Literacy across the curriculum is now the mandate, and it is more crucial than ever for classroom faculty and librarians to work together to assure that students have the best chance for successfully completing research assignments. At times, however, librarians are left at a loss. If the assignment cannot be completed with the library resources on hand – and honestly, we have a wealth of resources both in print and electronic formats, far more, in fact than almost any private institution – the student will leave defeated. How can we work to avoid that sour outcome?
As a first step, library assignments geared to specific library resources and crafted with the student‘s needs and capacities in mind will minimize the possibility of defeat. A good research assignment begins with a good question, of course; – capital punishment is a topic, not a question. If, however, the topic is beyond the capacities of the student or requires sources beyond the Lloyd Sealy Library, even the most intriguing question will not result in a positive outcome. This is especially true in 100 and 200 level classes. Neutralizing this hurdle will entail devoting class-room time to make sure everyone in the class is able to undertake the preliminary investigation necessary to as-certain whether the topic is doable. Frequently, a class arrives for a library session after the paper topics have been approved, but before any work has been done. At that juncture, some students will belatedly realize that they cannot find information on their topic.
Second, the student must understand what sources are acceptable for the assignment. It goes without saying that the sources must be appropriate to both the assignment and the student‘s skill level. If a student in English 101 is writing a three page paper about stem cell research, is it realistic to require six peer reviewed articles and nothing else? That is a prescription for frustration and failure. This 18-year old is approaching the topic with general knowledge of neither the scientific background nor the moral and political controversies of the moment. For such an assignment it would be far more appropriate to direct the student to CQ Researcher, electronic reference collections like Gale Virtual Reference Library or Sage e-Reference Collection, as well as newspapers and general interest magazines found in Academic Search Complete, New York Times Historical File (every article from 1851 to 2007), and LEXIS-NEXIS Academic (newspapers from across the English speaking world). Along the way, students will learn how to evaluate the sources they find (another cornerstone of information literacy).
Librarians willingly instruct students in the craft of information seeking and direct them to appropriate resources. In today‘s information environment, however, the classroom experience must also incorporate techniques for finding information in specific electronic and print resources, as well as instruction on how to evaluate the content of information sources. Faculty who would like to get assistance with designing research assignments that promote information literacy abilities should not hesitate to contact us in the library.
Written by Jeffrey Kroessler, Associate Professor in the Lloyd Sealy Library, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. jkroessler at jjay.cuny.edu
This post originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Classified Information: the Lloyd Sealy Library newsletter.