A grad student came over to my office yesterday for help in retrieving full text. He’d been there before to get help in locating citations. I was impressed by his intelligence (still am, I hasten to say). He came in yesterday and was understandably confused about how to get to the full text. We don’t make it easy. I mean, it’s better than it used to be, but there are still multiple steps to take to get to the full text.
As I’m apologizing to him for this, he’s on my computer opening up his email to get to the citations to show me where he’s having problems. Rather than go straight to webmail, he opens up the university site, then the portal they try and push all the students through, and then finally to a link to his email. It left me somewhat taken aback. When I said he could just get to it by typing in the webmail site addy, he was not really interested. He was focused on his paper, of course, and the end of the semester is approaching. But having accounted for that, the path he takes to get to his email is at least as circuitous if not more than what we have for finding full text. Something is wrong here.
It left me thinking about how information literacy/fluency is still not working. The students learn things in silos and most of them don’t seem to make the connections between these.
Yes, the students understand technology – but if they can’t make the simplest of leaps, are we ever going to succeed?
Inside Higher Ed has a piece on information literacy or rather the lack thereof. There’s a distinction between possessing technical facility and possessing critical thinking and/or research skills. Why most people fail to see that has always boggled my mind. Just cause someone can use a cellphone doesn’t make critical thinking obsolete. I suspect you could get a chimp to learn how to text message.
You can’t go very far these days without stumbling across articles about Helicopter Parents and the Millennial Generation–at least not if you’re a public services librarian in the academic sector.
The Phantom Professor had a post the other day about these folks and linked to yet another article. Her blog, btw, is fantastic–teaching from the other side of the fence is always worth checking into. Anyhow, one of the comments is from a 23-year-old who claims that her parents are still doing everything for her (taxes, oil changes, etc.). She sounds a little mournful about it all.
If that isn’t an argument for information literacy, then I don’t know what is. This generation is lauded for their proficiency with technology, and yet it hasn’t occurred to this woman to type a couple of words into Google. I realize that this is one blog post, and that it is quite possible that 23-year-old Alicia is a 49-year-old guy named Melvin who lives in his mom’s basement. But I’ve logged in enough hours at the reference desk to notice that being able to figure your way around an iPod does not a genius make.
My life turned upside down and inside out last month when I had a death in the family. While thee emotional trauma was, and is, significant, that’s not what I want to write about today. What really amazed me was how much of the minutiae of death there is to deal with and how much of it bears on information-seeking capability.
- Obtaining contact information of family and friends
- Finding phone numbers of retirement/pension funds that want their retirees to do everything online (yeah, I don’t get it either–according to a 2004 Pew report, only 22% of seniors over 65 are using the Internet; you would think that a business dealing with a target population of seniors would have a clue).
- Getting financial information on stocks and funds. I was dreading this one as I didn’t too well on the business reference part of the class when I was in library school, but Yahoo Finance is quite the handy dandy little tool.
- Information on probate
- And a hundred other little things
More than ever I’ve learned the value of knowing that people can be a resource. A lot of this was beyond my skills, but colleagues were able to help out or point me in the right direction, very quickly and very efficiently. I’m sure my family members would be able to find this information eventually, but you’re already struggling when you’re dealing with a death–who wants to be trying to figure out who you’re supposed to call and what you’re supposed to ask and where you need to go to find all of that out?
I’ve never been happier to be a reference librarian.