Are Incoming Students Prepared?

The new school year is rapidly approaching.

When the fall semester begins, will the new students — be they freshmen or transfer students — know the basics of using a library to locate useable, quality information when they research?

This generation grew up with computers and the internet.   We assume that they use it daily and understand it intimately.

Besides, they get all the basic instruction they need for using library resources in high school.   They already know what research-quality information is.

Is that a correct and reliable assumption?

Several months ago this writer had the privilege of attending a regional meeting of school librarians.

As a group, they had one burning question;  what did their high school students need to know before matriculating into an institution of higher education?

My response —

  • “What is a database”  and
  •  “How to search a database  efficiently and effectively.”

While this was not news to these capable, competent librarians,  they were disheartened.

I was mystified.   Isn’t instruction at this basic level the focus of a high school library?

The information shared with me was an eye-opener.

First, all school districts have had major budget cuts.   Most can’t afford more than one librarian per district.    Librarians must act more as organizers and overseers rather than having daily direct contact with students or teachers.

Today, the typical school district libraries are staffed with parent or student volunteers rather than with trained professionals.

Further, schools cannot afford anything close to the journal databases typically found in a college or university library.

Most K-12 and public libraries in Michigan use only the limited free databases available through the Library of Michigan MEL system — which in turn is facing its own financial crisis.

Lastly, and most surprisingly, many districts are pressured by parents to prevent or limit student access to the internet, technology perceived as dangerous to their children.

Restrictions applied (firewalls) within the K-12 school districts don’t differentiate between scholarly materials and open web access.

As I listened to this group of teacher/librarians relate one administrative horror story after another, I began to realize the extent of the problem faced by our own UM-Flint students.

Our freshmen and transfer students begin their studies handicapped by a lack of basic understanding of  HOW  to use a library and its extensive access to knowledge.

They do not generally understand  WHAT  scholarly research materials are, let alone what a database is or how to properly use one.

This includes a lack of understanding regarding common technology-related terminology, such as browser, search engine, or even what Wikepedia is and why their instructors won’t accept this as a source of information.  Nor do they consistently grasp the more scholarly concepts of peer-reviewed journals, let alone the difference between a journal and a magazine.

Perhaps even more frightening from an academic perspective, incoming students often do not understand  WHY  they need to know how to find scholarly information, it’s value and appropriate use.

What can our UM-Flint faculty do to counteract this insufficiency?   Thompson librarians are teaching faculty.    They are dedicated to helping students learn how to use our library resources effectively.

  • We urge all instructors to partner with their librarians.
  • Create assignments designed to introduce students to their library.
  • Request classroom instruction by a librarian covering the basics in under an hour of classroom time, or to focus on specific databases to support your classroom assignments.
  • Librarians can provide additional in-depth instruction on request.

Your librarians are an incredible teaching resource.

Contact a librarian early in the semester and schedule a library instruction presentation for  YOUR  class.

With instruction in use of library resources, you’ll see a big difference in the work your students produce.

                                                   — Vera Anderson, editor