Should Learning the Library be Formalized?

Inside Higher Ed’s article, “What Students Don’t Know,” is hitting the web big time since I first read it.  Dare I say it has become viral?  It is now on Mashable and USAToday among other places.  I have been kind of reading the comments on the article from Inside Higher Ed and other places.  As with all comments on blogs and news articles some are helpful, some are not.  However, the 8th comment down on the Inside Higher Ed site, “What happened to K-12 education? Standards?” Posted by JMH was intriguing.  JMH says that “if we really want to see a change, we need to influence current K-12 educators by providing free online research workshops that address some of these skills.  If those teaching K-12 students and university students are not aware of their own lacking in online research skills, how can we change things for the better?”

I have a K-12 child.  My oldest child is just entering the 3rd grade. Last year in 2nd grade he had several projects where he had to do research.  I remember the projects very well because a lot of whining and crying was involved (not just my son but me too).  As vivid as those projects were, I don’t remember the teachers ever making an issue about finding the information, doing the research.  Nothing was sent home about how they were teaching the kids about research or finding information on the Internet, just information on what facts we were supposed to find for the report.  For example for a poster on Dwight Eisenhower we had to have what number President he was, birth and death dates, family members, where he was born, and one interesting fact about him. 

During the Eisenhower poster I fought with my son about using the top Google listing for information.  While I am sure the information in Wikipedia was correct and fine for a 2nd grade poster, I didn’t want him to get used to using it.  I had to explain to him that the White House’s site might have better information since he was a President.  I had the same problem with an endangered species report.  Again I had to explain to him that Kids National Geographic was probably a better site to find information and pictures than some of the other sites that popped up. 

For both of these projects I don’t remember ever seeing anything from his teacher or school librarian that they discussed how to search for information or how they would like us to search for information for the reports.  I’m sure other non-librarian parents went on Google and didn’t make as much of a fuss about the source of information as I did.  Shouldn’t the teacher or the school librarian have taught the students something about this?  By all rights they may have, and it went in one ear and out the other of my 8 year old. If they taught them shouldn’t a flier be attached to the project assignment reminding the kids (and informing the parents) about finding information? 

Oh I forgot to mention this is at a school that was a National Blue Ribbon recipient and is rated Excellent in Ohio.

If they don’t get the foundations in school, do you think they are going to have a good research skills in their medical careers?  Remember Anna Kushnir’s hatred for PubMed. She was never instructed on how to use it and scoffed at the idea of database instruction. “I don’t think I should have to be, or enlist the services of, a medical librarian in order to do a simple search on a literature search engine. PubMed should be an intuitive search engine such as Google, or others.”  According to the “What Students Don’t Know”  report students can’t even Google well, so Google is even too hard. Poor research can even lead to the death of otherwise healthy people as we unfortunately discovered from the death of Ellen Roche, a healthy, 24-year-old volunteer in an asthma study at Johns Hopkins University.  If the average undergraduate isn’t using the library nor considers the librarian to be anything more than a breathing sign pointing to the bathroom, what do you think those same students think as they become medical students then doctors? 

What do you think?  Is college too late to address some of these things?  Should we start by having a more proactive and integrated approach in grade school?  Should we as librarians be a more cohesive group and start at looking solving this problem together from the bottom up?

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