12/8/09

Public library encounters make me question some parts of academia

This month I picked up a few extra shifts at Southfield Public Library and I've noticed an influx of students from colleges and universities getting ready to wrap up their semester. For me, it's been an interesting return to reference in a higher education context. I haven't worked in an academic library since 2007, but I still have a great working knowledge of WSU's library system because I constantly use it. There have been a number of patrons that I've run across in just the last week that make me wonder what the heck is going on in academia.

There was one day that people were asking about a lot of citation assistance. But it wasn't just "How do you cite this?" I found myself explaining to college students how you have to list your references and give credit to others when you use their work. One patron's professor told the class to write a paper, then the professor returned the papers and instructed the class to go to the library and find out how to cite their sources after the fact. It seemed to me that this was a wild goose chase. Don't introductory college English classes teach the basics of MLA and APA writing styles BEFORE they ask a student to write a paper? And if the class showed no compentency in the areas of APA or MLA, wouldn't YOU teach them before sending them to a library? I was not amused, but I was compelled to help.

I've written for a long time, so perhaps research paper writing and plagiarism have been on my radar for a while, but logic stands that you can't just steal other people's work, right? Anyway, that's what I found myself explaining while working at SPL.

The second thing that I found myself (happily) doing was telling university students that even though they weren't at Eastern Michigan University or at Wayne State University they still had access to their school's databases from any computer with internet. The first woman was in her fifties and her topic was family counseling. She didn't really tell me too much more, because I told her we wouldn't have too many academic journals. She asked if Borders would have them and I said no. I found out she was going to EMU, so I told her she had access to their library system. I sat her down, helped her log in and started her on two psychology databases. Just like that she went from "I've never done research" to conducting her own searches in her school's databases. It was great.

Within an hour of that encounter, a Wayne State University student came up to me asking about the microfilm readers. Now I was REALLY have flashbacks from my academic library days. I spoke with her and looked at some old indexes and then she shared more about the project. It turned out that she could only get articles from either the New York Times or the Washington Post on certain topics. WSU's library system has full access to many, many years of digital, searchable archives for both of those publications. Though I commended her for trying to use the newspaper and indexes, I knew that I was going to have to show her some of the university library's glorious historical newspaper resources.

I had a most resourceful hour with both students and it was fun work, however, it still made me question why these folks were not being given the knowledge that they need to succeed in higher education. I continue to be interested in teaching and I am thankful to work at SPL and continue to have the opportunity to teach in little bite sizes. Yet, these small looks back into academia make me wonder if there is a bigger role for me in teaching at the university level.

1 comment:

Mary Nicole Lane said...

Yeah, recently I had a dude ask whether or not it really mattered if he used quotation marks...I blinked a few times before I realized he was serious. uhhhh.