"Reference librarians thrive on questions," I told my first-year writing students this morning. "In fact, if they don't get enough questions, they shrivel up and die, which stinks up the library something fierce."
Fortunately, my students fed the reference librarians some fresh juicy questions this morning. We're doing our part to keep the library smelling sweet!
This semester I've totally changed my approach to teaching research skills. Instead of having one or two full-class sessions in which my students are expected to absorb everything they need to know about research, I've broken up the task into specific skills that build in complexity as the semester goes on: evaluating online resources, locating books, using subject headings on the online catalog to browse related topics, using databases and interlibrary loan, and so on.
Each lesson is tied to a hands-on activity linked to the students' writing projects, so they immediately have to put in practice the skill I've introduced. Today my first-year writers enjoyed a tour of the library and then had to check out books; meanwhile, my honors students are finding resources in three different databases, reading abstracts, writing Works Cited listings, and evaluating the usefulness of these resources for their research projects.
The best learning happens when students encounter obstacles and have to figure out ways to get around them. They ask me questions ("How can I narrow my search terms so I don't get 8000 items?") or they share strategies with each other.
And some students ask the reference librarian, who sits caged behind the big reference desk all day eagerly awaiting a chance to put his expertise to use on something more challenging than clearing up paper jams in the printers. So please do feed the reference librarians! We wouldn't want all that expertise to go to waste. A question a day keeps the librarian from decay (and helps students produce better research).