Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Myth #6 - Information Skills Can Wait 'til College

What Sparked this Myth
Recently, I was speaking to someone in a district-level decision-making position about libraries and the subject of learning library skills, specifically locating and evaluating information. This person shared that she did not learn to navigate a library until college and had not considered that perhaps today's students - with electronic resources providing a flood of information - should master these skills earlier.

My Story
This conversation caused me to ponder when I learned to use the library and, later, the internet. In stark contrast to her story, I was provided with formal library instruction staring in 2nd grade. For two weeks I was (gasp!) pulled out of reading my class (gasp!) to attend library class. It was held in a room behind the circulation desk, back where the secret library work took place. (That alone was pretty exciting.) In those two weeks, I was part of a small group of students who learned the differences between, and process of, conducting author, subject, and title searches in the card catalog. We learned shelf order and the Dewey Decimal system. We learned how to find books to meet an information or recreational needs, from looking them up to locating on the shelves.

In this same library, we began learning to independently use media in 1st grade, with stations set up for filmstrips and audio books after book selection.

As 4th grade began, I moved to another school in the same district. This new library had an entire glass-enclosed media room we students could visit after checkout. It accommodated an entire class and was full of all sorts of now-obsolete machines.... My 5th grade teacher was big on inquiry-based learning. We wrote several research reports in her class and she taught us to cite our sources.

In 8th grade, my speech teacher took us to the library and showed us how to use the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature. Remember those??? Look up what you need and then pray that 1) the library subscribes to that publication, and 2) no one had torn out the article you needed.

By the time I got to college, the only thing left was the transition from Dewey to Library of Congress. Somewhere along the way I picked up the difference between magazine and journals. Internet skills were learned as a teacher, through district-mandated trainings, MLS courses, and self imposed learning.

What is Your Story?
As I mused over my history, I recalled that there were students in my MLS classes that were unfamiliar with Dewey until starting graduate work. I count myself fortunate to have grown up in a district that taught me information skills so early. I also feel fortunate to have had a village (librarians, teachers, technology gurus) to teach me.

Now I want to know when and how YOU learned to use the library... and if you think that same plan works for today's students.


  1. Shared with me via email from Toni K:

    I wanted to put this in the Comment section, but didn't have an account with any of the programs listed.

    Since I will be 69 next month, I predate the computer age. We acquired our first home computer in the early 80s. I have been going to the library since I was a baby. I remember surprising the librarian at our small neighborhood library when I pulled a chair up to the card catalog and tried to find a book I wanted to read. I recognize a name and asked her how could I find it on the shelves. She wisely showed me the call number and then explained that the book I was asking about was about cars. So I wanted to know what books were about dogs. She showed me and then showed me the shelves. It didn't take long for me to figure out that the number was like an address for a book. After that I never had a problem finding anything I wanted. I did not work in an automated library until the mid-90s. When I had the grade school (late 70s and early 80s), I taught students as young as K to find books in the Everybody shelves by the large letter on the spine. First Graders, by second semester, could find books on the shelves if I wrote the title and the call number down for them. We looked together in the card catalog and I showed them where I got all the information. 2nd Graders could look in the card catalog and recognize favorite authors or titles and could find things on the shelves pretty much on their own, but I still stood by and would ask them "Is that the subject you want?" Don't forget to write down all the call number in the corner.". By Third Grade they could be much more independent and even help with some simple shelving. From then on it was working on more complex call numbers - and how they it easier to figure out where you want to find the subject you wanted.

  2. Like Toni (and most people mid 30s or beyond), online resources were not available when I was in K-12 school. I was fortunate enough to have good teachers and librarians who taught me how to use the best resources on hand all the way along, as the reader's guide and encyclopedias gave way to CD-ROMs and then to Lexis Nexus (in college) and the emerging world wide web. While I feel that I learned my tech skills at "the right time," that's only because of my age. I strongly believe that students should receive explicit instruction in finding and evaluating online information by upper elementary.

  3. Another emailed comment:
    From: treetoad
    Subject: Re: When did you learn to use the library?


    what an interesting topic to post. I too learned
    the basics of library skills by myself. My K
    students were fortunate to have a media director
    teach them skills immediately and will be proficient
    by the time they complete 5th grade.

  4. A third emailed comment:

    From: hyla
    Subject: Re: When did you learn to use the library?


    I couldn't resist posting your question on my
    facebook page...here are the responses

    David Kline My memory is hazy in my old age, but I
    believe we learned library skills starting in the
    3rd grade. But that was in Missouri. Please,
    please please do not quiz me on the Dewey Decimal
    system now...I am not proficient in library skills
    these days!!!
    18 hours ago · Like

    Ben Boelman Where we are now with computer etc, is
    a far distance from what I learned as a kid. I
    honestly didn't learn library skills until going
    to Elmhurst when I would go to the Chicago Library
    and become quite proficient in getting around a
    15 hours ago · Like

    Rebecca Woods Definitely elementary school- third
    grade? Fourth grade? I've forgotten the Dewey
    Decimal system for the most part, but I kinda miss
    the card catalog. Looking up books on the library
    computer is so limiting.
    14 hours ago · Like

    Becky Lievens I learned very early. My mother
    would take me up to the library once a week for
    story time and the librarian would show us how to
    find our favorite books and check them out. I
    loved that library! (It was a Carnegie building).
    Marshalltown now has a new library and my old
    favorite is part oaf the police station. Although
    computer literate, I am not good at library skills
    without the old card catalog!
    14 hours ago · Like

    Risa Lumley I feel proficient, but there is always
    something new to learn!
    13 hours ago · Like

    Rebecca Woods I was waiting for you to weigh in,
    Risa! Yeah, you're probably proficient- what with
    being a librarian and all. Do college students
    know the Dewey Decimal system?
    13 hours ago · Like

    Risa Lumley We use Library of Congress
    classification system, but no, they have no idea.
    12 hours ago via mobile · Like