Bridging the gap

26 Aug

Right off the bat, if you haven’t read the Inside Higher Ed article, “What Students Don’t Know,” go do so. It’s heavy stuff. It’s also a call to action.

I talked about this a bit today on the SLA Academic blog, and I’m going to expand on it here and tie it into last week’s post about the orientation materials we put together at Cornell, specifically our welcome video. Because I think we did a solid job with addressing some of these issues, but we also left a gap that we need to bridge.

First off, here’s the video we made, in case y’all haven’t watched it yet:

We hit some major points in there: college is going to be tough, tougher than you might expect; there are many, many resources in the library that you can use; you should ASK A LIBRARIAN for help, because we know the library; we’ll help you get better grades in less time.

Again, I think that video turned out great. But looking at it again in the context of ERIEL, it strikes me that we could have been more explicit about how asking a librarian, in conjunction with those millions of resources, will lead to better grades in less time. And we’re not explicit about it, I think, because we take it for granted.

It’s an issue of assumptions, those unstated pieces of information that bind arguments together. The problem is, our assumption about how librarians, resources, and good grades fit together doesn’t seem to match up with students’ assumptions. We know that we can point them towards better resources than they currently use, and help them use all the resources at their disposal better than they currently do. But we’re lucky if the former even occurs to them, let alone the latter. Most students seem clueless about what we can do, except maybe point them to a book or a database. Their professors don’t necessarily seem to know any more than that, either.

Like I said, this is a call to action.  Studies like this need to inform our reference, instruction and outreach efforts. We need to make sure that faculty know exactly what we can bring to their research, not to mention what their students may lack in terms of research skills and how we can remedy that. We need to inform our students exactly why they should come talk to us; not just to point them at better resources, but also to instruct them in the best use of all resources.

Yeah, even Google.

It can be frustrating to read studies like this. But it should also inspire us, by not just pointing us toward the gaps in our efforts to help our patrons, but also by getting us thinking and talking about how to bridge those gaps.

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