All posts by janelle

RIOT: Rethinking Graduate Student Library Instruction

Today’s Article:  Incoming Graduate Student in the Social Sciences: How Much Do They Really Know About Library Research.  By Amelia Monroe-Gulick and Julie Petr

I was drawn to this article because it focuses on work with graduate students, which is something that doesn’t come up often in library instruction discussions and literature.   We do know some things about this user base… We know they are our biggest collection users.  We know they use journals more than any other type of source.  We know which disciplines prefer ebooks to print.   We even know a bit about how they search, how we have typically approached instruction and what we usually teach.  But what should be we teaching them?

The authors’ aim was to create an evidence-based plan for instruction to graduate students, based on incoming strengths and deficiencies.  To that end, they took on three projects:  1) interviewing incoming students 2) identifying faculty expectations of these students and 3) piloting a class based on these findings.   This particular article focuses on the results of the first project.

They conducted lengthy open-ended interviews with 49 masters students from political science, sociology, psychology and anthropology.  Each student was evaluated on the fulfillment of the ACRL Standards outcomes and, despite what academic librarians typically assume, a majority of the students fulfilled the outcomes.  With this new perspective, the authors made many suggestions.  Here is what especially resonated with me…

1)    Start from a strengths perspective. Rather than focusing on student deficits, the authors determined that “recognizing and building up the skills that the student already possessed would an important component of working with graduate students.”

2)    Professors are vital.  A majority of the student report gaining their IL skills through faculty resource recommendations, consultations and check-points built into their classes (turning in outlines, bibliographies, lit reviews, etc.).  On the other hand, students didn’t consider librarians as a step/resource in the research process and remember library instruction sessions as only moderately helpful.  To have a lasting impact, librarians must build bridges with faculty an be recommended as a legitimate resource/consultant.

3)    Encourage and support senior projects.  Students who completed such projects come to graduate skills with stronger IL skills and strong sense of “academic socialization” (how information is created and used in academia).

4)    Be flexible with standards. ACRL Standards should not be narrowly applied to as the sole measure of information literacy for graduate students.  The standards are focused on the types of skills that studies show doctoral studies acquire independently through coursework and research projects.  Graduate students could benefit from a broader focus on the research process itself.

5)    Focus on discussion.  Spend more time talking with students about the research process rather than showing them resources and strategies.  The authors plan to hold discussion groups about the expectations of graduate work, individual styles of approaching research and academic socialization.  They imagine these to be a way of establishing rapport with students so they begin to see us as a primary resource.

Questions / Points of Discussion:

  • Because of the small sample size, authors couldn’t generalize beyond political science, sociology, psychology and anthropology?  What’s your experience in other disciplines?  Are students coming in with basic IL skills?
  • Do you have ideas about how we can embed a strengths perspective into our planning and presentation styles?
  • Have any of you tried to used the ACRL Standards with graduate students/programs?  Have you found them applicable/complete?
  • Even if you don’t hold discussion groups with your students as the authors plan, do you build these discussion points into your class?  Do you think it would work?
  • To focus on the “research process itself” can take a lot of time.  How does this translate into the one, 90 minute class your planning?