Friday, October 29, 2010

Teaching Research Skills – part 2

Teaching research skills is not easy. After I wrote part 1 I read a few questions on a librarian’s listserv that seem not very well thought out. They were asking for help for questions that they should have first done some searching. For example, “Do you have any articles on [fill in a topic]?” Sometimes the answer involved a quick search of a data base. Hardly anyone keeps such information at their desk or in a nearby article file. Another person asked, “Does anyone use OPAC in their library?” If I understand “OPAC” to mean online public access catalog, I would guess that anyone who uses a computerized library management system has an online public access interface to the catalog.

While we like to say that there are no “stupid” questions, the questions must be formulated so that an answer may be given. Also before asking a question is a public forum, the questions should show some understanding of the topic and if they are a librarian or scholar, they should indicate what has already been tried and did not give satisfactory results. The questions above do not show any this typ of preparation. The first question shows not only a lack of search skills, but laziness. If the question included what was already tried or some statement of understanding the topic, it would show a spark of wisdom. How can we teach that research takes hard work when we don’t do the preliminary investigations?

Librarian and teachers are skilled at helping people better formulate questions. Let’s use the I (issue) R (Research tools) A (Analysis ) C (Conclusion) methodology to analyze some questions.

Question: What kind of oven would one use to bake a batch of 24 loaves of bread at a time?

If this questioner came to you “off the street” a quick answer would be, “A big one.” The question does not state the size of the loaves. I happen to have special baking pans for small loaves. I can easily bake 48 loaves at a time in my home oven. First examine the background to the question. I’ll pretend that I interviewed this questioner and here is what I found— this questioner is an expert baker, who understands how to handle many kinds of dough and flour mixes containing white and whole wheat flour of several different hydrations. He wants to move away from commercial gas fired ovens and wants to explore use of wood burning ovens.

Then the answer is to direct him to sources of wood burning ovens both the kind that can be built and the commercial ones for purchase. There are many web sites with good information on wood burning stove. and are two examples. The questioner is now pointed in the right direction and the analysis and conclusion is in their court.

Question: A librarian looked in the data bases supplied by her library and found a citation and abstract, but the library didn’t have access to the full text of the article. The librarian asked her fellow librarians for help just in case they knew of another source or could help in searching.

The issue and research tools steps were completed by the librarian, but proved inadequate. After verifying that the citation and search were correct, I looked for other sources for the article. None existed in any library that I have access to. Interlibrary loan was the only other option. This librarian just needed a little help to make sure that what she did was correct.

Careful research takes time.

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