Report on ALA Conference 2013: Association of College & Research Libraries @ ALA

Association of College & Research Libraries @ ALA

As in the AASL session, an emphasis on collaboration underlied a session hosted by the Education & Behavioral Services Section (EBSS) of the ACRL. The session title was “Crossing the K-20 Curriculum” and two speakers gave two talks. First, Ken Burhanna of Kent State University highlighted the differences between K-12 school librarianship and college-level academic librarianship. Second, Tasha Bergson-Michelson of Google Search Education discussed the need for students of all ages to be taught how to fully utilize the power of Google Search.

Mr. Burhanna, a university librarian at Kent State who has contributed to a number of scholarly journals and books on academic libraries, called librarians the “educational superglue” who hold an educational institution’s instructional programs together. Central to all curriculums “across the K-20” spectrum are, as you might guess, books. Books are needed for reading, reading comprehension, and research, and it is through librarians that students learn how to access the books they need. Arguably, librarians are even more crucial in a Higher Education environment than in K-12, because post-secondary students, unlike K-12 students, have a very loosely structured semester, have distance from parents’ legal authority under FERPA, and are subjected to no standardized curriculum. This can be confusing to a kid. Burhanna may be biased in playing up academic librarians, being one himself, but he made a good point that just because a student turns 18 doesn’t mean he or she no longer needs guidance or help in the library. On the contrary, he or she needs that assistance just as much as, if not more than, ever.

Also speaking on the subject of how—in both K-12 and Higher Ed—librarians can be influential in students’ academic success, Tasha Bergson-Michelson began by pointing out that research by Google (and everyday experience) shows that a significant number of students and people in general, for that matter, don’t know about all the search options available in Google’s search engine. Using symbols like quotation marks, plus signs, or a colon can yield very precise search results, getting a student to more reliable, appropriate information more quickly. Quotation marks tell Google to search only for the exact words in the exact order they’re written in the search box. A plus sign between two words tells Google to find only web-pages where those two words occur together, excluding sites where they occur apart. Using a colon can specify what kind of sites you want Google to look for. For example, typing “edu:television” (no spaces) yields web-pages about “television” from .edu sites only (i.e. sites curated by Higher Ed institutions, which tend to be more reliable in terms of accurate information than .com and most .org websites). Bergson-Michelson also advocated for teaching students to search more than once during an online search. If the first word or phrase a student types in the search box doesn’t yield desirable results, encourage the student to try synonyms or other keywords related to their topic. This kind of practice should be standard.

Overall, both Burhanna and Bergson-Michelson emphasized the idea of lifelong learning and countered the idea that learners are entirely self-reliant creatures who, after a mere few seconds’ prompting, can be left in isolation to research on their own. As teachers, we need to do more than just show students where a Google search bar is and then leave them to it. Teachers and students alike should not take it for granted that anybody else knows all there is to know about ways of researching or using the internet just because they’ve reached a certain academic level or age.

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