30 March 2006

Biblioliteracy - What's a Bibliography, citation or reference list?

Quotes of the Week - "Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand." Chinese proverb
"Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three." Confucius

We as librarians tend to focus a lot on the 'keywords, journal database searching and less on the result of the searching which is a reference list, or bibliography to support the research, whether it's a 1000 word assignment, Honours paper or a Masters thesis, the end result is a well cited paper or presentation. In the University sector it would seem we are doing faculty and students a disservice if we do not place importance on the end result. Let's teach from the end to the beginning - show students that information seeking, finding, using and evaluating is done with the core competency being that of a well referenced paper, or well researched scientific report or presentation. How do students do this well if they don't first fully understand the different types of references, or the Referencing style which is expected? Give examples of well referenced and poorly referenced papers so that the learners have 'standards' to work with. Academics could provide this or librarians could consult with teaching staff. This would be the start of information literacy education, as I see 'referencing' competence as a fundamental competency in higher education and we could be using it as the pivot or foundation for teaching information competency. I was a sheep and followed the traditional method of teaching the 'analyse your topic' bit first, but now after reflecting upon and reading the literature, feel that it isn't an ideal teaching or learning method. Isn't it better to start from 'concrete' and current knowledge before moving to the abstract and unknown. Isn't a large proportion of higher education and assignment submission woven around finding appropriate references? Teach citations first, because many high school students don't know that there are so many different information sources (they could learn all about these, from the citation list), and the different parts, how to identify, etc.) They will also learn from the start to use the Reference list of each article to find other articles, to find 'expert' authors in the field, etc. Then, move on to the commonly accepted beginning of infolit classes, 'analsying topic / identifying information need'

Stage 1 - the challenge is working out how long to spend on this and who introduces it, academic or librarian

1. Citations/Bibliography/Reference List - elements of a well-rounded reference list, elements of each citation in the reference list and distinguishing between different information sources through the reference list (supports learning from the concrete, and known to the unknown)

2. Give them a mini bibliography with elements missing so that they have to find the missing parts, highlighting the importance of using an information management tool or personal 'filing' method with a checklist to ensure all the information for a citation is recorded.

3. Get them to choose the search tool to find the 'citation' information, (perhaps supply with a small list of possibilities) and ask students to justify why they chose that tool.

Stage 2
Start traditional infolit - keywords, etc.etc. When we have no prior knowledge of authors, or citations, you need to do 'keyword' or subject searching, etc.etc.

My reflections as well as a comment from a colleague in the field has prompted me to work on an Information Competency Framework which also incorporates the CAUL Infolit Standards. I have made a start and this is the introduction - "This framework has been developed on the premise that our role in higher education, particularly libraries, is to develop information competence in University Graduates. This framework does not support the notion of teaching them absolutely everything about one particular library. When students leave University, things unique to the library like the call number system, locations, selection of databases, etc. will be different but the things that remain the same no matter where we are in the world are the ‘competencies’, those skills which can be transferred, those intrinsic information competencies and critical thinking abilities that the student takes with them." The things unique to the library will be discovered at point of need (powerful learning) either through peers or the Information desk or Circulation service points. Who said information/reference desk service is a dinosaur?

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