Librarians aren’t in the business of books; we’re in the business of information. If that information is in a book, that’s cool. But if it’s not, we’re here to help you determine if it’s the kind of information you can trust. Last school year, for whatever reason, I was mostly doing class visits for elementary school aged students: lots of storytimes and tours and talks about what a library can offer. This year, I’m getting the older kids: mostly middle school and high school. Their teachers want database and internet research demonstrations. During these demos, I’ve learned what many of you educators already know: HOLY SHIT. Students don’t know how to navigate the internet or conduct simple research. They are without a clue. It is terrifying.
I typically start by asking how they, the students, begin their research. Whether it’s a fancy charter/private school or a NYC public school, whether they’re honors students or not, they all seem to start on their phone. They type whatever into the search box (Google and Ask.com were mentioned as search engines of preference) and…that’s it. That is it, my friends. That’s their process. Sometimes they’ll mention using Wikipedia. Sometimes not. They dig into the first couple of search engine results and call it a day. This is a sad state of affairs.
We’re often told that this generation of teens grew up with computers. They have some sort of innate, built-in expertise. This is crap.They need more instruction than we realize. Often, when I’m working at the reference desk, a teen will inform me that their computer is broken (Nope! Someone just turned off the monitor! Let me hit that button for you, kid). I have tried to teach more than one teen to cut and paste into a word document. I’ll find them navigating to the most (seemingly) random and bizarre sites for their homework. How did they get there? What are they even doing? Who taught them this is OK?
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