Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What do you do if you can't google.

One of the things I do in my spare (ha!) time is work with youth in a literacy program. It’s a wonderful experience, and I truly do love doing it, but sometimes I really do wonder what’s going on in schools. To contextualize, while this is one experience I have had similar conversations with students at public, private and Catholic schools and yes, I remember when I was in my first year of university being TERRIFIED of having to go to the library for books.

“I’ve noticed on some of your Facebook pages a lot of talk and excitement about college. Some of you are getting your acceptance letters back, the juniors are making the rounds visiting schools – what about a Get Ready For University workshop?”
“What do you mean? Like school work?”
“Well, yeah. Um, I noticed just now that you said that you use Google for your research papers. Uh, you can’t really get away with that in college.”
“What do you mean? How else do you find stuff?”

From here we discussed what, exactly, happens during their paper writing process: they use Google to find websites. They cite (if they are even required to have a works cited page) the websites. They are often required to have one or two “book” sources. They use Wikipedia. They cite Wikipedia (and sometimes get away with it). They LOVE Wikipedia arguably more then they LOVE SparkNotes and copy them profusely. THREE of them had ever heard of a “journal” or used a “database” and that was because they were in IB programs and their teachers taught them for their special graduation projects.

Back to reality:
“OK, so when you go to university in the fall, you will have to use databases and find journal articles and read books in order to do a paper properly. Wouldn’t you like to learn some of that ahead of time? I can show you…”
“Nah. I mean, if we don’t know about all that, we can’t be the only ones – we’ll figure it out when we get there.”

Now, I feel I need to make something really clear, here – these kids, are half cream of the school’s crop – they’re in the literacy program not because they are low on the scale, but because they have talents that have been recognized by their teachers and this is a reward (it also allows the teachers to focus more time and energy on kids who need it more – I’m kind of a glorified babysitter). Seriously. Top of the class. Members of band, theater, Student Council. A few have been accepted to Ivy schools in the States, most of them have scholarships. And not only do they not know what a database is, they have never been required to know. The other half are the ones who need help - who need to be shown reading is fun, not punishment, and not a chore.

Want to know the scariest part? When I work with kids who are in the literacy program because they need help with reading, they are the ones who have been taught what journals and databases are – their teachers figure that if they give the kids tools to find the coolest, most interesting, relevant and specific information, they’ll want to learn to read better, and have more interest in reading as a whole. (it works. really well).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Metadata: Not a dinosaur. Or a Transformer. Though, it could be.

One of the big deal spilling of ink issues over the past 25 years in legal librarians is on the topic of West’s Digests and Key Number system, and how those systems have influenced legal research, and, arguably, to a lesser extent how lawyers think about the law. The question of if the free-text system of computer-assisted legal research allows for a deeper, more interpretive research. It can get intense. Part of the big deal is that lawyers don’t use the digests anymore, really, only legal librarians do – and even that can be questioned. I, personally am of the mindset that if West is paying someone to put keep their eye on an opinion, that person could be adding more useful data than simply a rephrasing of a key legal issue. By data, I actually mean metadata (because I am in library school, and we like metadata in these parts). With additional metadata, we could extend the opinion by wrapping the entire order, parts, paragraphs, sentences, or words with tags that could assist in locating the opinion (via queries, search, linking, etc.) and giving greater context for it in a way that enhances the Key Number classification, but avoids the debate of whether and to what extent the “literary warrant of the Key Number System” should be expanded