It can happen at any time. Maybe a student comes up to the reference desk. Maybe you’re reviewing a professor’s assignment in order to prepare library instruction for his class. You can almost see it coming. And, soon enough, there it is: The Directions.
“You must use library resources to complete this assignment. You may not use online resources.”
There are many variations to this terrible, terrible misdirection, but the point is the same: faculty who don’t understand that libraries can collect reputable and scholarly material in electronic format mislead their students and cause them to miss out on a lot of useful and pertinent sources (perhaps the most useful and pertinent sources to the topic).
Maybe some faculty mean “you may not use crappy online resources,” but they don’t explain that, and students get this tunnel vision and are fearful of even approaching a computer to use the catalog. Librarians (and faculty) lose a great teaching moment because of someone’s misunderstanding of online resources.
However, some faculty truly mean that they want all or some of their resources to come from the library because they want students to have the experience of pulling something off the shelf.
(I have several witty comebacks for this and a selection of facial expressions, none of which I will actually execute because I am a professional. And I’m good at controlling my reactions in difficult situations, thanks to watching hours and hours of experimental film in college.)
I find it terribly interesting (and frustrating) that this happens only at the undergraduate level. Although, maybe it’s a more clear distinction for me because the graduate programs I work with are conducted online and rely heavily on the use of electronic resources. Why can’t the undergraduate faculty also steer their students to the vast and wonderful (and expensive) collection of materials we have online? To quote Chef from South Park, “There’s a time and place for everything, and it’s called college.” (Yes, he was talking about doing drugs, and I’m talking about developing research skills. Just stay with me.) This is the point where we want to teach students about evaluating resources and particularly to develop this generation’s experience with technology and searching on the internet.
And professors want to test their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Awesome. (Sorry. That was snarky.)
The answer to this is outreach/communication/orientation. Librarians understand this. I’m not saying anything new. Librarians need to inform (or remind) the faculty of our excellent electronic collections, and alert them to the confusion they cause when students take those instructions literally and quite seriously. Faculty need to pay more attention to what they and their students have at their disposal through the library.
Faculty and librarians need to be on the same page, and many of us are. We’re never at odds with one another, but when faculty instruct their students against using (or limit their use of) online resources, student have a tough time believing librarians when we explain that the library invests in quality online resources that are appropriate for the assignment. Sometimes I change it up and say, “the University has chosen to provide these online resources.” I wonder if that makes any difference. It reminds me of political campaign ads where one party responds to the smallest amount of misinformation (“you can’t trust anything online”) with a carefully placed endorsement from another group (“the University stands behind these online resources”).