“Misconceptions and Mistakes Regarding Library Research”

I’m doing a workshop soon for some grad students who are teaching assistants for a large, introductory, first-year course at my university. I did a research workshop for them in past semesters, and this semester, the faculty member in charge of the TA’s suggested we build on previous workshops, possibly having a conversation around the theme “Misconceptions and Mistakes Regarding Library Research.” The goal of me working with them is, rather than doing a million one-shots, I can work with the teaching assistants themselves to help them build students’ information literacy skills.

Now, on the one hand, the theme is obvious: everything I do, really, relates, in some sense, to misconceptions and mistakes regarding research that students may have. For example, I’ve built information literacy learning outcomes for our program, and in some sense, they’re all organized around this theme, e.g., I think first year-students often choose topics that are too broad or generic, or don’t arise from an authentic place, because they learned in high school that that’s what research is; they have what I’ve called a “Google mindset” toward research”: they think that you can do one search for “walkability built environment happiness” and get all ten articles you need; they don’t understand that a major reason you use sources is to provide evidence for each claim you make; and so forth. Each one of these “mistakes or misconceptions” is something I’ve built a learning outcome around, because I think they’re major, and pervasive.

But, on the other hand, I think this is actually a really interesting way to frame a workshop like this. I told the instructor as much, and said that I have some things I can bring to the table with this, for sure. I also suggested that he query what the TA”s have to say about this, pass their takes along to me, and maybe I’ll be able to prepare some “answers” for them that they can use to work with students w/r/t the misconceptions with research they see. So, ultimately, I think it’s maybe a really interesting way to think about what we do, how to collaborate with faculty and TA’s, and how to approach IL instruction.

So, here’s a question:

If you were going to point out common misconceptions students have, and mistakes students (particularly students in their first year) might make, what, dear readers, would you say? What skills might you target to work on with the TA’s?




Filed under Bibliographic Instruction is Dead, Education, Library Instruction, Posts by Kevin Michael Klipfel

5 responses to ““Misconceptions and Mistakes Regarding Library Research”

  1. Candice Benjes-Small

    I used to do a very similar session for our freshmen composition TAs. Some popular clarifications: 1) The library search engines are not answer machines; you can’t type in your question and get 10 articles that answer it. 2) There is no ‘perfect’ article; you will have to break up your search and find articles about walkability and articles about happiness and YOU have to make the connection 3) Instructors don’t make you use sources because they hate you; good sources give ethos to your paper 4) Just because a source doesn’t fulfill an assignment requirement (say, it’s an encyclopedia entry), you can still use it for background research which will help you actually understand the scholarly articles that do fulfill the requirements. Oh boy, I could go on and on!

  2. This doesn’t answer your question, it’s more of a second step – of helping TA’s to think about what and how they are assigning things to students. Asking or talking to TA’s or instructors about what part of the research do they want students to actually struggle? For instance, do they want students to find 10 great articles or to learn how to read a few very deeply and make connections between them and their own thoughts? (I’m sure we all want students to use great articles and read deeply, so the either/or set up is a little false – sorry about that).
    On one hand that plays into the stereotypical freshman student choosing any old article that seems relevant to meet the minimum number of articles. But it does get the instructor to think a little more about why they are assigning a research project, which can help in figuring out how to best utilize the library & librarian.

  3. Abby Rovner

    My overall lesson to students about research is Research Searching. I tell students that research is a process, one that takes time and practice, starts, backs up and restarts, and they won’t get it right all the time. I also talk about gathering information from a variety of sources analyzing what they mean, explaining the significances, making the connections, and through it all, coming up with a new insight that wasn’t there before (even if it’s just new to them).

  4. Kevin Michael Klipfel

    Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond; I was out of town last week and haven’t had much free time for blogging since I got back.

    Candace: I think the “no perfect article” thing – I somethings think about it as the “There’s no magic bullet source” that tells you everything you need is a HUGE misconception that’s really important to deal with. I think I try to do that when showing students that your keywords aren’t just like things you’re trying to figure out synonyms for; they’re the major research concepts you’ll be dealing with. You need to do many, many searches, combine your “keywords” and research concepts in different ways to come up with all the sources you’ll need. E.g., yesterday I did a session on music subcultures and chose punk rock as my subculture. So, supposing my main concepts are “punk rock” (and then a bunch of other things), even with with that one concept I have multiple searches: “Punk rock history” “Patti Smith” “The Ramones” etc. etc. etc. That’s a way I try not just to say but also show that. So I appreciated your comment – it gave me a nice way to address that particularly myth.

    I think that relates to Abby’s point as well, pretty clearly: it shows WHY research is an iterative process – there’s no magic bullet source, but it’s really a PROCESS.

    I really like what you have to say as well, Chris. I learned a lot from that perspective and think it’s helpful with many things I’m thinking about: assignment design, curriculum mapping, etc. I think these kinds of workshops are maybe a great opportunity to start thinking about this stuff. “What do we really want this to get students to think about research-wise? Developing an authentic research question? Learning how to understand a quantitative study? And so on and so forth.

    I appreciate all these comments – I always learn a lot from hearing how we come at similar things in slightly different ways and then how it can give us a new slant on them!


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