Researching Your Way through a Million Results
Research has shown that false news stories travel six times faster than truthful news on social media. Fortunately, school librarians help students navigate a world where too much incorrect information surrounds them. Partnering with teachers and parents, school librarians offer essential lessons that not only help students with their current research project but also help develop critical literacy skills necessary for a lifetime of learning, researching, and reading.
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Just a few decades ago, the picture was entirely different. If a student had a research project, she went to her school library where she found the library’s encyclopedia collection to locate an article on her topic. She took notes, as that reference book was not available for check out. Then she checked out a book written by an expert author and went home with her book and notes, two high quality yet succinct sources of information. Now, there are not only two available sources, but likely thousands — or even millions. Many of those sources will have great information, while others simply won’t. Some will be outdated, others will be biased, and still others will contain completely false information.
How to know the difference? And, how to do this research quickly and efficiently with so much content? With research being so different today, students need to develop incredibly strong information literacy skills. School librarians can help students navigate this ever-changing world of information literacy. Here are four ways that school librarians can help your child and other students succeed:
There are better ways to start than a Google search. For example, school libraries often subscribe to high quality research databases, many of which can be accessed from home. Looking in a high quality, age-appropriate database, such as one from EBSCO or Gale, will lead to stronger results. Of course, the school library also has an entire collection of books that have been selected and vetted by the school librarian. These books are written for your student’s level and informational needs, so they are a natural, easy fit in your student’s research process.
Still, many students will want or need to search the web. Doing so will require higher level information literacy skills and research strategies. Here’s where school librarians can help again. They teach students to ask key questions as they search, helping students to know which websites are best to utilize. Some such questions are: Is the website from an established institution such as a university or government agency? Is that institution an expert in the field you are researching? Who is hosting the website’s information? Does the website’s URL have any suspicious components?
Searching the web gives us millions of results. But, how much information is truly needed? Students at times will locate and utilize a lengthy article from the internet, when an encyclopedia entry would have quickly covered the content needed. Assessing the quantity of information needed is yet another important critical thinking skill developed in the library. When a small amount of information is needed, a librarian can help locate a reputable online encyclopedia.
Once students have located their sources, school librarians urge students to look critically at those sources. One easy way to do so is looking for a date. The beauty of the internet is that it offers content that can be up to date and cutting edge. The downside? There’s a lot of old content out there. Encouraging students to look for dates helps students find the most recent materials for their research.
The website should also have an author. An important part of information literacy means knowing who wrote your material and why. Who is the author? If there is no name, is there a logical reason as to why there isn’t? Is he or she an expert in this field? Is the author trying to inform you or persuade you? If so, do you notice any language that shows bias? All of these questions help students locate strong factual materials.
Finally, school librarians work to promote digital citizenship, helping students to stay safe and be responsible online. An important component of online responsibility is giving credit for information used. It is easy to pull information from the internet, but it is necessary to give credit for ideas used in a project or paper. Many school libraries subscribe to programming or utilize free resources to make source citation easier than ever. Check in with your school librarian to learn more.
Developing stellar information literacy skills will help students be strong researchers and critical thinkers. These skills will serve the students well along their educational trajectory and beyond. For example, these very same skills will help student locate and detect those false news stories that are so prevalent today. Students’ information literacy skills need to be sharper than ever not only to be a strong student, but also to be a well-informed citizen.