Another Perspective on Information Literacy

This morning, I began working on reading through some new material on information literacy that relates to an article I’m preparing to write. As I perused the research, I realized I promised a student I would send him an article that we discussed in a conference last week. I put on my researcher cap, and went to work. Twenty minutes later, I came to realize that perhaps there is at least one other reason students turn to the Internet rather than scholarly databases for their research–utter frustration.

The search seemed easy enough. I already knew exactly what article I needed to accomplish this quick (5 minutes, max) task. I logged into my My.GeorgiaSouthern account. This first step provides one-click access to the library databases without the need to enter an additional password. The link (listed as “Galileo” in my account) takes us directly to the library main search page in the Galileo database. Since the school instituted the “Discovery” database, it now takes us to this page.

This is the direct link out of the My.GeorgiaSouthern portal.

I typed in the title of the article I wanted. I used quotation marks to narrow down the search to this specific article. I know what I’m doing.

My results

Discover brings me no results. I know the article is available through our library. I retrieved this article only two weeks ago. Discover is designed to be the Google of our library database, and it searches the databases as well as the online library catalog. Yet, it’s not working. I’ve had plenty of problems with Discover in the past when looking for specific titles, so I navigate to the library website and choose to enter Academic Search Premiere. Now, as I mentioned earlier, the additional step of logging in to my My.GeorgiaSouthern account eliminates the need for the Galileo password. However, that appears to be untrue now that we’ve switched to Discover. My two clicks (one to select Academic Search Premiere, and one to select “Go”) lead me here.

Ironically, this is the reason I took the time to log into the school portal.

If you can’t read the red print, it’s telling me I must have the Galileo password to even access the database. The Galileo password (for one reason or another that I’ve never understood) is not connected in any way to my password for the university. It also changes every so often, so I have to request the password. To receive the password, I have to follow the “forgot your password” button, provide my university ID, last name and PIN number for Galileo. Well, I don’t remember that PIN number;  I haven’t used it in over a year. So, I have to request my PIN, log in to my email, retrieve my PIN, return to the request password page and retrieve the current password. Then, I return to this page, provide the password, and NOW I can move forward with my search.

I finally reach the Academic Search Complete database. (We’re now 15 minutes into the search.) Again, I type in the title of the article–and I do this in the advanced search feature so I can tell the database this is the title. I push search and wait for my one result to appear on the screen.

Success! (I think.)

Well, we’re not that lucky yet. I follow the link to “Linked Full Text” where I retrieved the article two weeks ago.

The system is working against me. Now, I can see the article exists behind our library firewall, but the link doesn’t work. It’s 11am on a Saturday; the Help Desk won’t reopen until Monday. I know (from my experience with this specific journal) that I can locate the journal through Elsevier. So, I navigate back to the library homepage, type the name of the journal into the catalog search, select Elsevier from the list of databases through which I can access this article, and I am met with a brand new screen.

Another login? Seriously?

Now, keep in mind I am still logged into my My.GeorgiaSouthern account and Galileo. Now, I must provide my university credentials again? Once inside, I retype the article title, again in quotation marks, receive no results, remove the quotation marks, and finally come to my article. This link works.

I repeated the search–step by step for the screenshots in this post. The results were the same. From start to finish in both cases, the search took nearly 30 minutes. Keep in mind, I knew specifically what I needed. However, a student conducting a similar search would not start with a single article title, but with much broader search–perhaps for “information literacy.” On the chance that this article and it’s corresponding abstract appears in their search results, what chances do we run that they will not go through this amount of frustration for an article they are unsure will truly be useful to their research? I spent nearly 30 minutes trying to track down a single article. To think of my own overachiever undergraduate self, I cannot be certain I would have gone through this hassle then. Students certainly should not be punished for doing academic research from home, but part of this certainly felt like punishment.

Sure, I could have removed a few steps to this–two or three–if I were on campus connected to the university system which overrides the need for some passwords, but conducting research often happens when we have the time for this task. I don’t know that undergraduate me would have stopped searching here, gotten in my car, found parking on campus, and returned to the search in the physical library. Most likely, I would have ignored the article and moved on–or tried tracking this article down via Google. You can do that, but then it requires a $41 purchase for the same access available for free via the library.

I don’t want this to come across as an overall excuse for all student Internet research. Rather, I want this reason to linger in our minds. We are working to better the pedagogical approaches to teaching information literacy. We are working to improve students’ information seeking skills, and a task like this would be excellent proof of those skills. However, students should not have to encounter obstacles like these just through their library databases. As we reconsider approaches to information literacy, perhaps we should also consider restructuring some of the obstacles present in the library databases.

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About smartykatt

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Modern Languages at Lamar University where I specialize in rhetoric, composition, digital literacy, and information literacy. My research focuses on the intersections of student engagement with digital and information literacy and their relation to student research and writing. I am an ACES Fellow at Lamar and, with Janice Walker (Georgia Southern), I am a Principal Investigator on the LILAC Project.

4 responses to “Another Perspective on Information Literacy”

  1. Patrick Corbett says :

    Dear Dr. Blackwell-Starnes:

    In my experience, it’s not very often that professors think about the interface-level difficulties that our students face when using unfamiliar information systems designed for experts to use (like professors, librarians, and researchers). I think it’s a great exercise, and at least for myself has opened up a new way of thinking about students’ resistance to using academic information tools. There are some interesting perspectives on this issue in “The New Digital Scholar,” a forthcoming collection by Randall McClure (whom you probably know) and James Purdy (at Dusquene University). My co-authors and I address this issue directly in our own chapter, and come to same conclusion as you, which is that students think these tools simply have too high of an opportunity cost to use and with little pay off. This is why I personally like to continue to revisit their use throughout a research writing course and make the tool itself an object of intellectual inquiry. I’m glad to have come across your work.

    Best regards,

    Patrick Corbett

  2. smartykatt says :

    Patrick,

    I think interface-level difficulties with access too often is glossed over with the too-standard “lazy” student excuse, and I think too often this gloss comes from those who do not fully understand how to help their students better overcome these access hurdles. I came to information literacy via rhetoric, thus my students receive large doses of rhetorical analyses of the sites housing their information as well as the information itself. This hurdles and the constant turn to Google for research are indicative, in my opinion, of a change needed in library database systems as well as our pedagogical approaches to teaching research. These changes will take time and more of us out there advocating for approaches that post-date 1980s information seeking behaviors. I give my graduate students your “What About the ‘Google Effect’” before they create their first syllabus, because it provides such an up-to-date and excellent model for teaching research. I’m about to do a feature on Purdy’s “Why First-Year College Students Select Online Research Resources as Their Favorites” in the next week or two. This is another piece that better informs educators about these hurdles.

    Is there a firm release date for “The New Digital Scholar,” yet? I’ve been waiting for that to become available. I talked a bit with Randall about this when it was pre-publication, and it sounds like it will be another excellent piece to add to the conversation.

    Good luck with your studies!

    Katt

    • plcorb says :

      Hi Katt,

      Like you, I came to information literacy through rhetoric, though I can still remember a sense of terrific struggle as an undergraduate navigating my school’s immense collection to find *anything* that was useful. Fortunately, I was so lost that I went up to the reference librarian desk and asked for help. I guess one of the things that interests me about information literacy issues is that I struggled with them myself, and while I can say I definitely avoided library research, it wasn’t out of laziness as much as feeling overwhelmed and not understanding the value of the academic library until about my third year of college,

      When I served as the assistant WPA at Louisville for “digital pedagogy”, where there was a fantastic programmatic culture for pedagogical best practices and support, I still fielded concerns about “lazy” students who wouldn’t use the library. My response was to encourage the instructor to think about the pedagogical value of placing the burden of learning difficulties entirely on the student (not to mention the ethical concerns of doing so), when the solution is invariably found in the dialectical exchange we’re supposed to be creating in the classroom. The digital library is probably one of the most complex digital systems and set of tools that incoming students have encountered. Frankly, I don’t blame them for the very human reaction of avoiding it if no one is explaining how it works and why knowing that is important.

      As far as the collection goes, March is the most current release date we’ve been given. I personally can’t wait as I’ve been down the dissertation rabbit hole for a while (defense next week) and need to brush up on the great things that people have been doing in the classroom recently. Your blog is helping with that, and I look forward to reading more.

      All the best,

      Patrick

      • smartykatt says :

        Patrick,

        I too came to information literacy from a background of confusion with library research. I think that’s a connection I have with my students that some do not have. I would love a chance to investigate how many who teach research encountered such a problem in their own background, and how many admit these problems to their students. Potentially, I think this could be connected with research into perceptions of “lazy” students and perceptions of confused and frustrated students. But I can only hypothesize for now.

        All writing programs need somebody who can field these concerns with a fuller understanding of what else may be going on and how pedagogy can address these problems. However, I also feel that these issues are much more complex to address before students reach the plateau of their research where they recognize (and with luck verbalize) that not *everything* is available via Google. Only once Google becomes a non-option do they become receptive to other means of research. Even then, if these means of research are too complex to use, we cannot expect them to use these research.

        I’m looking forward to the collection. I hope the defense went well (though I’m sure it did). I’ve got to get out of the student conference loop and back into the research and writing loop, but that’s likely another week away.

        Katt

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