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Less Time on Mechanics, More Time on Search Skills (The Summon Service and Information Literacy)

“If you looked around the class, you could see stifled yawns, and the students looked confused.”  That is how Alison Sharman, University of Huddersfield, described first-year students’ reception of her database-focused instruction sessions.  “We had very long inductions.  The sessions were definitely focused on the mechanics of searching, rather than teaching students how to be effective searchers. The Summon service changed all that.”

During our recent webinar series on information literacy, the time required to teach the intricacies of searching individual databases – and the limited time available to teach them – was a common theme echoed by the presenters. As Alison explained, before implementing the Summon service, “We used to go through every database to show students the different interfaces, demonstrate the same search on at least two resources, show them where to click, introduce the different symbols of truncation, and instruct them on combining  searches using Boolean logic. “

The Summon service “changed everything,” according to Alison. “We had much shorter inductions, and that left much more time for hands-on practice. The Summon service has helped us to move away from the mechanics of searching. It has enabled us to spend more time teaching students to use the library effectively, and how to become better at finding relevant information.”

As Matt Borg of Sheffield Hallam University declared in his presentation, this is a big piece of information literacy teaching. With the Summon service, “We can spend a lot more time on quality of information, which we weren’t able to fit in before.”

Alison agreed.  “Students need to understand the differences between library materials, for example, between text books and trade journals, and know which item type to go to for different information needs. And they need to be able to assess the quality and reliability of information. I think that’s even more important now that we have things like Google. When students leave the university and are no longer accessing content from the library, they need to be able, even more so, to be able to assess the information they’re looking at.”

In order to teach today’s students those required skills, Matt encouraged us to think about information literacy as something other than a ‘click-here-click-here’ mechanical process. “The ‘discovery journey’ is a phrase that I keep returning to when I think about the way students interact with information,” he said. “It begins when they’re just staring at the library Web page, wondering what key words to search for. We need to make sure that their experiences with the rich academic information we offer and the systems that deliver that information are as fluid as possible.”

As we’ll see, the best way to start that journey is with a head start, building on what students already know. That’s the topic for our next post.

If you’re interested in hearing from the presenters themselves, all webinars in the series are available for on demand viewing.  Also, register now for the three new sessions we’ve got coming up with librarians from Case Western Reserve University, the University of Denver, and Wake Forest University.  We’re sure you’ll want to hear from these speakers about their unique perspectives on the topic of information literacy and the Summon service.