Library Skills Students Should Know Before Going to College
“As a college librarian, I am amazed by the lack of research skills that most of the students have when they get here.”
“Students need a good college ‘toolkit’ to make a successful transition from high school to college. Knowing which library services and resources are available can help ease the way.”
1. Students should get to know the Reference Librarians! Reference librarians at college libraries can play a key role in student success. They will guide the student through every step of the research process and offer valuable guidance on key resources and provide time-saving tips. Often reference librarians offer advice via chat, email, or personal appointments as well as face-to-face. Universities may offer 24/7 reference librarians.
2. College libraries offer FREE library skills workshops and classes. Most also offer online tutorials and/or orientation classes. The savvy student will take advantage of these opportunities to learn how to use the college library. Understanding which library “tools” to use for different purposes is essential for successful research.
3. College libraries are big! While high school libraries may have thousands of books, college libraries have hundreds of thousands of books, several floors, as well as special collections. Universities have specialty library branches (such as a Science Library) as well as a large general library.
4. Colleges have many, many research databases. Although high schools often have a core group of databases, college libraries may subscribe to over a hundred subject databases which provide a wealth of information for academic research. Selecting which database to use is often a daunting to freshmen. Databases may contain magazine articles, journal articles, newspaper articles, encyclopedia articles, books, and primary source materials. College students need to know how to effectively access and search databases from their college library’s Web site. Students should also know how to construct a Boolean search and how to use truncation. Database searching is different from searching in Google. They must learn how to cite material found in databases.
Databases can be accessed from the dorm or from home.
5. Research is a process, not an event. Students should get in the practice of beginning research as soon as they’re given the assignment. Students need to learn to plan a research project and give themselves lots of research time. Ten minutes of library time between classes is not enough time to gather sources for a paper. Some colleges have a link to an “assignment planner” (http://www.myasap.net) from their Web page. The Reference librarian can also offer advice on strategy.
6. Students need to know how to define a topic, narrow it, and select key words and phrases to describe the topic. Database searching requires a set of well-defined key words and phrases.
7. College students need to know about the different kinds of periodicals, journals, and magazines. Professors require even lower-division students to read and comment on peer reviewed articles. Students need to understand the difference between peer review, journal, serial, periodical, scholarly, etc.
8. Students need to know the difference between primary and secondary sources in the various academic disciplines. Primary sources for the study of literature are different from those in history.
9. It’s essential for students not to rely solely on Google for their research. Students mistakenly think everything is in Google because they are unfamiliar with library subscription databases (see 4 above). Many professors will NOT allow students use non-subscription Internet sources, especially Wikipedia. Most professors will require students to use articles from databases and books.
10. College students must know how to evaluate resources and to use the best resources possible. This is more than knowing the difference between .gov and .com. Students often select the first articles retrieved in a database search instead of scanning the abstracts and looking for the most relevant articles.
11. Students also need exposure constructing citations for books, periodical articles, and database resources. Citation builders (like NoodleTools) can help, but students must know the basic elements of a citation to use them. Students also need to be able to look at a citation that a professor has given them (or that is cited in a text) and understand how to identify what the citation refers to (book, magazine article, journal article, etc.).
12. Students must know there are different documentation styles: MLA, APA, Chicago, etc.
13. Students absolutely must know enough about plagiarism to avoid committing it. This includes understanding the nuances of summarizing, paraphrasing, quoting, etc. and that ALL require citations. Many colleges have very stiff penalties for all forms of academic dishonesty.
14. Most college libraries use the Library of Congress Classification system and most high schools use Dewey. Either way, students need to know what a call number is and how to use a map of the library and shelf guides to find a specific book or periodical.
15. Students should be comfortable using electric library catalogs to find information. High school library catalogs are often very different from university catalogs.
16. College students need to know what subject headings and keywords are and how to best use them when searching a library catalog, database, or Web search engine (e.g., Google).
17. Colleges provide interlibrary loan services- ILL. That means if the book, video, article, etc. that is needed need is not available in the library, the library will borrow it from another university. Interlibrary loan may take a couple of weeks, so students need to give themselves time in the research process to take advantage of this service.
18. There's more in a college library than books. College libraries often have materials on reserve for specific classes, like textbooks and study guides. Many college libraries lend equipment, like graphing calculators, digital cameras, and even laptops. Nearly all college libraries offer online access to articles from magazines, journals, and newspapers; most also offer some books online.
19. Computers aren't filtered. High schools filter access to the Internet. With freedom comes responsibility. Students have access to the entire Internet through library computers, but are expected to behave like adults. Students are held responsible for inappropriate use. Colleges usually have a “computer use” policy that states consequences for inappropriate computer use
20. Many college libraries have quiet policies, but many others have social areas. Students need to learn appropriate behavior (e.g., no cell phone use) for each area.
21. Colleges will hold transcripts and grades for outstanding fees and/or items not returned. Materials can be extremely expensive.
22. If a student is eligible for work-study, the college library is a great place to work! Work-study students get to know the resources available on the campus, and work with people who are focused on student success.
These tips were adapted from postings to the Information Literacy Instruction Discussion Listerv sponsored by the Instruction Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries and were edited and revised by Sharlee Jeser-Skaggs (email@example.com). September 2008.
.And don't forget these.
Some Things You Can Do
Find articles in databases
Use ASAP12 or ASAP5 to plan your research
Use NoodleTools for Works Cited
Look at a sample research paper
Review sample student essays (all types)
Research current /controversial issues
Consider topic ideas or think it through
Look for textbooks that we might have on reserve.
Get to know your building (including the downstairs).
Understand the Library of Congress Classification system.
Borrow books from other DCCCD campus libraries (ICL).
Use interlibrary loan (ILL) to borrow books from anywhere.
Get a TexShare card every semester.
Know the rules for using the library.
Email a librarian with a question.
Ask for a research consultation.
Find out when the next library class will be offered.
Check out our help sheets.
Learn to recognize different types of sources.
Make sure you can distinguish magazines & journals.
Understand primary and secondary sources.
Know that using databases isn't the same as using the internet.
Understand MLA, APA and use NoodleTools.