That was then. This is now.

Musings from a librarian “behind the stacks”.
by Mark D. Puterbaugh
Information Services Librarian

Is it easier to be a student today?

Martin LutherI was speaking with a colleague the other day and pondering what I would have done if the electronic resources students at Eastern University have at their disposal were available to me as a student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. I thought at first that life as a student would be easier. In reflection now, I think that I had it much easier.

Today’s students have millions of resources available to them including the physical library, the library online and the whole of the Internet. However, from the discussions I have had with students this huge number of resources can overwhelm. Because of this, too often, students settle for whatever appears on the first page of the results list, possibly missing important information.

The Good Old Days.

As a seminarian in 1977, I had the library. Hamma Library was three floors, approximately 200,000 books and around 150 journals.   Yes, I could also use the library at Capital University next door or the public library down the street. If I became very ambitious I would take the bus up to Ohio State’s library. Additionally, there was the wonderful Little Professor’s Book Shop on Main Street and the two awesome used bookstores in the center of Columbus, Ohio. Mostly, though, I used the seminary library. It was there and it had what I needed. I knew it well.

In seminary we wrote a great deal. The program was writing intensive. I learned the Chicago Manual of Style thoroughly. RefWorks didn’t exist. There were no websites like Purdue’s Online Writing Lab, where I could check my paper’s style format. When putting research together, I had a typewriter with whiteout, not a friendly word processor.

Despite these hardships, I believe that it was easier to be a student. Why? While I had a limited set of tools, I knew them well. One good book was a huge resource leading to other books and journal articles, many of which were in the library. Browsing the shelves became an intriguing pass time. Scanning bibliographies a relaxing hobby. Yes, my fellow students and I came to know the library very, very well. Although, I will admit, I didn’t talk to the librarians all that much.

Wish I Had The E-Resources.

Having said this, I really wouldn’t have minded having 24/7 access to the Anchor Bible series or the International Critical Commentaries. There are many scholarly books now online in the public domain that I wished I had had access to for my research papers. However, I only know the importance of those exquisite resources because I knew the books in Hamma Library very well. Back then knowing what was in the library made me literate about the resources in the subject areas that I studied.

Now days we call that literacy, knowing what resources are pertinent and appropriate for academic research, information literacy. With the overwhelming number of resources that today’s students have at their disposal; information literacy is of utmost importance. The Internet has created an explosion in scholarly communication, in every academic discipline. As such, today’s students need a more discerning eye and a deeper knowledge of academic subject matters. Sadly, knowing the holdings within the physical library is no longer enough.

Here comes the pitch!

Universities Begin Winter SemesterThis is where today’s academic librarian comes into play. Our job is to help students through the maze of resources, physical and online. Working in collaboration with faculty, librarians can help point students in the right direction. Sometimes this is as simple as saying, “Use PsycARTICLES not Google for that psychology paper.” Other times the task is more detailed where a librarian sits down with a student to figure out keywords and subject terms. Or the librarian helps the student look through article titles and abstracts.   For the student it is now a matter of being literate about a subject while learning to use a diverse number of tools and interfaces. The tools are all different and the interfaces keep changing.

Eastern University’s librarians offer a variety of services to our students. Faculty can request an in class (or online via Adobe Connect) session to inform students about databases and other library services. Students can stop by, email or phone the library and talk to a librarian at the Reference Desk. For a more in-depth discussion students can request a personal consultation with a librarian by filling out a simple online form http://www.eastern.edu/library/research-consultation-request-form .

Back then I was information literate by knowing what was on the shelves in my school’s library. Now I would need to know how to navigate a whole array of information resources including my school’s library. As a student today, I would probably have to talk to the librarian much more often.

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