Most of my seniors are in the midst of writing their senior theses at the moment. For some, this is their first time doing any major library research (no kidding). For most, if not all of them, this is the biggest, longest, scariest paper they’ve ever had to write, and they can’t graduate until they’ve successfully completed it.
For students going on to graduate school, this is fantastic practice for their futures as scholars. For everyone else, it’s a really really big paper. And yet everyone is expected to produce work that demonstrates the student’s ability to behave like a young scholar — an almost-expert insider in the community of inquiry that is their major field.
This business of becoming an expert inside in a field is hard enough if you’re aware that that’s your task — it’s harder still if nobody has explained that this is what they want of you. And in my world of information literacy, it’s probably the single most important concept to get across. No evidence that they examine is intrinsically “good” or “bad” evidence. The question is, good or bad for what and for whom and in what context?
“To become an insider requires access to information that is valued and sanctioned with that [conversation] space…. This requires knowing about the sources of information that will inform practice, why they are valued and sanctioned by the community, how they are nuanced and the ways in which they can be accessed” (Lloyd 2010, 10).
I can teach advanced searching of the MLA International Bibliography until I’m blue in the face, but if my students don’t realize they they must first become aware of the norms and conventions of the conversation they’re entering, they have no functional way of selecting appropriate evidence, asking questions of it that are valued within the community, and asserting credible claims for their community.
In essence, I’m teaching these students, many of whom will not become PhDs in their chosen fields, to be method actors. See the scholar; be the scholar. Take on the tweed coat, revel in it, and take on the values, characteristics, and moods of that scholar as if they were your own. Only then will they be able to find, select, interrogate, and make appropriate use of the information that surrounds them.
Lloyd, Annemaree. 2010. Information Literacy Landscapes: Information Literacy in Education, Workplace, and Everyday Contexts. Oxford: Chandos Publishing.