Library class frustrates students

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Dan Zhang, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate student, searches for a book in the basement of Love Library.

Story, photo and graphic by Jenna Gibson

In a digital age, it’s essential to know how to sift through a sea of information and come up with reliable sources.

But the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s attempt to teach students about information gathering and citation through an online class isn’t popular with those who are required to take it for graduation.

Out of 10 students randomly asked, only one said she found the class useful. The rest felt it missed the mark, and often resented having to take it to graduate.

Library 110 is a seven-week course designed to teach students about information gathering, including how to use databases and search engines, how to recognize reliable information online, how to locate materials in UNL’s Love Library and how to cite information in a paper. Started in 1994, the class was originally taught with paper manuals and exercises, but has since evolved into an Internet-based class.

The lone student advocate for the course, Emily Bliss, a junior advertising major, found the information she learned in Library 110 helpful later on in college when she had to find reference books for research papers.

“I would say it is a valuable class for any student to take and it’s very low-maintenance,” she said. “Is it a class that should be required? I don’t know about that, but overall it turned out to be helpful for me.”

Others were not so positive.

“I did not find the class useful at all,” said Issac Vargas, a senior math and computer science major. “With all of the online resources available, libraries are quickly becoming obsolete. The assignments were basically scavenger hunts through the library, which, other than for a lecture I have in the classroom, I haven’t entered since.
“I really have no idea why most colleges require it to graduate.”

Some felt that as a generation that grew up with Google, students don’t need to learn how to work through a library or how to conduct an effective online search.

”It didn’t do a good job with solidifying knowledge of the online databases available to UNL students, but focuses mostly on what kind of language to use in searches, and other, well, absolutely worthless things,” said Dillon Svec, a junior international studies major. “I thought it was slightly better than useless, but not because I thought it was boring – which I did – but because I thought it was obsolete and had the wrong focus.”

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While students may not like it, the class isn’t going away. Five of UNL’s nine colleges require their students take Library 110 – Fine and Performing Arts, Journalism and Mass Communications, Agriculture Sciences and Natural Resources, Architecture and parts of Education and Human Sciences.

And UNL is not alone – all of the schools in the Big 12 have some sort of library instruction either integrated into other required courses or offered as an elective. Iowa State has a similar online information gathering course that is required for all of its students.

Proponents of UNL’s library course insist that the skills learned in the class do come in handy. With an abundance of resources available to students both online and in the library itself, it’s important for students to learn how to find and use reliable information, said Jeanetta Drueke, a professor in University Libraries.

“The course does help ensure that the students have a standard and basic level of knowledge and skills early in their career here,” Drueke said. “For example, a professor may assign a paper that is to include references to five scholarly articles. If a student doesn’t know what constitutes a scholarly article, how to find one, how to evaluate one or how to cite one, he or she is less likely to produce a good paper and receive a high grade.”
Betsy Gabb, a professor and program director in the College of Architecture, agreed.

“We value writing and the skills that improve writing. We see it as a critical part of not only design professions, but any profession,” she said. “Unfortunately too often students think the Internet is the be all end all, and they don’t take the time to go to the library and use the information available to them.”

The College of Arts and Sciences agrees those skills are important. But when UNL switched to the Achievement-Centered Education (ACE) program two years ago, the college decided its students don’t need to take Library 110 to be successful.

“There’s no one required course that teaches all those things,” said Amy Goodburn, associate dean for faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences. “But I think there’s enough courses that teach research skills that I’m not sure students are having a huge loss.”

Plus, Goodburn said, with fewer requirements, students are able to focus more on the kinds of classes they actually want to take.

“We provide students with courses that they need, but not so many requirements that they can’t take some electives,” she said.

But the College of Architecture still feels it’s important to make sure its students take the class. Gabb said she understands some students may come to college already knowing how to use the library and may find the class redundant.

“But unfortunately there are students who don’t, and the only way to level the playing field is to require it for all,” she said.

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