Tickle Me Reference: "Elmo's World" and the Changes in Our Research Environment

Article excerpt

Every weekday morning, a furry red monster appears on my television screen and, after a bit of singing and dancing, he embarks on a research project. First stop, he visits the library, right? Well, no. Actually, he never goes to the library, and he has only once reached for a book to help with his daily query.

Elmo--the lovable, wide-eyed Muppet with a thirst for knowledge and an ultrasensitive funny bone, universally adored by toddlers and preschoolers--first appeared on PBS's Sesame Street in 1979, but it wasn't until the infamous Tickle Me Elmo doll of the mid-1990s that he became a superstar. Elmo currently hosts an entire segment of Sesame Street called "Elmo's World." Along with his pet goldfish, he sets out to discover some useful information about his chosen topic. Like a reference librarian, Elmo guides his students through the research process. Let's say he's thinking about games today. First, he'll show images or examples of several different kinds of games. Then, he asks a grown-up for help. Good job, Elmo! But wait, he asked Mr. Noodle, a mime of dubious scholarship.

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Subsequently, Elmo will say he wants to learn more, so he'll try the games channel on TV. (The amusing thing is, in this age of hundreds of cable channels, he very likely could find one dedicated entirely to games.) After he has gathered wisdom from the boob tube, he sometimes receives a video e-mail from a fellow Muppet. Generally, these correspondents, like Bert and Ernie, offer no real insight into the matter at hand, and Elmo moves on to yet another resource.

As a mom who has worked in two college libraries, I am astounded by Elmo's methodology (and I'm only half-kidding). Considering all the new societal pressure for "bath-book-bed," reading aloud, and infant-toddler early literacy programs, why does PBS allow Elmo to proliferate such poor intellectual habits? …