Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Guiding the Library Search by the English Teacher

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Guiding the Library Search by the English Teacher

Article excerpt


There is currently little professional literature for high school English teachers teaching their own students how to use an online catalog. Based on my conversations with library staff, scholarly research into the subject, and my own experience, most "information literacy" articles are aimed at the trained librarian, the information specialist. For example, in the academic database Library Literature and Info Science Full Text, one finds that there are only 11 articles, using the key words "teaching" and "high school" and "English." Other subject/keyword combinations produce little else relevant to English teacher search ability, and one even finds that the English teacher may be considered a junior partner to the "Teacher Librarian," (O'Sullivan, p. 5) the actual school librarian conducting classes for students.

English teachers need their own information literacy, the ability to use online databases skillfully to gather data quickly, accurately, and relevantly. This skill is a supplement - not a replacement - to the certified librarian. Librarians offer full lectures, but on a tight schedule; English teachers can initiate brief in-class sessions to help students to be "better searchers." Teachers can build their own information literary skill, pass them on as the class engages in literature searches and writing projects. Effective search strategy will help students get pertinent information quicker, allowing for more time to be spent on the writing of term papers. Search skills can be used in the student's home, at a personal computer, if the student logs into the school library. The result will be a student who absorbs sound search strategy, what it takes to make a faster, complete search, when preparing an argument for the paper.

Below is a sample search at the Guyer High School Library in Denton, Texas.

  This multi-word strategy, which can be used at any
  catalog, requires "subject" and "keyword" searching.
  Teachers should emphasize that a search can be narrowed
  quickly once the student identifies the correct subject
  area and prime words that needs to be searched.
  Many researchers, including, O'Sullivan, argue
  for this dual approach:

Using the keywords/search terms from their research question, the teacher librarian stresses the importance of developing a comprehensive, dynamic list of related keywords or synonyms, and in identifying the appropriate subject headings for the key concepts in their research question. (p. 7)

Bastone and others have recognized the need for students to go beyond simple "keyword" searching, those with inconclusive or overwhelming results (numerically, that is). I prefer encouraging the subject heading strategy for students' "critical thinking skills" (Bastone, p. 10), speeding up and improving the search, but the search style is yours to make.

A high school English teacher should be able to teach the following 10 step, 10-minute mini-session, either as a prelude to a formal class with a librarian or as a reminder to class after a basic but formal introduction has been given. Notice that the emphasis is on isolating the subject heading by using an initial keyword search. In the instance below, students are taught to research literary theory, in particular, critics who have written about an author, including Hawthorne, from a documented perspective.

The quick search method can be demonstrated by an overhead connected to the Internet within the classroom, a technology that most high schools have today. Note that the teacher will go through a number of connected sets, repeating, reviewing and even reversing, allowing students to build research skills slowly. Materials should be located as circulating or reference, emphasizing the accessibility of material in either case.

1) The search begins at the Guyer Library Home Page, located at the following site, http://www.dentonisd. …

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