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Improving Information Searching Skills

In Aarhus Public Libraries we offer classes on information seeking. In Danish, it is
called “sigt godt, søg rigtigt,” which translates in English to “point well, search
correctly.” Over several years we have tried different approaches to initiate middle school and high school students into learning about how to find information in the library. In my youth, going to the school library at the beginning of the school year, we would get a long speech from the librarian about classification numbers and then we'd be shown a lot of books. When I started working at the Main Library in 2005, we had modified the speech to include a tour of the library, with students trying to follow the librarian between the bookcases.

While the approach had been somewhat updated, we realized we didn’t have a strong sense of the students’ needs. Instead of just telling them about all the good things libraries can do for them, we decided to shift our focus to involve the students in how to learn the process of seeking and finding information. We used Design Thinking methods to dig deeper. To get started, we went to a local school and interviewed a teacher and two students to learn more about how they search for information.

One student told us that they often just asked their mom whenever they needed
information. In general, we learned that students wanted a physical distinction between lecture-style learning from the librarians and group work amongst themselves. After synthesizing our interviews, we realized that the students actually wanted a short theoretical overview from the librarians and appreciated spending more time with the librarians over all, so we doubled the time allotted for the courses and balanced teaching styles, alternating between a lecture from librarians and students actively working together. Our working HMW-question after the process was “How might we improve the students’ reflection skills in their learning process by challenging their acceptance of authority?”

From this, a participatory teaching approach emerged. We now involve the students by having a dialogue with them—their point of view is our starting point. We want them to come to the library when they actually have to do a project, so they feel motivated.

Here is how we modified the program:

Previous Training Agenda

  • Welcome

  • Tour in the library (how to find materials and a general talk about what a library is)

  • Time for individual information searching

  • Searching techniques and relevant databases – based on input from the students and their project aims, plus Google and source criticism

New Agenda

  • Welcome

  • Searching techniques and relevant databases (using a common case— for example, the U.S. Presidential Election). Tour in the library (how to find my material AND a general talk about what a library is)

  • Case about Facebook: find the errors and use the advice for source criticism we have come up with together

  • Break

  • Info about Google’s rankings, etc. and examples of webpages we have to “analyze” together

  • Time for individual information searching

(Occasionally we modify the program above with a quiz or a QR treasure hunt in the
library, if the students’ skills/motivation are sufficient for that.)

We extended the duration of the session because we wanted the students to work
more practically with important details in mind. We give small theoretical/inspirational
speeches followed by practical cases to improve their reflection. And instead of asking in plenum about their individual projects, we start out with a common case. The students have said they don’t enjoy being in the spotlight.

These small student-driven changes have made a big difference in student engagement. This was a relatively small initial Design Thinking project, but we continue to learn from our students, and it has really improved our course and student engagement.

story by Lisbeth Mærkedahl