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 for middle school and high school students to learn how to find information in the library. In my youth going to the school library in the beginning of the school year we would get a long speech from the librarian about classification numbers and seeing a lot of books. When I started working at the Main Library in 2005, we had modified the speech to also include a tour in the library and 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. They wanted physical distinction between lecture style learning or group work. After synthesizing our interviews, we realized that the students actually wanted a short theoretical overview, and they wanted to spend more time with the librarians, so we double up the time for the courses and we are very aware of teaching styles balancing a lecture from librarians and students actively working together. Our working HMW-question after the process was “How might we improve the student’s reflection skills in their learning process by challenging their acceptance of authority?

From this emerged an approach to participatory teaching. We involve the students by having a dialogue with them - their point of view is our starting point. We wanted them to come to the library, when they actually had to do a project, so they were motivated.

Here is how we modified the program:

Previous Training Agenda
_Searching techniques and relevant databases – based on input from the students and their aim of project plus Google and source criticismTour in the library (how to find materials and a general talk about what is a library)

_Time for individual information searching

New Agenda
_Searching techniques and relevant databases – common case – for example the US Presidential Election, Tour in the library (how to find my material AND a general talk about what is a library)
_Case about Facebook – find the errors and use the advice for source criticism we have come up with together
_About Googles ranking 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 student’s skills/motivation are more for that.)

We extended the duration of the session, because we wanted the students to work more practically with important details. We give small theoretically/inspirationally 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 bit 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