I love doing research consultations with students. I take pleasure in helping them narrow broad topics that could sustain six dissertations into reasonable research morsels for 10 and 20 page papers or successful Division III independent projects.
How do students go from topics that can sustain six dissertations to topics appropriate for a senior project or 20 page research paper? Often, students can begin to narrow and refine their topics once they do some reading. However, one of the persistent roadblocks students encounter during this phase is how to find the first source they need to address their topic. I find that for many students, finding the first *relevant* source is always the hardest part.
To surmount that obstacle, one of my common recommendations is for students to pick a reading from their course syllabus and look it up in the library catalog – or in an article databases like JStor or Project Muse – to see what the subject headings and/or the keywords are. Then, the student can click on the most relevant word or heading and voila, instant sources!
But locating that interesting reading from the syllabus and remembering which saved pdf it was on the cluttered desktop can be a challenge for many students in the age of the learning management system. When I was in college ten years ago, I read from the trusty course pack, a giant set of readings that I kept in one place and could easily reference. These days, many students download readings to their desktops; some do so with an organizational scheme, others without one. Watching students deal with information overload these past few semesters, I started thinking about how their course readings, research, the LMS, and Zotero could intersect in powerful ways to empower students to successfully manage research over the course of semesters.
This year, I am very excited to be on a Kahn Liberal Arts Institute short project called “From HyperCities to Big Data and #ALT-AC: Debated in the Digital Humanities.” As part of the project, the organizers assigned participants reading that we could download from Smith College’s LMS. Great! I could download the pdfs to Dropbox, open them in iBooks and read. Then I realized that if I did that, these pdfs would just live in the pdf graveyard that is my iBooks library on my iPad. Many of the readings were excerpts, decontextualized for their full citations in the library. How could I connect the citations to the excerpt so I could easily keep track of both?
So, I saved the citations from Moodle into Zotero, downloaded the pdfs to Dropbox, attached them to the citations in Zotero, read and annotated PDFs on my iPad. Great!
Which got me thinking about students and research. I evangelize about Zotero in my research education classes about using it to collect and manage citations for research projects. But what about using it to manage their coursework, too? That way, when prompted for an example of a class reading that resonated, that could put them on the path towards successful source gathering, they could have it right there in the library?
I know for me, keeping professional reading I do in Zotero, always on the ready to generate bibliographies to share with colleagues has been a boon to productivity and my personal knowledge management. Now, to evangelize about this workflow for managing course assets!
Along with Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College is one of five colleges in the Five College Consortium in the Pioneer Valley. Students enrolled in any of the five schools can take courses at the other campuses, and can borrow books from the other colleges. As a Five College graduate, I took advantage of the reciprocal lending agreements frequently during my undergraduate and graduate years in the Valley. Now, as a professional librarian at Hampshire, I work closely with my colleagues across the Valley on a number of different projects, usability questions, and topics in the digital humanities. While these collaborative relationships have nearly a forty year history in the Five Colleges and enjoy institutional support and strength, I want to talk about an informal – and sometimes invisible – consortium of librarians across higher education, a fellowship that exists on Twitter and through relationships forged through programs like Immersion and at national and regional conferences.
As academic librarians tackle difficult the questions of how to support students in online environments, how to promote open access and new forms of scholarly communication, and how to collect for a twenty-first century library, they should not despair; while looking to colleagues at home institutions for support, they should also look towards other librarians across the profession for support, to act as a sounding board, for information, for advice. In the last few months alone, I’ve gone to Twitter for collection development questions, a colleague in New York City about digital directions in science, and joined the Program Committee for ISIS, a decentralized online community of technologists and librarians. Twenty-first century librarians are better together; collectively we can tackle the challenges that lie ahead at our home instituions, during webinars, through crowdsourced conversations on social media, and at conferences. Together, we can.
“I can tell you that the days of white, wealthy, upper-class students from prep schools in cashmere coats and pearls who marry Amherst men are over. This is unfortunate because it is this demographic that puts their name on buildings, donates great art and subsidizes scholarships.”
“The Good Old Days” revived at Bill’s Gay Nineties-ad from ca. 1940 via the Menden Collection, the Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College.
The title of this post brazenly repurposed from Smith College’s Archives Concentration’s program flyers seen around their fine campus.
Sun at my back, reading journals.
“Grind Room” in Neilson Library in 1926; it was an early form of an information commons so ubiquitous in today’s libraries. The room was originally located on the 2nd floor, north side of the Library (towards the campus center), where those long windows brought in much loved sunlight. Today, the stacks of the North Wing of the library take up the space.
Important: those coats, those light fixtures. The perfect room, minus the unacceptable lack of grinding going on.
This is my dream space for collaborative study space with moveable furniture, room to move around, and sunlight! #libday8
Always the Gates, alma mater, Smith College.