Thursday, November 20, 2008

Okay Class, this is a Book

There is an old Yiddish saying: "Az muh leibt derleibt min"--If you live long enough you live through everything/see everything. Last night in school I had one of those "living through" moments.

I teach a unit on Research/Internet research to my classes. Yes, most of them can do a rudimentary search of the Internet, but not all of them. In concert with the whole world out there, if you tell them to research something they tend to head directly to Google or Yahoo, read the first page or maybe even the second page and that constitutes their search. I hopefully expose them to other venues and approaches. As part of the unit I give the students questions they have to research and I take them down to our library and computer labs to supervise their search and serve as a trouble shooter when needed.

Last night was our in-library research period. Unfortunately, twelve minutes before class was due to start our school Internet connection went going, going, gone. I'm fairly sure that my students were overjoyed; after all, without the Internet how were they going to do any research. Clearly class would have to be cancelled. I began by pointing out that we were in a library--you know, a place with books in it. And for many of the questions the sources for the answers were sitting right there on the shelves. You should have seen their faces. "You want us to look in a book?!" was frequently heard.

For the two librarians and I the hour that followed was one filled with more than a trace of irony, not to mention more than a little hilarity. Faced with books some of my students were suddenly "overwhelmed" with how they were to find all the answers they needed. One student came to me with one of his questions and asked what type of book he could find the answer in. I answered "an encyclopedia" and pointed him to the reference section of the library. Less than a minute later he called out to me "How do you use this thing?" So in November of 2008 I found myself explaining what an index and alphabetical order was. I found myself pointing out to more than one student where in a book they could find the publication and copyright material. I found myself explaining what an atlas was and how you could find information in it. And yes, I even had to explain a print dictionary to one student. I had more than a few students grousing that doing research this way was so old fashioned. That's when I found myself pointing out that much of the material on the Internet is there because there is actual printed material that came first.

One student came to me rather excitedly after only about 1/2 hour of class had elapsed. He had already answered 9 out of the 10 questions he was researching, and all out of one source: an encyclopedia. He was so excited.

For those of us of a certain age it is sometimes easy to forget that our younger generations are growing up in a world that is different substantially from the one we grew up in. Which of us did not have a printed dictionary in our possession growing up? I'd say that less than half of my students own such a dictionary. I mentioned to one of the librarians that today gives new meaning to cuddling up with an apple and a book; for some of my students that is cuddling up with an Apple and an e-book.

But I did notice one thing last night; when introduced to the wonders of the printed page most of them caught right on and figured out how to use the books. Nonetheless, it was a strange night as new and old came together. Fairness makes me add that a few of the students were right at home in the library and had no trouble using this "old" technology. And at least one student shared my mirth at some of the comments and queries that were forthcoming.

Yup, if you live long enough you see everything.

Note: I'm also posting a piece by Heathorn dealing with just this subject that some of you might enjoy reading.


Anonymous said...

I love books and libraries. I even asked for a dictionary for my chanuka present last year. However, it is soooo much easier doing research for papers online.

Anonymous said...

Oy! Better you then me to have to reintroduce books. Even my four year old heads to my office and the computer when he wants to find something out.

Anonymous said...

My grandmother gave me a book from my aunt's journalist days. It was called something like "Research Made Simple" and chapter by chapter, it went through resources for researchers.

Though I've grown up with dictionaries and atlases at home and loved flipping through the Britannica in the elementary school library, the book was still an eye-opener.

I learned about this thing published every year called an Index. Just books and books that index journals and magazines. This was invaluable for me in a history paper, when we had to find reviews of a history book as part of our evaluation of its accuracy. My classmates were completely lost, as one of the books was published in 1925!

I learned about this thing called microfilm, which really exists outside of novels. It's where these journals and magazines are stored, so you can have years and years worth on a single roll. This came in handy when I needed to compare short stories in The New Yorker and The Saturday Evening Post. It was also fun to read the ads from 60 and 80 years ago and see that the same scams just keep getting repeated.

It also listed some resources that are no longer in existence, like a national office of public records, where you can drop in an sift through copious government copy. Now you need to order what you need online.

There's a wonderful world of non-internet resources out there. It's a pity so few know about them.

G said...

I weep for the future.

Anonymous said...

Just curious as to what kind of questions you have your students researching. Are they all questions that deal with English?

Anonymous said...

There is a whole world of information out there that you can only find in print form and that doesn't appear on the Internet or that appears only after it's been around in print for quite a while. If you rely only on the Internet you are getting a really narrowed view of what is available.

Anonymous said...

Honestly you could not pay me enough to become a teacher today. Would be willing to bet that they don't pay you enough either.

Ookamikun said...

You gotta explain it in terms they understand. For example, at the end of the book, there's a sitemap, which in the old day we called an index. ;-)

Lion of Zion said...

most of the research in my program was done online. but occasionally a journal was only available in hard copy. my classmates generally just pretended they didn't know about that reference because they refused to go to the periodicals room and fill out a call slip. if it's not online they simply didn't care.

personally i love printed books and they are big part of my life, both vocationally and--much to my wife's chagrin--avocationally

Anonymous said...

Great post. I encounter the exact same problem with my students. One of them had to write a paper on Bar Kochba. He was Googeling until his finger tips hurt, and finally chose Wikipedia as his basic source. After 20 minutes, I couldn't stop myself, took him to the bookshelves and pointed out a thick biography of Bar Kochba. He looked at me with big eyes, saying: "I am not going to read this book! It's all out there on the internet!" How saw. Especially when you realize that we are all responsible for bringing up this literary deprived generation.

Anonymous said...

Frumteacher: I had a similar experience with one of my kids about two years ago. He had to do an in-depth report on Abraham Lincoln. I figured it would be quite easy - the Civil War section in my County's main library branch (I browse :)) contains literally hundreds of books (about 20 ft of 8ft shelving). But alas, after several hours of searching online, all he found were variations of summaries of Lincoln's life. FINALLY, he agreed to go to the small local library branch. Lo, and behold, they had dozens of books on Lincoln. So he grabs a couple that are promising and easily finds the information he needs to complete his report.

Libraries. Who knew?


Lion of Zion said...


"Especially when you realize that we are all responsible for bringing up this literary deprived generation."

it's not neccesarily just the younger generation. many "older" people--i'm not going to get into trouble by defining that demographic more specifically--also assume that all information is now available online. i do historical/bibliographic research for a living. when i explain to people specifically what it is that i do, very often they remark, "oh, but isn't everything on the internet anyway?" they simply don't beleive that in the 21st century i still have to spend time in the dusty, dark library stacks. (although i have to say that i am becoming more impressed with what is now available online.)