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    Research and Information: 3 Credits, 2 Librarians, 1 Class

    by Rebecca Feind, Reference Librarian

    Honors 300H, Research and Information, has existed as an honors seminar for many years.  Previously, Lynn Cameron taught this course for several years.  I began teaching it in the Spring of 1999.  I’ve taught it every spring semester since then, team-teaching it with my colleague Kathy Clarke this semester. 

    The class is aimed at Honors students in their junior year, as honors students in the junior class are required to submit a thesis proposal in early April.  The main project in the class is to develop an annotated bibliography of 30 items on a particular subject.   Juniors enrolled in the class can use the process of compiling a bibliography to help select and narrow a thesis topic.  The class is open to all students in the Honors Program, and I have had classes with a range of freshman, sophomores, and seniors mixed in with the juniors.    This creates a nice setting for some intra-class dialogue among these students, with seniors able to give some advice on their process and progress of their final projects.  Freshman and sophomores in the class can use the annotated bibliography project to explore a topic of interest, which may help them select a thesis topic later or simply give them a chance to study a subject of interest.

    Part of a librarian’s job at a university Public Services Desk is to teach—we show people how to use reference materials so they can find the information they need.   Teaching at the Public Services Desk often has the feel of a ‘teachable’ moment.  The setting is one-on-one, and it is occurring, usually, at the point the person is ready and willing to learn a new skill.  Having the chance to teach a semester length class to a group requires me to think about teaching in a different way.  How will I keep the attention of sixteen people for sixteen weeks?  How can I make sure they leave the class with a working knowledge of the major reference tools for their subjects?  It’s a fine line between being naturally enthusiastic about reference sources and keeping my rhapsodizing about databases and encyclopedias from spilling over into dangerously geeky territory.  Fortunately, most of the students willing to sign up for a sixteen week class on research methods are pretty tolerant of professors who extol the virtues of subject headings. 

    Besides teaching students the tools and the skills to use those tools, I also insist that they learn this mantra:  Research is a process.  To illustrate this, I have them read the introduction to Susan Davis’s book Spectacular Nature (Berkeley: University of California Press, c1997), where she explains how her dissertation topic evolved.  I assign excerpts from Joan Bolker’s Writing Your Dissertation In Fifteen Minutes A Day (New York: H. Holt, 1998) to get them thinking about the relationship between researching a topic and writing about it.  To get them to think about their own level of process and to keep track of how their bibliography topic evolves, they write weekly journal entries. 

    Team teaching this class has been an inspiring development.  Kathy and I have taught the class separately, and we often worked together on planning the projects and syllabi.  Now that we are in the classroom together, the students get the benefit of her knowledge of social sciences research and my skills with humanities.  They also get to appreciate Multiple Librarian Personalities, through lectures such as:  Developing Your Inner Skeptic (Me) and Getting In Touch with Your Alternative Press Reader (Kathy). 

    If you are interested in learning more about our approach to teaching research methods to undergraduate honors students in a seminar setting, you can e-mail us for a syllabus or look at two of the sources we use: 

    Fink, Deborah.  Politics and Process in Library Research:  a model for course design.  Chicago:  ALA, 1989.

    Mann, Thomas.  The Oxford Guide to Library Research.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1998. 

    E-mail comments and questions to:
    leidinrm@jmu.edu

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