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Teaching Research to First-Year Students: Student Perspective

How First Year Students See the Library & Academic Research

Here are some of the common knowledge gaps we see among first-year students. This is by no means a criticism of incoming students - this list simply indicates the work that we all need to undertake to help students do research well.

1. Students have little previous exposure to scholarly writing, so they often lack familiarity with processes and conventions that we assume are basic. In general, they... 

  • are unfamiliar with the formats (journals & journal articles, edited volumes, scholarly books, etc.) that  scholars commonly use to communicate ideas.

  • struggle to discern differences between sources written for a general audience (magazines, books written for lay readers) & sources written for scholars.

  • don't intuitively grasp that citations reflect a broader scholarly conversation - and they typically have little experience tracking down cited sources - other than in Wikipedia articles.

  • lack familiarity with navigating scholarly sources, including using tables of contents, indexes, and abstracts.


2. Students generally have little exposure to academic libraries and specialized research tools. They... 

  • have little previous exposure to reference books, including why they are useful, and no experience with specialized references such as the Encyclopedia of Religion.

  • lack familiarity with the Library of Congress shelving system used by most academic libraries, and always appreciate learning that books are shelved according to topic.

  • are hesitant to ask for help from reference librarians, either in person or via email.

  • tend to start searches via Google or Google Scholar, bypassing library databases altogether.

  • are confused about how interlibrary loan works (and that it doesn't cost them anything to use it).

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