Reference Desk Observation – Part 4

It’s the day before the school’s Halloween and the school is definitely alive with energy. In the library, students keep running in to tell Ms. Smith what their costume will be because she’s offered a prize to the student with the most creative literature-inspired costume: a $10 gift certificate donated by the local Dunkin Donuts.

Ms. Smith, in the meantime, is working on her budget for next year which is due in to the school board by December 1st. She explained that in order to order any new materials, all orders needed to be anticipated the year before.  She may not need specific titles in mind but she has to allocate funds specifically for purchasing materials. She keeps a suggestion box where both students and faculty can request titles or materials. She uses these suggestions to build her collection and ensure that it’s up to date in terms of what her patrons want or need.

While we were discussing budget, a number of students came in, all mostly looking to see if the library had specific titles or authors. Ms. Smith told me that about 90% of the reference questions she gets from students is about the availability of books. The remaining 10% is about getting fast answers to homework questions. In both cases, Ms. Smith strives to teach rather than tell.

This led us to a pretty intense discussion about web instruction and the importance of teaching kids both safe surfing and the value of understanding how to evaluate websites. Ms. Smith is presenting at the next ALA conference with a number of her peers on specific lesson plans that they use to teach such skills. One of her favorite lessons is to have a class edit Wikipedia entries by placing random words in the article and then check to see how long it takes before the article is corrected. This really illustrates to students why it’s not necessarily a good thing that anyone can edit these entries. She said it once took over a month for someone to take the word “dog” out of an article on botany. Once the kids complete the project, most really begin to use better sources, using pathfinders in the library for guidance.

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