This is my first fall semester as an academic librarian (I was a special librarian for about fifteen years, though I worked mainly in institutes in universities). Therefore it’s my first time meeting and teaching large numbers of beginning graduate students and putting my convictions about personal knowledge management to use in the graduate library instruction classroom.
I have been fortunate that most faculty who have invited me into their classes have accepted my proposals about how to work with students. Since I am the librarian who works with graduate students in humanities and social sciences, my first goal is to ensure that they recognize me as their personal contact in the library, and that they know how to get in touch and what I can do for them
If I have an hour and a half or two one hour sessions with them, I divide it into two parts, with the first emphasizing preparation: the personal knowledge management ecosystem and defining a search strategy. The second part consists of looking at databases and sample searches. ( If I have three hours, it’s usually because the department has asked me to talk about how to incorporate source material properly – which they often have labeled plagiarism).
In the first part, I have time (though barely) to talk about the chaos of thinking about research – how our brains don’t neatly wall off time for thinking about intellectual projects from the grocery shopping from getting ready for a conference with little Veronica’s teacher or trying to remember everything you have to discuss with the doctor this morning. (I have often sold this to the professor as citation management program, but at this point I am usually getting new interest). Once we’re searching a database, we often find material that is of general interest to us, or might be useful for another project, though not necessarily for this one. So we need a way to save that, possibly with some attached reflections we will want to remember later – but without disturbing our current workflow too much (ah, now I’ve really got the professor’s attention; there’s no one who hasn’t had this happen).
I ask people how they manage their workflow. With some, it’s color-coded note cards and highlighters – but sometimes, like earlier this week, someone is using Evernote and RefWorks or another citation manager. It’s very effective if there’s a student available to talk about how to use EverNote or OneNote to organize their research, and to describe how to use a citation manager!
When I introduce the subject of mapping, I can show them mapping subject terms, but I can also use a mind map to help them plot out a research project. This one uses space on the left for their library research plan, and space on the right for an outline of the paper:
Generally, I stop this session at this point. We have covered the general idea of the messiness of research, some tools for taming the chaos, and the steps that constitute a strategy. In the next part, we will actually look at library databases and how to use them.
So far, the reaction has been positive. However, I will follow these students, especially those in cohort programs, and hope to have the chance to assess the effectiveness in some more concrete way later in their programs.