Library Orientation 3.0: Welcome to the Scholarly Conversation

Library Orientation 3.0: Welcome to the Scholarly Conversation 

By Smita Avasthi   (Santa Rosa Junior College)

Like many librarians, I have been grappling with ACRL’s framework. For the past 2 years, I have been introducing these concepts in one-shots, and I find I always return to the idea that scholarship is a conversation. I’d like to share why I think this frame resonates with community college students, particularly if they are unfamiliar with academic culture.

During a presentation about cultural awareness, I was struck by the observation that academic “introductions” emphasize physical or digital environments; however, the greater source of confusion for our students has been the introduction into a new cultural environment. They are strangers in a strange land; of course, they feel lost or even bewildered by college expectations.

Because of the dearth of librarians in California high schools, most students are deeply unaware of the breadth of resources available to them. Additionally, they are accustomed to operating with the text provided by the instructor; if asked to find supplemental information, a website will generally suffice.

The nature of assignments changes drastically when they enter a college-level class, and students are flummoxed by the open parameters of college-level work. Even if an instructor provides a rubric, students do not understand what they are supposed to produce. They stumble through the assignment, hoping for the best.

I believe this dynamic can be disrupted when we introduce the notion that scholarship is a conversation. First-year college students assume there is only one member of their audience: their teacher. And, as long as students define their audience narrowly, they see an essay assignment as an exercise instead of an opportunity to explore their ideas.

Once students realize they are contributing to an ongoing dialogue about a topic, however, they begin to understand the open-ended nature of college research assignments. There isn’t a singular answer they need to seek out; rather, they have been asked to add their perspective to a large conversation. And, depressingly, this may be the first time they have been expected to take their ideas seriously.

The exploration and development of ideas is, of course, central to scholarly research. When we adopt the framework, we position ourselves as experts in scholarly practices. If we use orientations to introduce students to the practice of research, we give them a cultural context for their work. Our orientations, then, are not about the physical layout of the library or the virtual layout of a research interface; instead, they orient students in the unfamiliar landscape of academia.

I believe this frame resonates with students precisely because it provides an introduction to academic culture. The introduction to academic culture will impact students more than a demonstration of a research interface. Community college students, in particular, are unclear about academic norms, and librarians have unique insight into scholarly practices. Let’s use these insights to provide a new kind of library orientation.