One of our patrons, who tutors children, was talking about kids last night and how she has noticed that kids really don’t know how to research anything anymore. In past generations, before the computer age, we were all taught in school about doing research in our library. Part of the problem here is not just the invention of the internet, but the lack of librarians in schools now (and access to the library in school). Who is going to give instruction to our children when librarians are really only in many schools now just to catalog books? Teachers can only do so much with their limited access to libraries, so it is up to librarians in public libraries now to help young people learn how to research. And it involves using the internet, but so much more than that.
With the age of the internet, information is now so easily accessible through Google and other search engines that children rarely think to use books to find information for projects and such. But we’ve all heard the warning that you can’t trust everything you read online, and if you think of it, this is a warning that is not really necessary when it comes to books. Sure, there are probably many books out there with very inaccurate information, but you probably wouldn’t come across an entire book written about a false subject that wouldn’t have warnings or some explanation regarding the use of the false subject matter. (We could debate this, of course, but you get the general idea.)
I was thinking about this when I ran across a great site called The SurRural Librarian, written by a rural, small-town librarian in Vermont. She is a jack-of-all-trades at her library, performing every task such as cataloging, research, internet instruction and basically anything else that her school requires. Each year, she provides an interesting class to the students in her school which requires them to really think about the information that is available on the internet. She researches and comes up with a list of sites that could be real or could be false. They all look VERY real, no matter the subject, and the children are asked to use their knowledge and research skills to determine if the sites are real or not. And some are very tricky. (You can see a complete list of the sites here.)
For example, which of these sites are real and which are fake?
Republic of Molossia
Buy Dehydrated Water
If you couldn’t tell, you aren’t alone. And if you couldn’t tell, how are children doing research supposed to tell a real site from something fake? It makes teaching our children how to do research online more difficult. That doesn’t mean that kids should stop using the internet altogether when it comes to school work, but they also have to become a bit savvy in order to be able to make sure their facts are real when they really do sit down to research.
So what are we to do as a community of libraries to help our children research more accurately?