Understanding Information: Typography of Sources
My colleague Nicole and I debuted a new-old lesson plan for an information literacy workshop last night, and it went great.
What I mean by “new-old” is that we were reviving an activity we had used before but had moved away from. It’s pretty simple, and I’m sure other librarians have used ideas like it before. We provide the students with a physical secondary source and ask them to identify it as either popular, scholarly, practitioner, or reference, with a chart to help them take notes and give them clues as to what to look for. Students are usually pretty good at identifying reference items, but the line between popular and scholarly, and the line between scholarly and practitioner, can blur significantly in an academic library collection.
After we go through group discussions about their physical items, we go through a series of online sources, to make the point that this same breakdown can work online as well as off and help students identify the best uses of different online information sources. We use a mix of screenshots of items that relate to their course’s syllabus (yesterday’s subject was 17th-18th century Caribbean slavery), starting with Wikipedia (always worth a short discussion), to online articles, to the NY Times, to websites of … shall we say, dubious quality. We like to make the distinction that type (popular, scholarly, etc.) is distinct from quality, and each type of item has a valid role to play in the research process.
What made this “new-old” instead of old-old was a much smoother, more polished presentation, with good prompts for classroom discussion, visually appealing slides (using cc-licensed images from flickr user peacay and deviantart user merayuyanik), and the good fortune of a lively classroom of intellectually engaged students. The arrival of fall — and thousands more students, course sections, and a bigger mix of lesson plans — can’t come soon enough. We’re ready.