Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ask the Masses: Print Resources

Nicole asks: 

How do you handle instructors who require students to have at least 1/3 of their sources not from any electronic source - so no ebooks, even if the text is the same as a print book in the library? This drives me crazy.


  1. Yes! This can be all kinds of frustrating.

    If we’re doing library instruction with their classes I try to meet with the professor, or at least contact via email or phone a few different times, to clarify what their desired learning objectives are for the session. This allows me to 1) get a better feel for the expectations of the assignment, 2) prepare my lesson plan, 3) help students when the come back later for assistance. If I know, or have learned through having met with the prof, that they have a history of making the type of restriction you mention in your question, I’ll do my best to “sneak in the vegetables” during meetings and conversations about the nature of resources and how electronic journals and ebooks are the same content and have been through the same vetting and review process as their print versions. This usually works, and if they have trouble understanding you could pull a print journal and then pull up the e-copy of the article to show how they are identical.

    The hardest part is when a student comes in and you've not been able to visit with the professor about the requirements. At that point, you’re kind of stuck helping the students track down the original print.

    If you ever get the chance to do faculty development sessions or departmental trainings with professors, this might be something you could include in your session, to help “train” them before they even create or assign the projects. If their research expectations for students are overwhelmingly unrealistic, you might call them and set up a one-on-one session with them to “learn more about their research interests” or “see how the collection is meeting the needs of their class” or “meet to discuss and purchase recommendations they might have” or something along those lines....and then sneak in those ebook or electronic journal article “vegetables” by sharing the electronic resources with them and explaining their scholarly nature (in addition to listening to the types of materials they’d like to have the library purchase, or whatever it was that you were originally talking about).

    Just a couple of ideas, but I understand your frustration, Nicole!

  2. That's a really great question. My first suggestion would be to talk with the instructor. I wonder about the instructor's motivation in requiring this? Is he or she hoping to get the students to actually engage with locating books on the shelf? Or is it simply because they want the students to use something beyond websites?

    Opening up this conversation with the instructor might allow you to explain your frustration. Is the root of your distress the fact that your library (or the world in general) lack reliable print resources on this topic? Is it because students don't understand that "no internet" doesn't mean "no library databases?" Or that, in fact, it does mean that?? Is it because multiple students are researching the same topic and will be fighting over the same 2 print sources? Or is it that 98% of what you own for periodicals is online-only?

    I can understand the frustration that instructors require "a book" source for topics that don't lend themselves to that type of publishing. Or when they require print simply because that is how they used to have to do it.

    If the conversation doesn't help alleviate your stress, or change the requirement, or open the instructor's eyes to your concerns, maybe try having the instructor find what he or she would deem acceptable print sources. I wonder if once they put themselves in their students shoes if they will see the problem.

  3. Perhaps a presentation at a faculty in-service could help?

    I have had somewhat of the reverse issue - many adjuncts who don't know what the library offers and don't pay (much) attention to the resources students are using.

    To combat this I ask to speak at faculty in-services at least a couple times a year. This helps new adjuncts know what is available through the library and keeps current faculty up-to-date with resources. Since I've started doing this it has peaked their interest and knowledge about the library.

    Maybe you could pitch a presentation about changes in publishing and academic resources. This could encourage the faculty to start the discussion among themselves and perhaps implement acceptance of reliable eResources more organically?

  4. This is more reference than instruction specific, but we have recently had a class that was required to find paper copies of journal articles. As you can imagine, this turns into a chase for an article that we have in paper rather than an article that answers the student's question. Our reference department discusses these sort of questions a lot, so it helps us identify the problem and in many cases, which class/instructor has the assignment. In this case, the subject librarian contacted the instructor who insisted on keeping the requirement, but we haven't seen it in a while.

    I have also found that some instructors aren't clear about what they mean by non-web sources so that students end up thinking that they can't use an online article. In those cases, usually talking to the instructor can clear up the confusion. I think sometimes even having the conversation about why they have the requirement would help clarify the situation.

  5. Great question & wonderful conversation. I have definitely run into this. Typically it's because the faculty are trying to control source quality (use scholarly sources) in an artificial way by telling students to use print. They are equating the format with the quality.

    If I do get a chance to do instruction, I ask the students "why use only print?" so they respond in the instructor's hearing. Often asking students to interpret the assignment in front of the instructor helps them see what students get or don't get. And of course I show them how to find the electronic stuff because I play "dumb" & assume scholarly sources are ok regardless of format. Then the instructor hears me say "this stuff is exactly the same as the peer-reviewed scholarly journals we used to get in print. We get them online now." :)

    If I don't get a chance to do instruction, I work through this one-on-one as best I can and ensure that the other reference staff know what to expect. I then follow up with the instructor to see if we can work together to facilitate the assignment in the future, using language like "the library resources that will best help students with this assignment have changed". Blame it on the resources, not on yourself. :)

    Adjunct instructors are particularly difficult to reach. I made a research guide to help. Feel free to borrow any language from it: