28 May 2009

Why do we cite?

I spend a lot of time talking over the last three weeks talking about citation and documentation with faculty. What is it that we want our students to be attentive to: correctly identifying and attributing someone else's idea or citing a source correctly. Don't get me wrong. Both are important. But in the grand scheme of things, I am more interested in talking to students about documentation, attribution, plagiarism, and intellectual integrity than talking to them about MLA or APA. Styles seem like the cherry on top (did I just equate citation styles to the cherry on a sundae...I did. That happened.)

I guess this is where I remember arguments in ontology and want to parse our what we mean by citations and documentation.

Here's a first go:

Documenting is really about giving credit where credit is due. This is a tough one for students who are just starting out and I think that is worth really thinking about. It's difficult to remember what an 18 year old who is new to college, let alone college writing or research, is taking in on any given day or assignment. At times, I wonder if the expectations we make for students in their first year assignments are truly setting them up for success. When it comes to documentation, the key point is that a student can identify an idea as their own or as someone else's that they are building on. It is, essentially, providing evidence.
This gets into why do you provide evidence and how.

Now we get into citations.

The real question is why do we really cite anything?

The answer that I’d like to advocate for is that citations are the most consistent way of sharing information. We cite because we have information we see as worth sharing. Citations aren’t just to prove your point. They aren’t even about being a part of the scholarly community. With so much information in the world, it’s about SHARING that piece, that piece that did something you wanted, needed, or made you think. That piece that stood out. That piece that was relevant and valuable to the questions and issues you are exploring.

Once we have a handle on what needs to be cited and why it should be cited, then we can get to that final layer: how we cite it. APA, MLA, AMA, IEEE. In the end, the important thing is that the information is findable. All key components are present.

This is my philosophy on citations and documentation. To my way of thinking, there is not a real good reason to teach one style over another. Students are using web-based citation tools whether we like it or not (more on our hunt for one of those in a forthcoming post.) There is a good reason though to talk to students about why it is an important thing to do. There is a good reason to talk to students about what they can get from these "stupid citations". Perhaps we could bring it back to the most basic of lessons: sharing. We are sharing information with one another every day in many different ways. Citations are a way to do it in writing so I can FIND what you found.

And then comes the hard part: teaching this in the classroom. Any ideas?

05 May 2009

Back in Action, Taking Action

I am back from vacation and putting on my ACRL Legislative Advocate hat. This is a call to action by any of you librarians, educators, or concerned citizens out there to get in touch with your Senators to ask for their support of the Library Services and Technology Act. (Find their contact info here).

Please contact your Senators and ask them to sign the "Dear Colleague" letter being circulated by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI)
and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) in support of funding for the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries Program.

The Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) is the only federal funding program exclusively for libraries. LSTA offers a variety of competitive grants available to librarians: The 21st Century Librarians Program; The National Leadership Grants; and the Native American Library Services: Enhancement Grants. Around the country, knowledgeable librarians use the flexible LSTA funding to help patrons access essential information on a wide range of topics. They offer training on résumé development; help on web searches of job banks; workshops on career information; links to essential educational and community services; assistive devices for people with disabilities; family and youth literacy classes and services; homework help and mentoring programs; access to government information; a forum for enhanced civic engagement; summer reading programs and much more. These are essential for libraries survival in these challenging economic times when our communities need library services all the more. LSTA funds help libraries provide persons of limited financial resources or who live in remote areas, access to books and reference materials, computers and the internet, and community-based social services that are often available nowhere else.

The deadline for supporting this legislation is MAY 14th!

While I did the normal thing of sending an email and filling in an online form asking for Senator Sanders and Senator Leahy's support for this legislation, I also called their offices. And let me tell you that the response I received was encouraging, friendly, and supportive. The people I spoke to appreciated my taking the time to call rather than just email. They appreciated my having some information at hand (like the deadline). So do what you can, put if you can pick up a phone as well as send a message, THANK YOU!