Three young women approached the desk. Did the library have any books on "tracking"? I began the reference interview. I learned that they were Education majors at FAMU, that "tracking" is the grouping of students by ability, and that they had not yet tried their university library.
I knew that we would probably not have any books on tracking. As a public library, we do not purchase professional literature or journals. I could have blown them off. But there was something about the one girl, the one who had asked, that told me I must take the plunge, though I felt old and tired today. A teaching moment.
Her two friends burst into laughter. What was so funny?, I asked, wondering if I had made some gaffe. She told me it was nothing I said, something else. They wandered off.
Did she know about ERIC, the Education Resources Information Center? She did not. I turned my LCD so that we could browse together. I thought we might refine our search terms using the ERIC Thesaurus. "Tracking", was an invalid descriptor, use "Track System". Related terms were "Ability Grouping" and "Student Placement".
As we searched, I recalled how ERIC used to be all on microfiche in the basement of the FSU library. You would search the index on microfiche and then view your article on microfiche as well.
I normally limit my ERIC searches to results for the last ten years, but that got me nothing. And we did not, in fact, have any books on the subject.
It seems that tracking has not been an "issue" since the 1990's. I found what looked like a good article at ERIC with a bibliography from 1997, full text online, and a promising web site with tracking resources, which I gave her the links for.
While we were exploring, her friends turned up, wanting to go. "Wait", she said, "he's helping me." I handed her the printouts. She thanked me and rejoined her friends. As she headed down the stairs to leave, she called out, "Thank you again sir!" That was worth more to me than my paycheck.