A history teacher from Leon High School brought two of his classes in to work on their History Fair projects for three hours on Monday and Tuesday this week. These are our busiest weekdays normally, so we had to make an extra effort to meet their needs, but it really was great for us.
We were able to introduce them to all the resources the library has to offer: how to use a non-fiction book with table of contents, notes, bibliography and index; how to use the Reader's Guide to Periodicals to find articles in bound volumes of newsweeklies; how to use microfilm newspaper archives. They were in awe of the microfilm viewers, exclaiming as they read original news coverage of current events from forty and fifty years ago. I've been using reference skills all my life, but here were research "newbies" who honestly didn't know what an index was for. Yes, children, indexes are way cool!
In these days of full-text keyword searching in databases and Google Books searches, many students were frustrated trying to use our catalog. Getting no results searching for "Shay's Rebellion", for example, doesn't mean the library doesn't have anything at all on the subject, only that there are no books in the collection wholly devoted to it. Library catalog title records contain only the briefest of descriptors as to a book's contents. I spent a lot of time showing them how to look in books with a broader scope for chapters on their topics, from Nixon's "Ping-Pong Diplomacy" to the Boston Tea Party to the history of school desegregation in Florida.
It was an exhausting reference workout, but I'm glad they came. It was so good to see them working on their projects, and to be asked for help with library research skills. And to give the library due credit, not once did a student go away empty-handed! The collection was able to supply their needs in every case.