Q&A with Shannon Ozirny, head of youth services at West Vancouver Memorial Library
What are some of the pros and cons of doing research online?
1. Speed is certainly a big pro, though there is a misconception that all online resources are free and all online resources can be accessed within seconds on Google. Not true. While online research is faster, it still takes time. Settling on search terms, wading through search results and even finding the right database can't be done in a couple of minutes.
2. Access to primary source documents is much improved online. For instance, students can see scanned historical photographs of West Vancouver from 75 years ago on the library's Historical Photograph Collection (digital.westvanlibrary.ca) in an easily searched database right from home instead of coming to the library to scroll through microfilm or wade through filing cabinets.
1. Deciphering authorship can be hard.
2. Quality vs. Quantity: While most online searches will bring a plethora of results, they are not always particularly relevant.
What types of resources are available online for kids to use for school research projects?
1. One of the best places to look are library databases. There can be lots of confusion over what exactly a database is or how it differs from a search engine like Google. A database is an online, searchable collection of sources, such as newspaper and academic journal articles, encyclopedia entries, and magazine articles. Much of the content from databases cannot be found by googling, or if it can be found by googling, users are often asked to pay to access the content. Anyone with a library card can access library databases 24/7. They cover many topics and subjects and have the latest information.
2. The West Vancouver Memorial Library also offers subject-based homework help for primary, intermediate and secondary school students on our brand new website. This is a great starting point for students and parents when stumped with a math question or starting a research project. Our homework help pages feature Canadian content needed for social studies assignments.
3. The American Association of School Library Association's puts together a fabulous annual list of the Best Websites for Teaching and Learning: ala.org/aasl/ standards-guidelines/best-websites/2013. It includes free productivity sites for students to do things like create infographics and timelines in addition to building 21stcentury literacy skills. The Association for Library Service to Children also creates a yearly Great Websites for Kids (gws.ala. org/) list, which has some fantastic subjectbased websites for all grade levels.
Are some sources better than others?
Definitely. When using a search engine, students will find "promoted" results that are essentially advertisements, which may not be the best sources. It's also very easy to stumble upon sites that appear to be credible or reliable, but are not.
How can a student know if a resource is a legitimate source of information?
My handy acronym is WAA:
Why: why was this article written? For example, to publish research (e.g. an academic journal article), to inform without bias (e.g. a news article), to convince someone of the correctness of the author's position (e.g. editorial or political blog post)? Authorship: who wrote this article? What expertise do they have on the subject? What kind of organization or publication are they representing?
Accuracy: Is this information on a site that anyone can edit? Do the facts line up based on your cursory knowledge of the subject? Is this author or article cited by other experts in the field?
Is any website a good source for information?
Websites are terrific sources of information and have the obvious advantage over print in their currency and in their multimedia capacity. But unlike published print books there is, of course, no vetting system for putting something on the Internet; as we all know, anyone can put anything on the Internet under any name or under the guise of any organization. While there are certainly sub-par print books, the chances that information is inaccurate (or that the credentials of the author are fudged) are certainly much lower.
Are there any online databanks or catalogues that are particularly suited to students?
Absolutely. The library has databases like Kids Search and World Book that are terrific for students as young as those in the primary grades. These databases bring back a lot of information that you won't find on Google. Librarians are also always eager to show young children how to search in the library catalogue. Research skills can start very young, with something as simple as learning how to search for a book by title or learning how a search box works.
How can students use both online and hard copy books in their research?
Using a variety of different resources is an important 21st-century skill, and one that librarians and teachers aim to foster in students. But it's important to keep in mind that using a variety of different sources will require a variety of different searches, which takes time.
An example of how to incorporate various media might be an elementary school project on the history of pizza (this is a real question I received): The student could consult a database like Kids Search to check for magazine articles from reputable children's magazines about pizza (there are several) and then consult an online or print encyclopedia for some basic facts. Print books on Italian culture could be consulted for background information, in addition to some kids non-fiction books about the history of food and food trivia (they exist!)
By definition, a research project requires research and the process of gathering and evaluating resources is just as educationally beneficial and important (or more so) than the finished product. Really, a finished essay or project is a demonstration of a student's research skills, which will go on to serve them in post-secondary education.
Students and parents can also talk to a youth librarian any time the library is open. In the event that we are busy, we can always take people's contact information and get back to them. The following are some tips when consulting the library for research help:
1. Bring a copy of your assignment if possible.
2. Often parents come in to the library without students wanting to collect resources on their child's behalf. It is very valuable for us to talk to the student so we can guide them through the process and help foster the research skills they need to succeed in school.
3. If the library is particularly busy, we can get back to you, but we sometimes have students coming the night before a project is due. The earlier you come see us, the better.
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