Last week at work, a student came to me for help with her dissertation bibliography. She wanted to know the correct format for her references, so I told her that this would depend on what referencing system she was using and I asked her whether she’d been given a style guide. It quickly transpired that the student didn’t know which referencing system she was using, or indeed which one she ought to be using. Instead, she had obtained a random reference from somewhere and was trying to use this as a template for all the references in her bibliography.
It was clear that this was not going to work, as the format for bibliographic references varies depending on what is being cited – whether it be a book, a chapter, a journal article, a website, or any number of other sources. Writing bibliographies is something which takes time – but the student informed me that she had only an hour until her hand-in deadline. To make matters worse, the student hadn’t kept a proper record of the bibliographical information of her sources as she was doing her research; she was having to go back and look up this information before she could construct each reference.
I found it pretty horrifying that this poor student was in a position where, a mere hour before her deadline, she had come to the library staff with no idea about how to construct a proper bibliography, in the hope that we could magically produce one for her. Of course, she was right to come to us for help – teaching students how to organise and present information is part of a librarian’s job, but it isn’t something that can be done in five minutes.
It was clear that there had been a failure somewhere along the line because this student had obviously not attended the information literacy training sessions which she required. I think that some people would tend to blame the student for this, but I think the problem is more to do with the fact that information literacy classes are often not assigned the same importance as other lectures and seminars. If we want students to attend information literacy training, then it needs to be embedded into the curriculum and to be given the same stature as all their other classes.
The situation with this student serves to highlight how important information literacy skills are within an educational environment. Students don’t just need to know how to locate and identify suitable information sources, but also how to organise and reference these sources appropriately. I believe that librarians are the ones who are best placed to teach these skills.
Unfortunately, there was not much help that I could offer to this student in the circumstances, although the Librarian did point me towards an extremely student-friendly online interactive referencing guide, which I will definitely be recommending to students in the future as it’s really useful. I gave the details of the website to this student and I hope it was helpful, but I suggested that she might want to get an extension as manually constructing a dissertation bibliography from scratch in under an hour is no mean feat. I hope that she made her deadline…