I recently finished my last bibliographic instruction session at UK. (When you are leaving a job, every “last” seems to take on special significance…My last Bibliogrpahic Instruction session. My last coffee run to the student union. My last creepy public patron..*sniff* the memories…but I digress.) Anyhoo, it was for the Advanced Legal Research course and the topic was “Researching Federal Legislative History.”
This is my absolute favorite subject to teach and research task to perform. As I was prepping for the class, I began compiling the usual suspects for my resource show and tell….LexisNexis Congressional, CIS Index, Thomas, USCCAN, GPOAccess/FDsys, etc. I started to think about it, though, and realized that *I* don’t always just use the “accepted” resources. When I’m trying to find a cite for a popular name of a law, I don’t walk over to the reading room and grab a Popular Name Table from the USCS, I just google it. Sometime – just sometimes – I even look at the wikipedia entry to get an idea of what I’m searching for. So why aren’t I telling the students about this?
It hit me like a thunderbolt: I was teaching the bibliographic instruction version of abstinence only education!
I decided to mix it up a bit this year. After all, what are they going to do? Fire me? Heh. (As an aside, is this what it feels like to have tenure? Because it’s a pretty heady feeling! Double heh.) While covering the Usual Suspects, I also mentioned wikipedia and Googling for information. And when doing so, I took the time to mention what you should be looking for in free web resources and the pros and cons of using them. Also, in addition to having the students look up information via the traditional sources, I had them in their in-class lab and homework assignments google for popular names and compare the information that they find via sites like Wikipedia to what they find via a traditional source like CIS Index.
I haven’t started grading them, but I did glance through the assignments this morning. (They were just turned in on Friday.) From what I could tell, the students get it. They saw that wikipedia doesn’t always have complete information, but occassionally contains links to official sources from Thomas or GPO. I asked them to explain how they would do a similar legislative history assignment (a no “right” or “wrong” answer question, I just wanted their honest feedback) , and generally they say that they would try a google search first to get the popular name, but then use traditional sources. Not only that…many of them seem to prefer the books!
I am definitely going to try and expand upon including this type of information throughout my future bibliographic instruction sessions. I feel better knowing that my kids are going out into the world better prepared for what they’re probably going to do anyway. And I’m glad that they are hearing it from me rather than getting it second hand from their classmates.