Close reading and the librarian

I’ve been thinking, in a work-related context, about close reading, and how librarians might help students learn to do it. The standard "bibliographic instruction" model — class meets in library, librarian shows students how to find what they need — tends to be geared toward paper research. Close reading is a skill that isn’t usually covered, because there’s no well-defined set of library tools for it. Close reading also takes time, which is a luxury if you only see the students for one 50-minute session.

And yet there are plenty of courses that make use of close reading, and I always want my library teaching sessions to seem like a real part of the class rather than a disconnected "field trip" with no relationship to anything else the students are doing. So the question came up recently: how can a library visit reinforce what the students are learning about how to engage closely with a text?

There are one or two nifty resources I can demonstrate (I’m showing one upcoming class the OED) to encourage that kind of engagement. But I think Dr. Crazy is right about teaching close reading*: you have to model it and get the students to practice it.
And where that fits into bibliographic instruction as we know it, I’m still figuring out. But I think it’s worth pursuing, because I always found that students responded much better to short exercises that get them actively reading than to extended lectures. Now the question is how to carry that over into the teaching I do as a librarian.

Perhaps one way might be to approach the question of evaluating sources (is this web site appropriate to cite in a term paper? is this encyclopedia worth the paper it’s printed on?) as a close-reading question. Or maybe what we need is a whole other kind of library instruction that’s more directly part of the class. If I come up with any answers, I’ll no doubt blog about them.

* Incidentally, I Googled "teaching close reading" and got an appreciable number of hits from academic blogs. One of my Drexel professors this term likes the idea of using blogs and wikis as a way for librarians and faculty to communicate; I think librarian/faculty group blogs could be a really neat way to hold a campus-wide conversation about, say, teaching writing. Or introducing undergraduates to science research. Or what have you.

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