Helping Teens Make the Most of the Library

June 15, 2012
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By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington

In the digital age, it may seem that the days of the library being the primary place for school research are long gone, but libraries continue to offer the best research databases available – databases that can’t be accessed via an Internet search. Navigating the library is an important research tool for any student. How can students best use library resources?

Here are several tips for students to become better researchers:

Ask for the librarian’s assistance. Librarians can help your teen get to know the lay of the library, but they can also help guide your student through the various catalogs and research databases and how best to use them. Your teen should take advantage of their expertise and availability to students.

Move beyond the Internet. Google is not enough – even specific databases such as Google Books and Google Scholar do not offer the depth and breadth of other library catalogs. Schools’ library systems have access to networks of electronic resources that contain information that cannot be found anywhere else. Need materials from across the world? Try the WorldCat database. Researching a historical figure? Try your library’s biography database. Students should get familiar with the variety of resources available and their proper uses.

Understand the differences between primary and secondary sources. A well-researched paper on World War II should cite as many primary sources as possible, as opposed to only referencing materials that are several steps removed from the war itself. What’s the difference? Original documents such as interviews, official records, speeches or diaries are considered primary sources, whereas magazine articles, commentaries or textbooks are secondary sources. Again, librarians are a great resource to identify solid sources of information.

Get to know the school’s databases. While your teen’s high school may use a few databases, large public libraries or college libraries may have hundreds of databases to choose from. Learning how to research topics using different databases will prepare your teen for college-level research. If you live near a college campus, encourage your teen to visit and get familiar with their resources – and seek the help of a research librarian.

Evaluate sources. As a teen progresses through high school, teachers will hold him or her to a higher standard when it comes to research. Relying on Wikipedia will not suffice. If sources are not primary sources, they still must be credible and factual. If a student uses an online source, he or she must make sure it is valid and reliable. A librarian can help students evaluate their findings to determine their quality, and assist in further research if better sources are needed.

When your teen goes on to college, good research skills will be an important asset, and students who are familiar with the resources and services offered at the library will be a step ahead. Encourage your teen to utilize the library and take advantage of the knowledge and skills of librarians. Not only will this make him or her a better student now, it will also help lay the foundation for success at college.

Raymond J. Huntington is a co-founder of Huntington Learning Center.

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