This is why classes need library instruction





Student: I can’t find any scholarly articles on this subject!

Me: Okay, what’s the subject?

Student: Creating a culture of sharing in west-coast technological companies.

Me: Alright, and what/where have you tried searching?

Student: I searched “creating a culture of sharing in west-coast technological companies” on the library website!


I’m still mad about this because it happens frequently. Students at all levels of education need library and research instruction–they should get it before graduating high school, they should be getting it in several different classes in college, and there should be something in grad school–seriously, there are people in my master’s program who don’t know anything besides Google.

And don’t say “they should have learned in [previous level of university education].” Do you think every person continues education within a few years of their first degree? THEY DON’T. Even if they did get a then-good introduction to research, you think nothing changed between 2008 and 2018? How about the doctoral student I met today whose last degree–and last experience with academic libraries–was in 1996? How about the guy in my master’s cohort who got his bachelor’s degree in 1987?

Because look. See that very specific topic the student wanted? There may or may not be actual scholarly articles about it. But here are a few things you can do:

  • First, zoom out. Start broad. Pick a few phrases or keywords, like “tech companies” and “culture.” See what comes up.
    • Actually, back up. First, does your library’s website search include articles, or do you have to go into a database? My library’s website searches some of our 200+ databases, but not all. And you’ll need to find (in advance search or adjustable limiters that pop up after your initial search) how to limit your search to scholarly and/or peer-reviewed articles.
  • What other keywords are related or relevant? For the search above, you could use a combination of “silicon valley,” “company/ies” or “organization/s,” “sharing,” “collaborative,” “workplace culture,” “social culture,” “organizational culture,” and those are just the ones I can come up with off the top of my head.
  • Did you find something that looks promising? Great! What kind of subjects/keywords are attached (usually to the abstract, sometimes in the description section of the online listing)? Those can give you more ideas of what to search. Does it cite any articles? Look at those! Some databases (ilu ProQuest) will also show you a selection of related/similar articles.
  • If you’re researching a very specific topic, you may not find any/many articles specifically about your subject. You may, for example, have to make do with some articles about west-coast tech companies’ work cultures, and different articles about creating sharing/collaborative environments.

That said, this student did the right thing: they tried what they knew to do, and then reached out for help.

They tried what they knew to do, and then reached out for help.

I get goddamn professors pulling this shit, there is not one single level in the academy where research literacy isn’t lacking.  

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