Sunday, February 5, 2012

"What's the Dewey Decimal System?"

Today was a rather interesting day at the Harold Washington with the History Fair. Unlike last week, there were very few students to help. So I spent most of my afternoon working with a high school student who chose to do his research on the Eight Hour Work Day Movement. He seemed fascinated that Chicago was such an important hub for all things related to the labor movement in the late nineteenth century, and told me he was encouraged by his dad to work on the topic to understand the struggles that workers have dealt with in the past. After directing my student to the Chicago Encyclopedia to get a general idea of his topic, the next step is usually to guide students to the library's search engine to look up sources. However, my student had never been to the Harold Washington before, much less had used a database search. I proceeded by showing him around the database website and then asking him to write down call numbers so he could look up the books. Once we found a good source and he wrote down the call number, I told him to go find it while I browsed for more sources. He then asked, "What are all these numbers?" to which I replied, "The Dewey Decimal System, of course." "What's the Dewey Decimal System?" he asked, dumbfounded.

I had never really appreciated having a library class in elementary school until this moment. As much as technology has advanced our ability to locate and use sources, finding books the old-fashioned way is a skill that will never go out of style. So I was at first shocked and then dismayed to hear that this student had no clue how to go about using a library. When I first started this internship I thought the hardest part would be explaining to students concepts in Chicago history and finding good sources that would not be too challenging for a middle or high schooler to use. Yet today's experience was just another example that the most challenging part of my work with the History Fair is explaining basic skills that I take for granted, like note-taking and finding a book through a computer source. While I hope that schools continue to teach library and research skills, it seems that some of this education is lost. As off-putting as it was to explain something I thought was so basic, my time spent with this student today reinforced my belief in programs like History Fair.

Eventually, after about an hour of explanation of how books are organized and walking throughout the Harold Washington with this student, he was able to start finding sources on his own so he could move on to narrowing his topic and taking notes. At the end of the day, although he had made slow progress in finding the right amount of sources, I felt very satisfied that he had more of an understanding of library and research skills.

1 comment:

  1. Sometimes, as educators, we have to begin with the most basic building blocks -- the very things, like the Dewey Decimal system, that we take for granted. Your post is a great example of how even when we have to go all the way back to the beginning, it helps us appreciate anew the rationale and value for library organization! Keep up the good work.