This class turned my idea of reference on it head," said the graduate student. Mine too—I’m the instructor!
There is no better way to enhance your knowledge of a topic than to teach it and engage in discussion with a diverse group of graduate students representing various age groups and professional experiences including practicing media specialists, classroom teachers, and paraprofessionals. This column reflects my recent experience teaching an online reference course for Minnesota State University–Mankato and discussions with other media professionals.
Reference has long been a place, a specific section in the media center, the shelf with the big sign. A class assignment for my graduate students was to visit a school media center to examine the physical reference collection. The students were surprised that in almost every case, the reference collections they examined were hugely underutilized and dated. The overwhelming response to a posting on the same topic on the Minnesota media specialist listserv (MEMOlist, February 2009) was similar, although a few media specialists mentioned continuing heavy use of specialized print reference materials or student favorites such as the Guinness Book of World Records.
Use often depends on teacher expectations. One media specialist commented: "It is a constant marketing job, telling teachers and students about them in hopes that they will be better used. When teachers see how cool some of the books are, they get interested. Teachers fuel student use of the books." Growing classroom collections further contribute to less activity in the reference section. Materials such as sets of dictionaries, atlases, almanacs, and thesauruses that were once only found in media centers are now common in classrooms, further contributing to a declining need to visit the media center for research or reference instruction.
Media specialists who are reluctant to spend limited budgets on updating seldom-used materials are wisely putting their money and energies where the kids are—online.
What to Do With Those Print Reference Works
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