49% of undergraduate students enter our colleges and universities without the skills they need to read the materials they are expected to study. Very few are able to engage in the deep reading expected by faculty members when reading course textbooks, or other assigned readings. 81% of students in their FIRST YEAR have reported being required to utilize these types of materials for their assignments. If lower-division students have a hard time reading textbooks — materials that are ostensibly written with novices as the target audience — how can they be expected to read, understand, and use the content in scholarly articles which are crafted for the consumption of experts?
Librarians who work with students see this problem firsthand. How many times have you watched students scroll past articles on their topics because they don’t understand the title or abstract? How often do you help students find three articles so they can shoehorn three quotes into their finished papers? Have you ever been asked to remind students not to quote from the abstract or the literature review?
If our goal as librarians is to promote the acquisition of information literacy by the students we serve, we need to make sure students can identify when they really don’t understand the materials they are using and recognize that as a problem. We then need to ensure students have strategies they can use when they need to understand difficult texts. Of course we don’t have time to do this in a one-shot instruction session and, no, the ability to read isn’t explicitly described in the old Information Literacy Standards or in the new Framework, but most of the skills and competencies described in both those documents are predicated on students being able to understand the information they find. And just like information literacy, students will never master difficult reading if we are the sole party on campus responsible for helping them.
But we also occupy a unique position on our campuses. We make our living as expert-novices. We know what it is like to grapple with disciplines we don’t fully understand and we are used to talking about the meta-cognitive strategies we employ to find answers. We also get a chance to begin a conversation about reading and the research process with faculty and students every time we teach those one-shot instruction sessions.
In March of 2015, Margy and I presented a paper on this topic at ACRL. If you click on the tabs above, you will find resources you can use to explore this topic further, including descriptions of some of the strategies we have used to begin introducing reading strategies into our library instruction sessions.