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Class activity: Anticipatory set for exploring search tools

Sometimes I get these ideas the day before I have to teach a class. They always seem like great ideas. Awesome ideas, and the fact that I’m trying to put it together last minute for a class that I’ve pretty much had canned for the last few years doesn’t seem to dawn on me until right before I teach the class and I’m like “This might not work after all. Why did I think this was going to work? I should just do what I’ve always done, they’re all going to look at me funny when I tell them to do this, I should of worn flats, I’m going to trip in these heel boots” and every other insecurity hits me like a ton of bricks.

This happened yesterday. I completely changed my approach to teaching database and keyword strategy. It was for an Intro to College class so all the students are new to college libraries and resources. It was an hour and half long class so I figured I had enough time to bumble through some of the awkwardness and find my footing. I did the same lesson again today for an ENG 101 that was only an hour long. In both cases, the class will be returning for a second session. My idea was to use this first session to focus on the mechanics of searching databases. I have always spent a few minutes at the beginning of the class explaining what a database is, how they work, how they can differ, and when there’s time I have them following along with doing a search in Google and then do another one in our discovery tool so they can see the difference. The idea is to always start with something they’re familiar with, then move on to something that’s new and unfamiliar. I decided to expand on that a bit this time by designing an anticipatory set that would allow students more hands-on time to explore several familiar tools like Google, Amazon and and our databases, using a question sheet to reflect on the process as they go.

I first start by explaining the very basics of what a database is and instead of just talking about it, I’m actually reaching outside of my comfort zone and drawing stuff on the white board. Then they do the anticipatory set. They have to search all different tools using the keyword “santuary cities” and then answer the questions: How many results are there? What type of information/sources do you get in the results? Does it provide lots of filters or just a few?

Then we discuss how the results differ and which one’s they felt more comfortable searching in. The key points that come out of the discussion are:

1) Google has lots of different kinds of information in their results, website, videos, news, .coms, .orgs, etc.

2) Amazon does give you books but you can’t read the books without paying for them. So Amazon isn’t so much a database of information as it is a database of records for stuff that has inforemation that you have to purchase first. This is where I can highlight how our library databases do have books, but they are books they can access and read for free.

3) is full of news. It differs from Google in that it’s primarily all news related material. This introduces the concept of a database that focuses on a specific discipline or source type.

4) Search Almost Everything (our discovery tool) is kind of like Google but the information provided in the results are more appropriate for college research. It also has records for stuff like Amazon but you can access the full text, unlike Amazon.

5) The religion and philosophy database is more like because it focuses on a specific discipline. There are also less filters offered in comparison to Search Almost Everything.

The rest of the lesson focuses on keyword strategy and develop a research question. I’m still not sure yet if I’m going to keep this as a standard lesson. This anticipatory set does take about fifteen minutes total once you include the discussion time afterwards, so it definitely works best when you have more than one session with the class and longer class period.


According to the blogging schedule I’m trying to keep to, I’m supposed to be writing about my reflections on teaching a college success course today. However, we’re currently having a snowpocoloypse up here and we’re shutting down the library early. So, I decided to share this funny skit of the Two Ronnies I saw on the ALA ThinkTank page this morning. I used to live in Scotland when I was little so I often watched The Two Ronnies with my parents. Of course, I never could understand what everyone was laughing about at that age but now, this library skit is definitly a favorite.

Sharing ideas when no one has time

One of the many aspects I love about working at a college belonging to a larger university system, is the wider community of librarians I get to work with that belong to that system. SUNY has 64 colleges and universitites, each one unique in it’s own way but there are also a lot of similarities and challenges that we have to face together. The SUNY Librarians Association provides a community where we can do that. I have participated and been a member of national library organizations, attended national conferences, but I don’t think any of those experiences can compete with the marvelous connections I’ve made through SUNYLA. I was secretary for the Executive Board for a few years which was quite honestly, a lot more fun than it should of been. It’s all about the people, I had such a blast. For the last few years I’ve been co-chair for the Working Group for Information Literacy (WGIL). We have many librarians who are passionate about information literacy working at SUNY insitutions. However, we are spread out all over the state so our meetings are usually held virtually. One of the biggest challenges in recent years has been the lack of “energy” and participation in the group. Like I said, we’re all passionate about information literacy but we’re also all really busy and finding time to contribute to working groups and committees is always hard. For a while, the other co-chair and I thought maybe we could get things moving with a blog. Contributors signed up and posted articles sharing ideas for library instruction, etc. But writing articles takes time, and it was hard to get volunteers to contribute (let’s face it…blogging is rather 2006) so last summer we all came up with another idea. Fifteen minute lightening talks. These are low-effort, jump on Zoom and listen to me talk about this cool idea I tried or challenge I’ve been having regarding information literacy. Our goal is to have one monthly and so far it’s going pretty well. If you’re interested in listening to some of the recordings you can find them on our blog: