Well, you could teach citation.

I counted it as a major victory last semester that I wasn’t once asked to teach citation. In my experience requests for teaching citation come in conjunction with other instructional goals, and usually in classes with required library instruction. “If I am required to have library instruction, I guess you could teach citation” seems to be the subtext of these requests. I loftily assigned subjective meaning to this lack of requests: No one asked me to teach citation because having seen what I do in class, they now know that I have more to offer than that. Possibly true. Of course, then again, I just got a dedicated request to come and teach MLA and APA (in the same class, no less) without any curriculum imposed required library instruction. So there’s that. Jessica Olin wrote a great post on why she’s still a citation curmudgeon, and I find I fall firmly into that camp.

I’m not exactly sure where the idea that librarians are experts on citation came from. We work with the materials. We may be more helpful than your average academic at determining what the material is, and therefore, what form to use to cite it. But teaching how to properly cite is not the business I want to be in.

For one thing, writing a citation is basically just following a set of directions. Once you’ve determined what type of material it is (a legitimately confusing process at times) all you need to do is fill in the blanks, follow the form. It’s that simple.

Secondly, I am not the one who grades the papers. I should not be making the final determination on whether a bibliography is correct. The professors grade the papers. The professors are the final word on whether or not a bibliography meets requirements, not the librarians. They are the experts in their fields and should be making all judgments on what is professionally appropriate in context.

Thirdly, there are so many free and easy places that can help with citation. We have a dedicated webpage to citation resources on the library website. We have materials on permanent reserve. Our databases cite with the click of a button. There is Easy Bib and Citation Machine, which many of our students come to campus having already used. While it is true that professors may not know about these resources, I think that most citation instruction requests come because the professors themselves don’t want to teach it, not because they feel a librarian is more qualified.

I did not say no to the citation instruction request I received today, but I did make it clear that covering the resources requested would take no more than 10 minutes. I also suggested a few other lesson outlines that might be of use such as how to manage research or how to use research effectively. No go. I truly believe that face time is valuable time with students. This is why I didn’t say no even though I feel my skills are better used elsewhere. I am working to move away from point and click instruction as much as possible and I’m struggling to teach students how to cite follow directions in a way that is not painful for me or for them. You know the kind of lesson I’m talking about. The kind where you stand up in front of the classroom and just show people where to click on a website, talking the whole way. This is just as boring for me as for the students.

I’m in a bind, here. Does anyone have an engaging, active lesson that they use to teach citation?

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One thought on “Well, you could teach citation.

  1. […] that vein, thank you for listening to me complain about teaching citation. I have found a solution, or at least an approach I can make my own. The seed comes from Iris […]

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