Stepping in it: Confusion and misconceptions with “online” resources

I would say that 7 times out of 10, when a student comes into the library at 4:55 on a Friday afternoon, it’s not going to be an easy transaction. Often they want several items but have neglected to write down titles or complete call numbers, and then give me that deer in the headlights look when I explain that isn’t enough information to go on and we close in 5 minutes. I then show them how to find appropriate electronic resources using TRID or Google Scholar to tie them over for the weekend. I also give them my contact information and tell them to email me if they have more questions. Most of the time, the students feel somewhat satisfied as their point of need if mostly met. Occasionally they want to argue, which really doesn’t make the situation better.

So this Friday, a day I had planned to leave early to celebrate KALX’s 50th, an undergrad came in for some last minute help. They wanted several items, but only had complete call numbers for three of them. A couple were conference proceedings, but lacked the year or volume, and of course we have 40 years worth of them. There were others that lacked cutters, and then a couple of tech report numbers. There were several teachable moments. I showed them the tech reports they were looking for were actually available online and that we didn’t have them physically.
“I can only use two online resources.”
“Only two websites? Or two online resources period?”
“The professor said only two online resources period.”
“Well, they probably just mean websites, but I bet peer-reviewed journals and officially published tech reports will be fine.”
And there was the blank stare. I knew from some follow up questions that everything they needed would be easily found through TRID, and using the proxy server, they would be able to access most of it outside the library over the weekend. I gave them a brief intro to TRID, showed them how to search on their topic, and what the results looked like.
“But these are online resources.”
“Yeah… most of civil engineering publishing’s online these days. This is a reputable source though, and everything you find here is quality. It’s not like a Google search.”
“We can’t use Google.”
“Yeah, this is good though. It’s the tool of choice for transportation researchers.”
“I don’t know if the professor will like it…”
“I’ll email them, but come back when we open on Monday and we’ll work on this some more.”
So I checked out their books and then kicked ’em out.

Then I emailed the professor to ask for clarification. This is where I stepped in it. In the past there have been some professors who had very archaic “no electronic resources” rules for undergrad assignments, but I haven’t had one of those interactions in a while. My email was probably a bit weird, and not what the professor was expecting on a Friday evening. Their response was curt, to the point, and said the student should have paid more attention in class. They were spot on, and I felt like a fool.

I sort of got where the student was coming from, but I also know from experience that people who procrastinate until the last minute are often panicked and have trouble listening. I was that student at one point, but I’ve learned. So hopefully they’ll get back to me and I can teach them about the differences in online resources, and really… it helps to just listen.

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