The viral and/or bacterial adventures

By Matt Coan, Librarian

I know it’s hard to believe, but some of us Madison College Librarians are old enough to recall gatherings when we couldn’t just Google an answer on our phones. How many times did that happen with you and your friends or family over winter break? Spoiler alert! It certainly seems that the key skills so far for the 21st Century seem to be coding software and knowing where to look something up.

Today’s news almost instantly becomes tomorrow’s trivia. Do you remember Brian Williams’ suspension from NBC’s Nightly News and why? Do you recall the massive snowstorms that crippled the Northeast? And do you recall the air carrier’s name of flight that disappeared in the Indian Ocean? Unless you were really tuned into those events, the answer to all three is likely ‘no’. Why? They all happened about a year ago.

True, you will get some more structured practice if you come to the library looking for suggestions of where to find information on a particular topic. Let’s say you need credible answers to a current controversy, such as the safety of childhood vaccinations. OK, let’s say that you’re being asked to write a paper about a current controversy and, for some torturous reason, your instructor drags you to an information literacy session in the library, or it is strongly suggested that you find some sources beyond the first 10 Google search results.

A paper. Yes, if you hope to transfer to a world class university like UW Madison, the stakes of your grade on the paper are pretty high. But let’s say, instead, you’re a trying to discover the facts on that same topic because you are a new parent. Should you give li’l ‘Captain Gummy Tumms’ the MMR or the DTap? Your neighbor across the hall said that after last year’s flu shot she couldn’t get the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s 1989 album out of her head for weeks. Others claim less debilitating side effects.

Bettering your information literacy skills doesn’t only mean knowing about which databases link from the Libraries’ web page. Nor does it mean just how to identify keywords for searching article databases or Yahoo. The most difficult part comes once you have found information. How will you examine it to best answer the life question you have before you?

Sure, he’s cute and he’ll make you giggle, but you probably won’t get the best answer by asking Captain Gummy Tumms.