This year at Our Lady’s we have a large Advanced Higher English class. The Principal Teacher of English and I worked with the students before the holidays to help them identify possible dissertation topics. A lot of fun and really stretching the biblio-brain, coming up with titles that match their ideas.
Meanwhile, I also contacted Glasgow University Library (GUL) to arrange access for the group. The University offers reference access for Advanced Higher students, providing them with a ticket that admits them for a year, and extending the opportunity to browse the Library’s book and journal collections, which are just a wee bit bigger than a standard school library (7,000 vs 2.8 million). We also offered to organise tickets for other pupils studying Advanced Highers in school – they chose not to come along so early in the term.
We spent a couple of periods with the class to talk to them about what to expect: the importance of proper searching, note-making, the resources available to them, the classification system and how useful references can be. The AH tickets do not include a GUL computer password, so abstracts and online journals were unavailable, and resources had to be searched in advance. However, it did encourage the pupils to get to grips with the OPAC for themselves, which led to lots of questions:
What’s this book got to do with my topic?
Why does this catalogue number say Politics, not Literature?
How do I choose which ones to go for?
And of course,
I can’t find anything.
We hit the express bus on a beautiful autumn morning, and an hour or so later, collected the tickets waiting for us at the information desk, and headed for the lifts.
The pupils took a while to get the hang of the different classification system, so there was a fair bit of work required to point out the classification boards at the end of the stacks and demonstrate how the system worked, but everyone got something they were interested in, and sat down to read.
Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing. Having pupils spread across so many floors was a bit disconcerting, and I was a bit put out when a librarian asked if we had a problem – whispered conversations on the clearly marked SILENT floor are obviously not encouraged . Reading an academic writing style is obviously something that needs a bit of practice, and some pupils were a bit taken aback by the sheer number of resources available.
In retrospect we should have organised a whole day out of school, but we’ll definitely be back. In fact, we had to drag the pupils away with the lure of lunch, but we felt that perhaps a couple of hours was enough for a first visit. We’ll see if the students continue to use their tickets in their own time.