A Community of Scholars


Anne-Marie Deitering meets freshmen in their technological comfort zone as she guides them through the maze of high-tech library resources.

December 17, 2008

Creating critical thinkers in a wired library

By Lee Sherman
Photo by Karl Maasdam

At the library, some of us secretly wish we could thumb through index cards for titles, authors and Dewey Decimal numbers. We're also clinging to our vinyl Beach Boys albums.

Face it: Card catalogs are as obsolete as penny loafers and American Bandstand.

Today's libraries are wired to the hilt. And the tools for navigating the explosion of digital information are as sophisticated as the card catalog was simple.

VodPod to Delicious

Introducing students to this ballooning toolbox is what gets OSU librarian Anne-Marie Deitering up in the morning. For her, the lingo of online research is a comfy second language. The 40-year-old assistant professor is fluent in VodPod, BibMe, CiteULike, Delicious, Picnik, linkroll widgets, and countless other cleverly named Web sites, wikis, blogs, search engines and citation generators. This technological fluency lets her meet 18-year-olds in their comfort zone. From there, she gently guides them into the unfamiliar world of higher academia.

"When students come to college, they have to learn how to think critically, how to make their own meaning from the information they gather," she says. "My job is to provide tools to help them make that shift. Ultimately, the goal is to bring them into the community of scholars."

McEdward Professor

In September, Deitering was named the Franklin A. McEdward Professor for Undergraduate Learning Initiatives, a position endowed by a 1957 alumnus of the College of Engineering who died in 2007 at age 82. His Boeing career was enriched during off-hours by the stacks and stacks of books piled around his Seattle home. The Valley Library was a natural recipient of his $2.6 million gift, funding the professorship, other library improvements as well as a lounge in the Kelley Engineering Center.

Deitering's talent for teaching undergrads is apparent in the library's high-tech classroom. With hyperkinetic energy betraying her passion for her subject, she stands before a roomful of freshmen from CAMP (College Assistance Migrant Program). After briefly introducing the library homepage, along with keyword strategies for searching Lexis-Nexis Academic (a news database) and Academic Search Premier (a database of scholarly articles), she sets them loose on a scholarly scavenger hunt. Clutching scraps of paper with questions - "What does Shakespeare have to say about ecology?" and "What does string theory mean for physics?" and "Why are some diamonds called blood diamonds?" - pairs of students race to the computer screens and then tear off into the stacks.

Ruby Canchola and Emily Escobedo are the first ones back, sliding triumphantly - if a little out of breath - into their seats. Canchola, whose father harvests hazelnuts in Woodburn, Oregon, clutches a copy of The Short Works of Mark Twain. Escobedo, a pre-pharmacy major whose dad works for a Nyssa seed company on the state's eastern border, found the exercise helpful.

"Now I know the locations of the call numbers," Escobedo says.

Energy from the Library

Deitering veered into library science in a quirk of serendipity. With her Ph.D. coursework in American history finished, she "stalled out" on the dissertation. One day after grading a brutal batch of exams for a class she was teaching at Mt. Hood Community College, she was driving to her part-time job at the public library. "I was exhausted, and I was facing six hours on the circulation desk," she recalls. "Suddenly, I felt my energy level go up." At that moment she knew what she wanted to do.

"I've always been interested in preparing students to be lifelong learners," she says.

The challenge for teaching today's learners, Deitering argues, is motivating them to evaluate sources in a more sophisticated way. "Finding information is so easy in today's world. One Google search brings back lists of more sources than anyone could read," she notes. "Faced with an overwhelming amount of information, it's easiest to default to ‘It says what I want it to say' as a way to pick which sources to use. Students need reasons to dig more deeply into those lists and find sources that challenge them to think in new ways about the issues they care about."