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Sanctity of print

What is is a place to get simple, accurate, and useful weather information.

What makes it simple and accurate is that it collects weather forecasts from several sources and combines them together to give you a more accurate average, using the idea of the "wisdom of crowds". In short, is the "wisdom of clouds". Not only is there data from meteorological sources, but people can make predictions themselves.  (from the help page)

Monica Hess's article "Truth: Can You Handle It?" (, April 25, 2008*) uses as an example of "what happens to the concepts of truth and knowledge in a user-generated world of information saturation," questioning the "wisdom of the crowds" theory and students' attitudes toward information quality. Although the article doesn't cover tons of new ground, it is well-worth spending a few minutes reading.

Among other topics, Hess describes a number of ways teachers and librarians are working to insure students pay attention to the quality of the information they use in research projects. In one example a teacher requires that students use a certain number of print sources of information. Not an uncommon requirement.

But is requiring print sources of information in a paper or project desirable, practical or effective in 2008? Why is print - a format - considered sacred by so many teachers and librarians?  Should we automatically assume that the quality of information in a book or magazine is superior to that "found on the Internet?"

Here are three reasons that we should drop the "must contain print resources" requirement:

  1. Such a requirement does not require any analysis of information quality on the part of the student. BOTH online and print resources need to be judged by their authority, currency and objectivity. The automatic assumption thatsacredcow.jpg print resources are reliable is dangerous.
  2. Such a requirement may limit the questions students might explore. A few years ago, my son Brady wanted to do a term paper for a college psychology class exploring the question whether playing video games (his passion) lead to increased real-world aggression on the part of the player. Because of strict requirements on the ratio of print to online resources, he found that he could not find enough sources for the topic (or so he said.) He changed his question to one of less personal interest and relevance to him. Does this happen to many students wishing to explore contemporary issues in their research?
  3. Such a requirement ignores that many resources are identical in print and online formats. As many students (but possibly fewer adults) recognize, much of what can be found in hard copy is available online. Must a Newsweek or Encyclopedia Britannica citation come from its print incarnation - and why? Does information from a Google BookSearch count as an online or a print citation? The line is blurring.

Here is my modest proposal. Drop the requirement that students use print resources. Period. But ADD the requirement that each citation include a sentence that argues for the authority of the source.

Is requiring print resources a sacred cow that needs to be put out to pasture?

*thanks to Cheri Dobbs for sharing this on the AASLForum

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Reader Comments (9)

I agree teachers should think about it. I still use the requirement, but my students are elementary English Lanuage Learners who need practice finding things alphabetically, using print indexes and the like. For higher level students I think the ability to question the authority of the source is a great suggestion.

May 5, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterteacherninja

Thanks for yet another sensible and clear-headed suggestion! Another example of how our jobs are always challening! Teachers (who are very hard-working and have plenty on their plates) try to "keep up" with the changing world. While we want them to have the same 'informed' view on matters like resources that we do, it's often short of the mark, in our eyes. Some say "No Wikipedia!," while we have a more nuanced understanding of what it is and how it can be useful. Others, bless their hearts, say "You MUST use print," and then we say, "But..., it all depends." I really appreciate it when they try to steer the students in good directions. I guess we just have to keep slogging away!
By the way, one benefit of making comments on blogs is this: hat even to fire off a quick response to another's post makes us take a minute to think what it is we're trying to say, and this effort helps us the responder clarify our thought! (I hate it that I have to proofread my poor typing, though!)

May 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJane L. Hyde

The requirement needs to be for in-depth, expert resources, the level of expertise of the author determined by the depth needed to answer the reserach question, not necessarily for PRINT books aince the lines are teachers often require print sources to get that depth and analysis they want their students to explore. Students need to know how to evaluate the authority and expertise of any author...and the source needs to answer the question. I am sure for that topic, Brady's experts were not in books. The scary part is when students discount books and journals entirely--print or electronic--and settle for less-than-expert but more easily found materials.

It's our job in school to teach them why they need expert sources and how to evaluate for expertise; teacher requirements for expert sources do help that...just doesn't need to always be print. Our senior project requirement for working bibliographies is a TWO sentence annotation stating why the source is an expert source and how it contributes to support of their thesis.

May 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSra Kelly Johns

I have been actively working, or say beating my head against a brick wall, to require annotated works cited/ bibliographies in which students evaluate their sources. Some staff is more amenable than others, but they often leave out require annotating the print resource. I use Jayson Blair (remember him?) and the unsolicited "why the rape of nanking never happened" books to point out that evaluating "traditional media" is important to. Next year I am trying to move to the 2 database or print sources required instead on one book, one periodical which I think is outdated.

May 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMary Ann Harlan

I'm in a new middle school library. I would still include print resources as a requirement IF I knew we had some dynamite books on that topic.
Some of our students are so awestruck by the Internet that they would spend 40 minutes just clicking and have nothing to show for an entire period of research. As a result of their screen "attraction/distraction" we now say if they haven't found anything useful and OF QUALITY within 15 minutes of research time, then they log off the computer and have a look at our shelves. We're a brand new school, with a decent collection specifically purchased to support the curriculum. I'd hate to think they didn't look at those materials just because of screen speed/fascination. For current individual topics that I know we don't support, it would be silly to insist on print resources because it would just lead to frustration. I do think it is important that students, at some point, demonstrate mastery of navigating a library and finding the print material. (Although libraries are going to change, I don't think those dewey decimal shelves are going to just vanish in the next five years... So they still need to be able to use print resources - when does that learning happen, if not during research?
The other reason I'd be tempted to still require print resources is that it is often difficult to find electronic resources which offer different levels of complexity on a topic, but I can easily find a low, medium, and high level book on a topic for a student.
I guess I'm suggesting that requiring print resources (only with a topic that makes sense to do so) ensures that those students don't neglect our incredible collection. Sometimes, if it is just electronic research, you end up with information that has been "recycled" several times. Before you know it the native research project is using a grade four student's web site as their "expert". At least with print resources, if the book had been made by an eight year old, it would LOOK like that. However, a web site produced by an eight year old can look pretty darn professional to most students!

May 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJanice Robertson

As so often happens - you have made me think and pull my wandering thoughts together. I just posted a "riff" on my blog....

Sanctity of Time

May 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJacquie Henry

I agree with what has already been said about it depending what is being researched. And I agree with what you said in your original post that sometimes the same material exists online as in print (and even more up-to-date, for sure).

However, I think presently we are in a "transition" period with understanding electronic resources and authenticity, and the problem is that so many of our students do not yet know how to properly evaluate the authenticity or authority of an electronic resource. Of course, the reason is because we have not taught them, and this is what needs to come first.

True, some students know, because this kind of critical thinking is woven into the curriculum of the school they are at -- but is this standard? I have been teaching internationally for 7 years now and in my experience, it certainly is not (not even in some of the "best" int'l schools -- not to speak even of the local students entering my class who know nothing other than rote learning until they arrive at our school).

Print resources, while not always of high quality, are *at times* more likely to be accurate than those online because they have been reviewed hundreds of times by editors. Of course, I know I am making a generalization -- there are electronic resources that go through similar or more rigorous processes, and there are print resources that are false, too (James Frey and Thomas Kohnstamm come to mind). But many of my students -- even HS students -- truly see no authoritative difference between a random blog written by a 15-year-old in Japan about how to make origami and a print resource on the same topic.

The Hesse article brings this very issue to the front -- how true is everything we read? or think we know? To many of our students, the answer is "everything".

Until we have an entire generation of students who know how to properly evaluate all resources (both print and electronic), I am likely to

A) keep my requirement of at least 1 print resource, depending on topic, and
B) keep teaching my students how to discern between what is reliable and authentic and what is not.

I should add that only *three* librarians I have worked with over 10 years have been able to help me in accomplishing (B) above. So perhaps we need to train our librarians, too? Unfortunately there are many out there who think that either all electronic resources are "bad" or don't really know what to do with them, so they don't really talk about them with the students.

May 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAdrienne


First off, I like the concept of having students "defend" the authority of each source in their bibliography in a sentence or two.

I have very mixed feelings about this. It feels somewhat artificial sometimes to say "one print source" but on the other hand, I have seen students go from one print source to using ten, and being engrossed in their subject and it really enticing them in. And we also say "1 peer-reviewed journal" here, for example, or "1 periodical online or offline" so I'm not sure where we draw the line.

It's not that I think everything on the internet is wrong, or that it's not out there--but sometimes, I just wonder if the key is--how do we show students how to pick the right resource for the right job?

I think our guidelines have to be flexible. I think we have to consider topics like your sons and what would work best for him.

Maybe to make this formula less simple, what we should ideally do is conference with every student about their paper(using a discussion board, chat, physical conferences) and suggest the very best resources for THEIR topic. Point their boat in the right direction and then let them steer but also have them self-evaluate their route and how successful it was for them?

I know sometimes we boil things down to formulas to make it simpler--"Don't end a sentence with a preposition", for example, or "Every essay has five paragraphs," but then again I think these formulas ultimately hem in our students.

So as I've rambled through my response here, which if you don't mind, I'm going to post on my own blog, I think that there's a lot of gray area here.

I'm not going to defend books just because I'm a librarian--I'm going to just say that there is so much serendipity, comfort and wisdom in writing--no matter what the form it takes, that we should honor it in how we approach it with students.

May 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn Foote


"...But ADD the requirement that each citation include a sentence that argues for the authority of the source..."

I am definitely going to add this to my fall curriculum - and wonder why I haven't heard of this idea before. Even though most of my students are less interested in a quality source that I hope, requiring them to argue for each citation might make them think just a bit more.I might even make the suggestion to other departments, regardless of print or on-line sources.

Imagine my surprise when I learned something today...

May 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKenn Gorman

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