Snooki in the Library (Or, Using Popular Media in Library Instruction)

Teaching is winding down for the semester, so for my practicum this week I read some articles about library instruction.  I picked two fun ones to start out with that deal with using pop culture to teach information literacy skills.  “It Came From Hollywood” by Nedra Peterson discusses how popular media clips can get students more emotionally engaged in the library session and thus help them retain more information.  “Teaching with The Situation” by Amy Springer and Kathryn Yelinek discusses–you guessed it!–how to use ideas and issues from The Jersey Shore to spice up library instruction.  Both of these articles had some excellent examples of activities to structure around a video clip from a movie or TV show.

I think it can be easy to throw a short media clip into a library session as a desperate attempt to prove that the library is “cool.”  But Peterson’s article made two good points that show that popular media in library instruction has a deeper significance.  For one, what we see in the movies and on TV shapes our ideas about a lot of things, including how we think about research, accessing information, and the library (66).  Along those same lines, movies and TV shows can elicit an emotional response from students, and emotional engagement can help students retain more information (67).

But even with those ideas in mind and excellent intentions, librarians need to ensure that student are interacting with the ideas presented in the video clip.  I thought these two articles had some really creative ideas about how to get students to engage with the clips, beyond just waking up for a couple of minutes to laugh at some antics on Jersey Shore and then tuning out again when the library databases come up.

Peterson’s article suggested that students take notes on what the character does when she is researching–how she started, what keywords she found, how many different sources she used (Google, books, friends, personal experience, maybe even the library!?).  The article included an example of a chart that students filled out after watching a clip from The Ring that outlined the keywords, access points, and information formats the character encountered.  In several of the freshman-level classes I observed this semester the librarians did a similar excercise with a clip from Twilight that shows Bella doing research to discover that Edward is a vampire.  (The clip they use is slightly longer, but this one gives the general idea.)  Afterwards the students are prompted to discuss the process Bella went through: starting with a broad search in Google, finding background information on websites that leads her to a book, drawing from personal experience, etc.  That usually wakes students up a little bit and is a good lead-in to talking about how research is an iterative process, but the integration into the class ends there.

Springer and Yelinek’s article talks about how to integrate a Jersey Shore theme throughout an entire class.  They include several examples, but my favorite is from an Intro to Management class where students have to find articles on management topics and company and industry profiles through library databases.  The class starts with a clip where Snooki is complaining about the tanning tax increase, and then the librarian shows how to find articles and profiles about the tanning industry.  Then, students choose are divided into three teams: Team Situation, Team Vinny, and Team Pauly D., and they have to find information on an industry related to the character’s interests.  What I like about this example is that the popular media source is used throughout the entire class, and there is an activity that requires student engagement in small groups.

While I think this sounds like a very successful class, I have some reservations about not addressing the students’ actual topics in the class.  I think it can be very useful to have students talk about the topics they are using and then practice search strategies for those topics, and I’m torn between giving time to that activity (which has varying levels of success based on students’ interest-level in the assignment and/or impending doom of a deadline) and focusing on the popular example (which, when done well, will have a high level of success in engaging students and ensuring that they remember the material).  Peterson anticipates this conundrum and argues that it is better to dedicate class time to a media example and have students get more out of the session (69).  I think it’s a judgment call based on the type of class and the nature of their assignment.  If the assignment is non-existant or in the distant future, heavy reliance on popular media might be an extremely effective teaching tool.  But if students have solid topics and a nearby-deadline, the probably won’t need Snooki’s help to get engaged with library resources.

Overall, I really like the idea of using pop culture in library instruction.  It’s definitely a hot topic right now–there’s been a thread going on the Information Literacy listserv about “Popular Culture References to Research as Messy and Iterative” that has a lot of good responses.  And I found the motherlode at cinfolit, which has examples that address research anxiety, plagiarism, peer review, evaluating sources, and Wikipedia, among others.  There are a lot of good ones, but I really liked Colbert’s “Truthiness” to talk about authority of sources, and 30 Rock’s Janis Joplin Wikipedia clip.

 

References

Peterson, N. (2010). It came from Hollywood. College & Research Libraries News, 71(2), 66-74.

Springer, A., & Yelinek, K. (2011). Teaching with The Situation. College & Research Libraries News, 72(2), 78-118.

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