(and other myths hereby debunked)
You know the drill all too well - you go to class, you go to lab, you stay in lab for *hours*, repeating your experiments until the results finally turn out the way they are supposed to, and then you retreat to a quiet corner to lick your wounds and blearily write up your lab report. That is the life of many a science student — not just here at Salisbury University, but at colleges everywhere. Walking past a poster for the library services that advertises the learning of Literacy skills, you think to yourself “Why do I need to know about any of that stuff? I’m a science major!”
However, my friend, think again.
Science, engineering, and technology disciplines these days not only require that students demonstrate basic competency in identifying, evaluating, acquiring and using information ( basic tenants of Information Literacy) but these disciplines are also unique in that students must also be competent in experimentation, laboratory research, and mechanical drawing. Writing up lab reports requires knowledge of information sources that go far above and beyond basic journal article findings - data sets, multimedia, 3D technologies, open file reports, graphs, maps, patient information, and Geographic Information Systems can all easily come into play. Many disciplines in the sciences that used to be tightly controlled and focused have now blown wide open and are fantastically multidisciplinary - and as such students are expected to know how to fluidly maneuver from one discipline to another, a move that frequently requires significant manipulation of data and can also mean that in-depth knowledge of specialized software should come along for the ride as well.
Science “then”: A science-fair winning project - 1974. Un-altered photo via Flickr, originally published by Kevin Trotman. Creative Commons license, & as such used with permission.
Science “now”: petri dishes in a lab. 2006. Un-altered photo via Flickr, originally published by Laurence Livermore. Creative Commons license, & as such used with permission.
So - think about that. Not only are you expected to understand and remember what mitochondria do, the steps of the Krebs cycle, and know how to key out an aquatic larval insect all the way down to genius and species, but you are also expected to know specialized software programs that are unique to your discipline *and* neighboring disciplines. You need to know how to easily find, evaluate, and use external data sources, be they journal articles, data sets, maps, or graphs. You are also expected to write clearly, articulately, and persuasively in order to produce scientific papers that properly lay out all of your research that you have done in the field or in the lab. All hallmarks of a person who is truly information literate!
In fact, according to the National Research Council:
"Scientific literacy means that a person can ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences. It means that a person has the ability to describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena. Scientific literacy entails being able to read with understanding articles about science in the popular press and to engage in social conversation about the validity of the conclusions. Scientific literacy implies that a person can identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed. A literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it. Scientific literacy also implies the capacity to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately" (National Research Council, 1996).
So given all of that, why aren’t you taking advantage of the library offerings and folding Information Literacy in to your bag of scientific tricks? You’ve already amazed and astounded your friends by your ability to diagram out benzene rings and rattle off all the bones found in the human wrist…….why not add a few more skills to an already impressive list? There is a lot out there that needs to be done by scientists - and it needs to be done well. Take advantage of the Information Literacy offerings that we librarians provide, and who knows where your new knowledge could take you!
'Crazy Scientist Lab': un-altered photo via Flickr, originally posted by Med PhotoBlog. 2011. Creative Commons license & as such used with permission.