The time of year has come for school visits to the library. Seniors learning deep research for their final papers. Juniors dipping their toes into the waters of "what is database and peer review?" Sophomores and freshman asking questions such as "where is the bathroom?"
I have a standard speil I give to most classrooms. It begins with library rules and regulations, moves on to the various things the library offers, and ends with an overview of how to start using the library better than a baboon with an itchy ass.
Library rules are easy. A library card is available to everyone in the country, regardless of income, race, creed, or whatever that kid with the hair over their eyes mumbling about Charles Manson identifies as. Everyone has equal standing in the library and therefore has the same rights to privacy, quiet, and the ability to get mad about a ten cent fine when dammit it was just under my seat it's not my fault.
How to find books in the catalog, where to find them on the shelf, how to get a librarian to do all that for you, and where to check them out. All the simple things libraries all known for.
Then comes the ephemeral. The big sell. Do you know we have ebooks? You don't have to come to the library and talk to actual people to get free shit. Charles Manson kid raises an eyebrow under that greasy mop.
And databases. "Who here knows what 'peer-reviewed' means?" A few hands raise, and I pick the one that most looks like a kid from Harry Potter. "It means that the thing is, like, well… It's made by people that think sort of the same or whatever?"
You fail me in classic fashion, faux smart kid, but you lead to a teachable moment.
I dig in, saying, "What if I was going to write a paper on your class? I have just met most of you, your teacher, that lady who is hovering over the Harry Potter kid, just met all of you today. Would I be considered an expert in your class?"
A few kids shake their heads, more stare at me as if I just swallowed gum in front of them after saying I did not have enough for all of them. I continue.
"So an expert in your class would be one of you. When people knowledgeable about a subject write a paper or an article and get it published, it is in our databases. Before it gets published, though, it gets handed out to other experts to check and make sure the information is correct or at least seems informative to the subject. That's called 'peer-review.'
So if one of you writes a paper on a class, a peer-reviewed version of that paper would then be passed around to a bunch of you. If you all agree the information is correct, the paper would be published as 'peer-reviewed' and be a better source than if I, an outsider or someone who does not have a credible information, just wrote something. Does that make sense?"
I get a few nods, although dim recognition shines across the room, kinda like when you shine a flashlight in the woods at night and see all the eyes staring back at you. My job here is done.
"Before you leave," I say, "Remember to bring your own pencils and paper to the library. We don't have enough to give you and don't care if you ever graduate. Also, never talk to anyone in the bathrooms."
Always leave them wanting more.