Every fall, 20 to 30 UMKC students spend time each week at the Linda Hall Library in what some would consider a scholarly scavenger hunt.
The students are from CHEM 410: Chemical Literature class, taught by Dr. Jerry Dias. The students come to Linda Hall Library for weekly assignments designed to familiarize themselves with leading abstracts, secondary sources, and other materials crucial to chemistry. They use the reference materials from the United States, France, and Germany to identify and cite sources for specific weekly assignments.
“This class is just the beginning. I want to introduce them to a lifelong learning process,” Dias said. “As students, we all have to learn to adapt to different environments.”
It’s clear that Dias, who has been teaching the class this way for about 25 years, is interested in getting students to think for themselves. “We Live in a Numerical World,” his second lecture of the semester began with a discussion of the numerous volumes of the American Chemical Society’s Chemical Abstract, in which he told the students that the upcoming assignment is designed to “see the volumes and think about what you see.”
Michelle Lahey, the Library’s Public Services Manager, and the Library’s reference staff guide students to specific materials and offer examples of how they may be used. From there, students find the information for their assignments. Typically, the students must cite a primary source of the first time the compound was identified in a reference work, as well as subsequent references.
In the beginning of the semester, students frequently come in individually, but it becomes a group activity as the assignments become more complex. A group of students often gather around a pile of volumes trying to find information, Lahey said.
“Eventually, they all start helping one another,” she said. “This is a hands-on process, and the students have to come to the Library to do the work.”
Today, much of this work could be done online, but the Chem. Lit .class requires students to dig into abstracts and other volumes. Dias says today’s students are more digitally savvy, but still need to be familiar with finding sources the traditional way.
“We used to do everything with hard copy, before the Internet,” Dias said. “I’m asking students to find all types of different sources, and those require different search strategies.”