Before we can completely take the step from readings and classes to essays and assignments, there are two necessary steps to learn about: the library and literacy. You need to be able to navigate the library to make the most efficient use of your research time and efforts, and then you need to be able to build it into a workable argument that will become your essays. La Trobe puts a lot of effort into making these resources effective tools for you to benefit from. So do spend some time at least previewing them to see what will be most useful to you. And look no further than here for your first starting point.
The library has very recently overhauled its website from last year, so this semester all the second and third years will be a bit out of whack, whereas you benefit from coming into a new, user-friendly, streamlined site. Perhaps the best introduction for you as new students is the Essentials page dedicated to introducing you to the library. Among the points and links on here are the need for your student ID card and username and password to access services within the library, and how to ask for help and use the search bar to find what you are looking for (I love Catalogue searching best). This page is accessed under ‘Help and Training’ on the library homepage, which itself is fast accessed from the Current Students page or the simple URL http://www.lib.latrobe.edu.au. Help and Training offer further links to get you familiar with the website, like viewing previous years’ exams, and browsing library subject guides (not to be confused with subject guides I already told you about, these ones are links to journals specific to your subjects, useful for assignments and further reading).
Another useful reference point to get initial information is the ‘Borrowing and E-Books’ link. Here you can find out about what you can borrow, for how long (2 weeks is standard), and all about e-books. There is also information about renewing your books (before or on the due date) and about fines. The library does charge late fees if you do not renew or return your books on time. While you are okay initially, you cannot borrow any more books once you have acquired $10 in fines, until you have paid the balance. The library prefers you to pay fees by eftpos or credit card.
The ‘Facilities’ link gives you more specific information to your library, like opening hours, study rooms, printing, photocopying and linking up to the wireless internet. There are some pretty cool things the library can offer you, which are described on this page as well. There are tons of computers around to access on campus, on the various library floors, in the Student Hub and in your faculty’s computer labs. You only need your username and password to access them. If you want or need, you can also book in to borrow a laptop, perfect for peak periods or when you have a busy day and don’t fancy carting your own around. You may have also noticed in the library there are lots of private study rooms (noticeable by their glass walls on the ground floor). For the group work you will have to do, consider renting one. There are some reservable open booths at the back on the first floor that you can try getting, but they could be busy (and aren’t very private) so reserving a study room from the website, with their large computer screens, and soundproof quiet zone, is the much better alternative. In first year my French group rehearsed our comedy skit in one, complete with enthusiastic tones, actions and giggling. Nobody outside the glass even noticed us. The sign-up has recently changed, but you start by going to the library homepage and selecting the right-hand quick link to book a study room. Then you will select the size of the room you want and follow the link to sign in to your student email. Go to New and click the arrow to select ‘meeting request’ and follow the prompts to enter your group’s names, as well as the preferred date and time, and book in a free timeslot. If you have issues go to the IT desk in the library. It is still quite a new format.
The Quick Links on the top right of the library homepage are a fast way to access some popular sites – like study room bookings; referencing; training and workshops; and the reading lists for your subjects. Click this link and enter your subject code for access to all your different required and recommended/further readings for your subjects.
Once you are familiar with the basics, you can then start to think about assignment writing. A great support page is the ‘Assignment/Thesis Support’. Here you will find an assignment calculator, a helpful tool where you enter your planned start date, the due date and the subject code, and then it tells you what you goals/parts you need to achieve by what day/week in order to meet your deadline. If you aren’t sure how to tackle big assignments around a schedule, calculating goals for each assessment you have across all your subjects will help you figure out realistically if you have enough time to do them all or if you need to adjust your commitments. The Assignment Support page also has useful explanations about the various search options, and links and explanations about referencing, which you need closer to the due date. I will talk more about assignments and referencing in next week’s blog.
Almost all of the resources you will ever need access to are online. Mostly we now study subjects that require the latest information and as such, journal articles and e-books form a big part of our readings and our references in assignments. Google Scholar is a great search engine for such works, in my experience. Our library spends big dollars on granting us access to all the databases like JStor and all the articles that journals print. Initially the different search bars will confuse you – why do you need five search bars, after all? Selecting ‘Help with Searching’ right under the search box will help you understand the function of each one to help you familiarise. In a very brief nutshell, catalogue searches within our library, journals are great if you know the journal name specifically. Database searches by topic for recent articles of all kinds, and Google Scholar searches the whole internet for academic resources. Search runs an overall simple search. For a somewhat fast access, you can also search Catalogue/Collections for access to the reading lists (reserve), past exams and all online.
Occasionally you will need to use the library to access a book. No problem, the library is there for the borrowing. But sometimes you may come across a search result in the library catalogue that says the item is in the annex. Basically the annex is a storage house on campus for old resources, but, if you get a result for something in the annex, you need to make a request, ask library staff to help you, and within a couple of days, they will find the item for you, scan it and email it to you. This happened to me once, for a history assignment, and it was brilliant because the article provided the base structure of my essay because the topic was so specific. This is not something you will come across every day, needing to use this facility, but it is worth remembering that it exists.
I hope in O-Week you were able to meet your Faculty Librarian. I wasn’t introduced to faculty librarians until late in first year, and another resource, Libguides until in my third year. They are really useful when you need a bit of direction for an assignment. The Libguides link is right there under Search on the homepage, next to ‘Help with Searching’. It is a fantastic help providing links to all sorts of resources for your assessments, whether it’s a specific search engine or referencing tools. The Faculty Librarians are found on the Contact Us page; search your faculty and then school to find out who services who. These helpful staff write the Libguides, and know all about your faculty and particularly individual schools and subjects, eg. Anthropology or Politics. I view them as research assistants, there to assist during your initial and/or more troublesome assignments to get extra advice on resources. You can email or call to arrange an appointment or ask for help directly, or try to find them in the library when you are next there.
Finally if you need extra more general help, the library runs a live chat service during business hours where you speak directly to a librarian. For a bit of fun, there are CDs and DVDs at the back on the second floor, which you can either watch up there in the Audio-Visual section, or take home. The third floor of the library is the silent floor, far from the more chatty first floor – worth knowing if you want to get some peaceful study done.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LITERACY SKILLS
It may be that English is not your first language. It could be that you haven’t written an essay in years. It may be that you are just hopeless at spelling or grammar. Or are you just nervous at the thought of assessments completely? One of my mentees last year was, and it is completely normal. I actually did a whole bridging subject on it: academic literacy skills.
Learning to think critically – that is, how to take all the research and evidence and process it into your own argument – is one of the most important skills you learn at uni. Developing that argument into written form is the bit where some people trip up. I recently had the not-so-pleasurable task of sorting through my papers from my first (failed) degree, as well as some high school subjects. It was clear to me that I knew how to research – I had loads of photocopied paper I’d left in books – but all my work back then totally lacked critical thinking. Maybe I was blasé, maybe I wasn’t taught it in the first place. But reading over old assignments, I just had no clue how to turn all that research into my own argument for/against the topic.
Fortunately La Trobe has a whole range of options to help you improve.
AIM: compulsory to first years but optional to other students, it is an online lesson and quiz to check your literacy knowledge. Hopefully you have done it by now to pass first semester!
ALLU learning resources: A complete series of help guides on every topic of study imaginable designed to give you confidence and answer all your questions. The ALLU have drop-in sessions and master classes; watch the website for new classes.
The Library: Tips on the website about referencing, libguides, subject specific librarians, and assignment planning, as noted above. There are also some links to useful activities to build on your skills, designed by ALLU.
Your faculty’s survival guide: this guide is a 50 page document specific to your faculty, and if you look at pages 21-50, it goes into greater, more expanded detail of the tips I am covering here. You should find your guide available on the LMS within each subject, under study resources, in pdf format. It is an awesome resource I can’t recommend highly enough. Sometimes accessed on the LMS right-hand menu, follow the link above to access your faculty, and then look for the “Survival Guide” link.
Student Learning Advisors: The friendly folk in the library in the red t-shirts, just to the right after you enter, are a great resource for all kinds of information. They can answer all kinds of study questions as well as regular questions like directions and how to work Powerpoint.
ALLU support staff: Where all of the above can’t help, it’s time to speak with your academics about a referral to the ALLU team. Here you can sit down with the friendly staff and have them read over your assignments and get personalised advice. If they are reviewing one of your essays, they will normally ask you to email it ahead of the appointment for them to look over. Check with them when you make your booking.
With a solid understanding of how to use the library and its resources, and how to ask for help, and knowing how to get help with mastering a good essay, I hope that you feel a bit more confident as you go about your research for your first, second and major assessments. Next week will go into more detail about the writing and submitting process, and then academically at least, you will have all the info you need to get through the study side of university. The blogs to follow after next week will be about some of the services and aspects you hadn’t considered before, things that will set you in good stead I hope for the rest of your uni career.
Thanks for reading! – Bec.