Educational consultant and college admissions expert Mark Montgomery describes the policy of Union College to teach students how to use libraries for research. While some students may scoff at the idea, there are some library skills that many young people just don’t have.
Right now I’m on the campus of Union College, which is in Schenectady, New York. It’s raining right now, which always has an impact on a visit because it’s kind of gray and cloudy and drizzly, but a beautiful campus, and you can see the Nott Memorial behind me that’s a memorial to one of the longest-serving presidents of the college, who was very much of a polyglot. He had a lot of different interests as an academic. But it was explained by the director of admission that that sort of philosophy of this guy Nott is very much the philosophy of Union. Union’s only about 2,100 students but it has engineering, which makes it one of the smallest colleges in America that offers engineering. So technology is a big thing here.
But I want to mention two things. First is that like many other colleges, they have a freshman writing program called the Preceptorial, and this is a course that has research on it, but it is an introduction to college writing. That’s very common on colleges campuses. But the other requirement that I thought was interesting to learn about was the sophomore research requirement. There is a course that every student must take that helps them become researchers, to learn how to actually do research at the college level. And one of the things that the director of admission mentioned was that these courses teach students how to use the library.
How to use the library. Now, that, on the one hand, could be a turn-off for people because if they — come on, a college, I should already know how to use a library. But you know, I really think this is a fantastic recognition of what students do and do not know when they enter college. Students may know how to write. They may have a really good writing background. They may also know how to analyze things like primary documents, maybe they’ve taken an AP class or an advanced class where they’ve been required to analyze and make sense of primary documents, but in most cases students have not actually learned how to use the library and find academic articles on topics that interest them. They know how to use Google, they know how to use Wikipedia, but how do you research academic journals and find, using things like key words, those boolean things, you know, boolean is a little bit old-fashioned now with all the kinds of library sciences going on but really learn how to find the information that they need in order to be good academics.
So when students at Union go on and do their senior theses — most students, apparently, at Union do theses — when they’re going on to do their individual research, they’re prepared. They have that support. It is not just assumed at Union that every student coming in has that experience. So it was kind of funny when the admissions director was talking, “We’re going to teach you how to use the library,” I think some kids might be turned off by that and say, “This is too elementary, I don’t need to learn how to do that.” But having been a professor myself, and having, at the introductory level, having to put together seminars in the library so that I could teach my students how to do it, I am totally, totally comfortable with the idea here at Union, that they do need to teach these skills, and at Union, they are doing it.
So fantastic liberal arts college with strong engineering and an ethos that is very multidisciplinary and broad as well as deep. Certainly someplace you should consider if you want a liberal arts college.