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Children’s Questions About Science: Preliminary Results of an Analysis of Digital Library Reference Questions

Marcia Mardis

ASIS&T 2008 Annual Meeting (AM08 2008)
Columbus, Ohio, October 24-29, 2008


Between 2003 and 2006, the Internet Public Library (IPL) digital library, then housed at the University of Michigan's School of Information, received science questions at a rapid pace that required a substantial amount of attention from the IPL reference staff. In an effort to streamline the answering of these questions and strategically shape the science collection, in 2005 and 2006, the researcher undertook an analysis of the science questions.

Preliminary results suggest that a close examination of the questions has great potential to inform collection, description, and service in digital library environments. Prior research in children's questions has determined popular subjects of the science questions, but has not focused on patterns and consistencies in the questions. This study is unique in that it goes beyond overall characterizations of questions and questioners to examine the question content in an effort to devise taxonomic and descriptive schema that will inform collection and support service, particularly in a digital library context.

The results to-date suggest that science assignments should reflect the extent to which students have been introduced to approaches for thinking about science like the scientific method, inquiry-based learning, or research models. There is a great need for developmentally appropriate resources that support for the process of science learning, especially for science fair. Likewise, digital, public, and school librarians and other information mediators have a tremendous opportunity to improve their services to young questioners by developmental level by increasing their sensitivity to children's science processes and by having these sensitivities codified in metadata schema.

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