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Curiosity and Exploration – Choose your own Adventure!


I really appreciate the freedom of choice and exploration of this week’s blog topic, as well the reference to the children’s book series, Choose Your Own Adventure. As a Gen X-er myself, I really enjoy Michael Stephen’s references (Fleetwood Mac, Twin Peaks, Cabbage Patch dolls, etc.) and the nod to this book series is another great example.

For my adventure, I am choosing the Hyperlinked Academic Library. Anne-Marie Deitering’s and Hannah Gascho Rempel’s reading, “Sparking Curiosity – Librarians’ Role in Encouraging Exploration” resonated a great deal to me. Their study looks at how to really engage college freshmen enrolled in a mandatory composition class to develop the critical research and writing skills necessary for them to move forward in their college endeavors. As a former Graduate Teaching Assistant in a junior-year writing seminar, which attempted to have students write “passionately” on a topic of their choosing, I greatly welcome their findings. Deitering and Gascho Rempel quickly hone in on the disconnect between assignments and actual student interest and investment that first-year students put forward.

Critical to their argument is changing language, a key example is to remove the phrase “write something that you are passionate about,” to language that is less daunting and more inviting, specifically – “curiosity,” “exploration,” and “learning.” While the term “passionate” is meant to be motivating, the writers found that students understood this to mean, choose a controversial subject, and students usually chose one that they had no real interest in learning more about or had already written a previous paper on. Another key element to their research is to scaffold the learning outcomes with opportunities that incorporate low stakes exercises in order to assist students with developing and understanding their own curiosity. One example is to “browse outside the journal literature,” with readings that facilitate and strengthen students’ interests and follow-up with group work that includes discussions on a reading, preparing students to eventually build critical analysis skills, and include self-reflective exercises that develop their understanding in “how they are curious.”

I agree with Deitering and Gascho Rempel’s assessment that these shifts in language as well as incorporating the librarians as collaborative partners to the teaching experience of a first-year composition class, can only go so far if teachers do not buy into this model. The researchers determined that it is imperative to have librarians “teaching the teachers” in order for this model to be sustained and successful. Instructional and research librarians are not grading the assignments, nor are they in the classroom every day, but it essential to help the teachers change their language, expectations, and methods for promoting curiosity by strengthening the connection between academic librarians to the teachers as well as to the students.

Academic librarians are uniquely positioned in the age of the hyperlinked library, in a role that allows them to bridge connections in order to promote curiosity, explorations, and affect within students and in the classroom. Through inventive and innovative uses of researching, making use of library databases and library space, academic librarians promote effective learning practices. Deitering and Gascho Rempel’s study demonstrates the important role that academic librarians have on impacting students and teachers in order to make real change for the future.


Deitering, A. & Gascho Rempel, H. (2017). Sparking curiosity.


  1. Gen-x’er here as well. I agree, love hearing the references, especially when it comes to classic rock.

    It’s amazing how just the simple idea of language can change the outcome in motivating students. I really think “passionate” is a very over-used term as well.
    I appreciate the model of using “curiosity,” “exploration,” and “learning.” And ideally it would serve libraries will to partner with nearby schools to ensure everyone is on the same page.

  2. @lisamolson let’s here it for Gen-X’ers! Yes, “passionate”” has become the go-to word that has lost much of its intent. The article also indicated that students simply want to meet the assignment and get a good grade, putting “passionate” into the mix often yields the opposite results, lack-luster or generic. Developing curiosity as an entry and learning tool creates more of an opportunity to experiment and explore.
    Thank you for your comments!

  3. @steve @lisamolson I wear my pop culture references on my sleeve for sure. (Is that a thing?)

    Such an interesting point concerning the use of “passionate.” I need to be mindful if that as well. I told the group I spoke to in Ohio to be curious about everything and to keep a list of things they would follow up on to learn more about. Maybe that is the better alternative.

  4. Hi Steve,

    Another Gen Xer here! Woo hoo! Thanks for your reflections on those articles. It is true the way something is phrased or presented will create different responses. Sometimes, when I read instructor directions on an assignment, I can tell they are much more focused on the technical portions of the assignment than the exploration portions of it. Students I assist in the library figure this out and soon abandon the exploration of learning in order to score all the technical points. I’m not sure if that is the instructor’s intent, but that’s what happens.

    One database we have access to in our system that I find can help students feel a bit more brave about exploration is “Opposing Viewpoints.” It is a research database, but explores various topics from a variety of angles and can springboard research from one area to another fairly easily. Using that, I can convince the students they are gathering the references they need to check off the technical points, but they also get to explore without feeling too “guilty” about it.

    • Hi Dana,

      Thanks so much for your comments, you provide such telling examples that the authors also write about! As you point out the students soon learn that the instructor wants a specific answer (without realizing it sometimes) and the students just go on automatic pilot. This is an opportunity for librarians to collaborate and forge partnerships with the instructors in order to assist the students. I am so excited to check out the database you mention, “Opposing Viewpoints,” what a great idea and one I am unfamiliar with — thank you so much for bringing this to my attention.

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