A Genius Idea

I blame Star Trek Beyond. I feel like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” is haunting and taunting me! I went to see Star Trek with my husband last weekend, and when the song came on,  I was reminded of a really cool lesson on illustrating the “scholarship as conversation” frame.

As I was reading ACRL’s Instruction Section’s Spring 2016 Newsletter this past May, and I came across an intriguing lesson idea submitted by Tim Miller, a librarian at Humboldt State University, “Citations & Hip-Hop: Using Genius to Illustrate Scholarship as Conversation.” You can find the article at the link above on page 2, but I also have included it below.

This semester I’ve been participating in a book circle on Emery Petchauer’s Hip-Hop Culture in College Students’ Lives. Our first discussion coincided with an upcoming workshop that I facilitate on citations & plagiarism that I was also in the process of revamping. While discussing the symbolism behind Boogie Down Productions’ 1990 album, Edutainment, I was struck by the similarities between the asynchronous conversations within hip-hop and academic writing. I’m not a huge hip-hop fan, but I decided to delve in and put this idea to practice using another song from that era: Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”

Hip-hop music incorporates sampling (using audio snippets) and is filled with references to other songs, lyrics and imagery. Genius, the online song lyric knowledge base and annotation tool, provides a visual representation of these references by incorporating interactive features that allow users to create annotations alongside the text of the lyrics. These annotations provide explanations and context in the form of comments, hyperlinks and images. I purposely chose “Fight the Power” because it is particularly rich with samples, references and imagery that not only provide a background to the meaning behind the song but also point listeners to artists and individuals who inspired the song.

The imagery within Genius helps demonstrate that references in hip-hop create a conversation akin to scholarship: a conversation that is ongoing and unfinished. Just within the intro and first verse there is a variety of examples, including: a link to the music video (with its own visual references), an image of the single for James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” a link to The Soul Children’s “I Don’t Know What This World Is Coming To,” and a movie poster to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, for which the song was written. Genius makes these references come to life by incorporating comments, images and sound – all added by the various Genius users participating in the conversation. (Miller, 2016, p.2).

I would actually really love to do this as a workshop. I think it’s because of my history background; I did a lot of classes related to slavery and Civil Rights, and my interest in social justice. I will definitely keep this idea on my radar. I emailed Tim to let him know how much I enjoyed reading his piece in the newsletter. He let me know that he also uses Genius “to annotate an online article for my workshop on reading academic articles. It is a very easy way to add instructive elements into a webpage. I may explore using it with [LibGuides] to create virtual tours for our online programs” (T. Miller, personal communication, May 9, 2016).

Citation Tools

A while back, one of my friends from college who now teaches writing where we went to school together sent me a message about a little debate in a writing instruction-related listserv about how university libraries always seem to market citation tools to students, making students become dependent on machines to do the work for them. This is an advertising tactic, but the workshop the library is putting on might actually show students how these tools aren’t 100 percent accurate. This was pretty much what he thought was likely but wanted to see what I thought. I do support these tools when used appropriately. The reality is that a lot of our students do find and use these tools on their own; I might as well give them some pointers.

In instruction sessions, I point out citation tool features in databases, but I always comment that the citations aren’t to be taken at face value. I usually do an example and ask students to point out what is incorrect in hopes that they remember that it isn’t always right. I do support using the tools in order to save time —students can copy-paste and correct by looking at their writer’s guides, which often have sections on citing in APA and MLA; the APA or MLA handbooks; Library handouts; Library LibGuides on APA and MLA; or even by googling Purdue OWL’s APA or MLA Formatting Guides. I even have Purdue OWL linked on my LibGuides for APA and MLA. I also have other citation tools listed in those online guides with a note indicating that these tools are not perfect.

I went on to tell my friend, “Ain’t no one just telling them to use the tools point blank.”

Well, I was wrong. Recently, someone in an academic library listserv was complaining that EBSCOhost needs to get its act together to fix the problems in their citation tool feature because the “nice librarian is telling students to use the feature, and students are getting points marked off.”

I’m just going to say it. You are not doing your job if you are simply telling students to use these tools. That was the gist of the feeling among the people who did a reply-all response. No tool is going to be perfect, but it’s not difficult to live in the happy place I’ve described above. There is so much help available to double-check citations, and if points off is what is going to motivate students to learn or at least take the time to check, so be it. The other challenge is that students, who do seem to understand why we cite, at least when I’ve asked students in class, don’t seem know why there are different styles or why they must be so precise when using a particular format. There needs to be a much deeper conversation, and I am sure this does happen in research instruction and writing instruction courses. It’s just part of getting students familiar with academic culture.

With that said, librarians, what are your favorite tools to help students cite or keep track of citations? While I only list links on my LibGuides to free tools (again, with a word of caution), here are some free and fee-based tools that I know about, though the only one I personally use is Zotero. Diigo does look really interesting, so it may be one I try out for myself. The last citation builder I played with is North Carolina State University Libraries’ Citation Builder.

BibMe

Citation Builder

Cite This for Me

Diigo

EasyBib

KnightCite

Mendeley

NoodleTools

Perrla

RefMe

RefWorks

Son of Citation Machine

Zotero