Library Resource Discoverability & A Pre- And Post - Internet Scholarship Age

An article on InsideHigherEd got me thinking about the complexity of library research and the reason that some scholarship remains unread and not cited -- it's just too hard to find.

The author did a hands-on exercise with students to get them familiar with the various resources in the library. "Groups of students had four citations: a mix of books, journal articles, essays in edited collections, and conference presentations."
  • Is it a book? Use the catalog, look for the location and call number, figure out what floor it’s on, and find it on the shelf. 
  • If a book is not in our catalog, use Worldcat to request it through interlibrary loan.
  • Is it an article? Type the name of the journal it was published in into our journal list, unless it’s an article in a book. The journal list will tell which volumes of that journal are in any of our databases or in print at our library. 
  • The surprise was the conference papers. Often, a citation to a paper means you’re out of luck unless you can get a copy from the author or find published proceedings somewhere in a library

By the end of the exercise, the author admitted that she was depressed "by all of the work and money put into systems that are supposed to help people find stuff but which, in spite of our best efforts, remain bizarrely complex."

As the author noted, "libraries are wasting too many resources trying to make library content discoverable. But that’s just part of the problem. It’s also exacerbated  by scholars and their peer evaluators who don’t care if scholarship finds readers or if readers find scholarship, who see it only as a thing scholars do. Once it’s on the CV, it's work is done."

We do need more open access ventures, and libraries should not feel the need to compete with Google (we simply cannot). I do not disagree that libraries are becoming increasingly complex, especially when compared to Google, but researchers and scholars, alike, need to see the value and have patience in the library research process. If our researchers and scholars continue to increasingly rely on the full-text, convenient content available directly from Google, we are sure to have a pre- and post- Internet, narrow scholarship age. 


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