You can’t always search how you want

16 10 2009

Catherine at spurioustuples has a great post about style guides and the new APA manual.  While I could get “ranty” about this topic too, she makes several good points about how unnecessarily complicated citations are.

Her comments about DOIs (digital object identifiers) and how scholars might not be thrilled in trying to use them in their citation when it might not be included in the index or the article reminded me of an exchange I had with a friend recently.  I hadn’t seen this friend since before I started library school and he was getting a PhD abroad.  Now he’s getting a postdoc at the University of Chicago.  Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I’ve decided to go to library school and I’m almost a librarian now

Him: Can I just ask one thing? Why can’t article linkers reliably find an article?  It always works with the DOI.

Our article linkers work so much better when you use them from within a database than they do when you type the citation information in.  It’s unfortunate because it would be easier to teach students to search the article linker when they have a citation rather than the catalog by journal title.  So many students forget that they need to do a journal level search first and then search once they are in the database for the article.  Students think they can find the article they want by just searching for the article title in the catalog.  The level of information that is “findable” in the catalog becomes even more confusing when you think about how you can find a book by searching for the chapter in a keyword search in a catalog.  The tools that we have need to be more intuitive, or at least consistent.  The confusion that students have hampers their ability to focus on using the materials rather than accessing them.

Sometimes I wonder if we really are teaching students information literacy skills when we focus on how to find things in library systems.  How can we teach the more practical skills of information literacy in a way that makes them transferable lifelong learning skills?  Libraries are working on making our offerings more available to students (like the very exciting extensible catalog) and making searching more intuitive.  The way students learn to search will need to change as library catalogs and databases change to keep up with Google.  The other part of this standard that bothers me is that, while I love a good search strategy, it disregards the serendipitous part of research.  It’s also one of the most difficult standards to assess – but that’s another post for another time.

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