Daily Archives: September 26, 2007

Build It and They Will Build Another One

Heads up, everyone: Scott McLemee has discovered Zotero and is spreading the word. You might get some questions about this at your reference desk, and you might start having some conversations about the library’s role in supporting pricey subscription-based citation management systems that can be tricky to teach – though chances are, you have already.

We are certainly living in interesting times. As we take a stride forward (often paying a lot to do so, and putting in plenty of sweat equity), we sit back to wipe our heated brows, then get busy designing instruction, trying some marketing, dealing with the technical glitches that surface. Then take a break to for a refreshing moment of banging-head-on-wall therapy before returning to the job at hand. Meanwhile, someone says “hey, why don’t we create some way for people to do this?” And before long there’s a solution that doesn’t require the library.

This is not a bad thing – solutions are good, and free is great. But it makes for a somewhat chaotic world, where we raise funds to build a bridge to get somewhere – and then people start inviting others to hop on the free ferry service they just organized. Passengers get excited. The bridge took them too far out of their way, or seemed designed for other people – or maybe they didn’t even know it was there.

This occurred to me yesterday as I looked for an article on the New Sanctuary Movement in the current issue of Sojourner. It’s in our library, but I was at home, on my living room couch. I knew it was in our library because our nifty SFX system told me so, and it also told me the article I wanted wasn’t full text in any of our databases. On a whim I checked to see if the magazine offers free access on the web – and sure enough, they do – though the article that looked interesting was not on the first page of a Google search for “new sanctuary movement;” I only found it because I searched a database. Then had to leave the library’s website to find it online. The route I took to actually read the article reminded me of how confusing this emerging mesh of free and subscription resources is for novice researchers, and how frustrating it can be for us to teach students how to become resourceful and critical about information.

This clever YouTube clip showing the flight of the harried database user makes the same point – humorously – but I have a feeling the old “here’s how” instruction will get harder and harder to provide simply because the map of where it is and how to get there is constantly being redrawn.