Academic librarianship’s mainstream research journals are looking more like prizefighters in the twilights of their careers. They’ve gone through a long period of trying to stay on their feet while the world is passing them by and have taken a whole lot of hard knocks. As far as attracting readers, it seems like they’re about to go down for the count at any moment. If some blogger isn’t pissing all over the content of research journals by attacking it as boring drivel, then the research literature is being mocked as irrelevant, outdated before it’s printed and nothing more than an excuse for librarians on the tenure track to write about something for which no one cares and that no one will read. Well, if that’s what you think, that’s just a damn shame.
Is every article in every scholarly journal a masterpiece of writing and research? Of course not. Are some research articles repetitious, void of originality or suffering from a case of “you had to do research to tell us something that blatently obvious?” Absolutely. But there are probably dozens of forgettable and downright awful blog posts for every scholarly article that’s published. I say the scholarly literature is still a field of gems worth exploring. Every now and then an article will emerge from the pack that will grab your attention and have you kicking yourself for not coming up with that idea. In other words, you might actually learn something important. I came across two such articles recently.
The first is found in the October 2007 issue of portal: Libraries and the Academy (disclosure – I am on the editorial board) and it’s titled “Portals for Undergraduate Subject Searching: Are They Worth It?” If you are beginning to think that your Facebook profile isn’t really helping you to connect with students – especially in ways that truly matter – like helping them to achieve academic success – then you might need a new approach. Perhaps it’s time you considered strategies for connecting with students in their courses. That’s what students really want, and that’s what the research from this article tells us. The authors relate how they started to create discipline specific portals, which sounds like a good idea, but it didn’t turn out that way. Seems the students really wanted course specific resources. The findings from this well-written piece come just at the right time for my library as we’re exploring ways to better integrate the library resources into the curriculum. If the students prefer course-integrated and assignment specific library resources that’s where we’re headed.
The second is found in the November 2007 issue of College & Research Libraries and it’s titled “Undergraduate Use of Federated Searching: A Survey of Preferences and Perceptions of Value-Added Functionality.” While the title is hardly inviting, a closer look yields some interesting findings. Yes, students prefer federated search systems to individual native mode database systems because the search is easier and saves times – nothing too shocking there. But you might be saying “yeah, but the students are paying for convenience with worse results.” Well, it depends on who is judging the results. This study performed a detailed analysis of the search results, and when both librarians and faculty members analyzed the search results very little difference was found between the quality of the federated and non-federated searches. The faculty, more so than the librarians, found the federated search results to be of reasonably good quality. So if you’ve been putting off looking into federated search for your library because of concerns that it dumbs down searching and produces low quality results, think again. Based on student comments obtained during the study, while federated search was perceived as an improvement it appears that no students are deserting their favorite Internet search engines for federated search.
So if you’ve gotten away from keeping up with the scholarly literature of academic librarianship, keep in mind that your colleagues aren’t just making a bid for tenure (at least the ones on the tenure track) when they write these articles. They are also endeavoring to communicate new ideas and discoveries that serve to advance our knowledge of the resources we use and the communities we serve.