Tuesday, November 6, 2007

How do you know if it's a scholarly journal?

Have you ever had this question? At Idaho State University a particular Biology 101 class is required to do several assignments to familiarize themselves with library resources. One of the questions asks that they find a peer-reviewed journal and make a photocopy of an article from our collection of printed journals or print out a full-text version of an article in a database. We use EBSCOHost interfaces and databases, so it can be easy to tell students just to check the box that says "Scholarly (Peer-Reviewed) Journals" when they begin a search or click on the link that says "Academic Journals" once the computer returns its results.

I am never quite satisfied with that answer, because it seems that students may find a book review within an academic journal, but this would not satisfy the criteria for their assignment. Typically, scholarly journals do not have flashy covers, but when students are working at a computer workstation they cannot see the journal/magazine covers. Scholarly articles generally contain a colon in the title, separating the general topic from its particular focus. Ex: "Eating disorder not otherwise specified in an inpatient unit: the impact of altering the DSM-IV criteria for anorexia and bulimia nervosa."

What should students know when they are looking for scholarly, peer-reviewed journals? The Idaho State University reference and instruction librarians have developed a web page that walks students through the decision-making process and compares the scholarly right next to the popular. It can be a great start for students who are puzzled about the matter.

On the other hand, if they want to know right now [post haste] it might be best to point them to Ulrichsweb.com where they can find a quick answer. I conducted a quick search a few minutes ago on "anorexia nervosa." It returned thousands of results; I had not specified any limitations on the search, but I found a journal title to check, Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology. I quickly copied and pasted it into the Ulrichsweb.com search box, pressed enter, and it returned lots of options. Of course, this scared me at first. "Oh no, I don't know how to do this. I didn't do it right." However, on looking more closely at the results I found the desired title down low on the list. I don't know why it returned those other results, but once I selected the proper title it took me to a detailed record of the serial in question. One of the fields is titled "Refereed" and for this particular serial it say "Yes." I tried Ulrichsweb.com today for the first time; for some reason I thought that I would have to consult the paper version. Talk about scary--using a printed index!!! No worries, though, because the Head of Reference says Ulrichs will no longer be selling the print version; it will all be online. Sounds like good news for students, professors, and librarians.

Hopefully I can remember to point students to the Ulrichsweb.com site in the future. We do subscribe to it. We have it on our list of databases at least. That's what I have to say about knowing whether or not a source is scholarly or not--at least today. Perhaps someone, someday will comment on this blog. What do I need to do to get people to read my stuff? I believe my entries contain useful information and questions; one reason I think they will be useful down the road is that I should be able to include them in my portfolio for evaluation. This may or may not be true, but I consider it to be a teaching log to include in my personal teaching portfolio at least.


This blog really does prepare me to answer students' questions. It affords me the opportunity to articulate my ideas in words that can then be expressed later. Sometimes I do rather well communicating ideas on the spur of the moment, but other times I fail miserably. My level of effectiveness increases when I first write down/type my ideas, because it forces me to organize my ideas into words that make sense in an understandable pattern/order.

1 comment:

Suzie said...

Hi Spencer!

I'm enjoying reading your posts as I and my group members work on a presentation we have to give in our Reference & Information Services class. We've had a good deal of practice using a variety of electronic databases available through our university library and also online. I really appreciated your post on conducting useful information literacy classes and why it's important for the facilitator (whether reference librarian or class instructor) to allow time for the students to practice accessing different formats of information. We definitely learn by doing, not just by listening, reading or writing.

Good luck with your career and keep up the insightful blogging!