Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bill Badke on Wikipedia

Last week I finally got around to reading an article on Wikipedia which many information-literacy librarians had read months ago. On the Information Literacy and Instruction listserv they talk about it rather extensively. It stirred up discussion to say the least. Anyway, the article is titled "What to Do With Wikipedia" and it highlights the main arguments for and against using this web2.0 reference source. Many professors reject outright, but the fact of the matter is that a majority of today's web generation goes to Wikipedia for basic reference information.

Badke encourages information professionals and professors to use Wikipedia as a learning tool--writing skills, editing, fact checking, etc. Teachers throughout the academic world have already done so, and Wikipedia even provides pages for helping teachers do it well. It teaches students how to do research. He argues that banning this resource only fosters the anti-academic subculture that seems to thrive on Wikipedia and in the digital realm.

One interesting point he made involves the usage of the terms "analog" and "digital." Academics still reside in the "analog" realm; sure they publish articles digitally, yet they still publish them in tidy volumes and issues. Those in the "digital" realm edit and revise an article regularly, seemingly continuously.

Don't get me wrong. Badke does not necessarily recommend that students cite Wikipedia articles in their research papers. Like encyclopedias these reference materials can give somebody basic background information to launch them on more in-depth research. After all, even Wikipedia articles must contain a list of sources that verify their information.

It's worth reading:

Badke, William. "What to Do With Wikipedia." Online: Exploring Technology & Resources for Information Professionals 32.2: (2008), 48-50.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Catalog vs. Index

I have a colleague, Phil Homan, who asserts that the most important thing college students need to know about the library and finding its resources is to understand the difference between an index and a catalog. He makes some compelling points.

Phil talks about the difference between a catalog and an index. He often begins his instruction sessions with a straightforward question like: "What can you find in the library?" He writes the answers from the class on the board: books, magazines, journals, maps, CDs, DVDs, periodicals, newspapers, indexes, etc. He then asks a question like: "What will you find in journals and books?" Answers might include articles, chapters, poems, short stories, etc. The chalkboard is divided into two sections, and answers to the two questions appear on either side. Again, he asks: "What is the difference between one side and the other?" Answer: one side shows parts of a whole, and the other side shows the wholes.

At this point he says that you will find the parts in an index or database, and the wholes can be found in the catalog. Therefore, articles, poems, chapters, short stories, etc. and/or their titles will be found in an index or anthology, while titles to books, CDs, videos, magazines, newspapers, indexes, anthologies, journals, maps/atlases, encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc. will be found in a catalog. A library catalog, therefore, will tell you what that library has inside its building. (True, many catalogs include links to websites, especially government websites, since most of their "documents" are now "born digital.") An index will give you titles of articles, books, poems, etc., that may not be within the library itself, but which you can request via interlibrary loan.

An approach such as this seems pretty straightforward, yet it can really make sense to students and be just the thing to help them conceptualize the library and its resources.

Catalogs Contain Records about the Whole Item (This allows you to learn about as well as find items in the physical library.)
  • Books
  • Anthologies
  • Indexes
  • Maps
  • Videos (DVDs, videocassettes, films, etc.)
  • Journals
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • CDs
  • Musical scores
Indexes Contain Records (and sometimes access to the full text) to the Parts
  • Articles
  • Chapters
  • Topics in the books (See the end-of-book index)
  • Poems
  • Songs
  • Short stories

"Card Catalog?OSU Archives.  Flickr.com.
Today's databases are article indexes; they tell you about articles that exist, offering the full citation information and usually an abstract or summary of the article.  Some article indexes provide full text, or the entire article in question.  These articles may appear in html or pdf formats.  Some databases only function as indexes and provide no full-text access to the articles: Web of Science, Biosis Previews, MLA International Bibliography, Abstracts in Anthropology, Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts, et al.  These are great finding tools, especially useful for graduate students and other serious researchers.

Today the instruction librarians met for a meeting. We talked about a First Year Seminar [FYS] instruction request form, which is being coded today. It includes a menu of options for the instructors in the FYS program. They are no longer required to bring their freshmen students to the library for instruction, so we hope that giving them more options and flexibility will entice them to come. Students need to feel comfortable in the library; those who do tend to succeed more than those who do not.

Anyway, two librarians graciously demonstrated signature components of their teaching sessions. The first drew an inverted triangle and began to explain the research process with the use of her illustration. Anyone starting a research project (especially a project on an unfamiliar topic) would do well to consult the reference resources. As my colleague mentioned, professors assume that students have basic background information on their topics--that they are consulting encyclopedias before doing their research, yet we librarians see that students do not take advantage of these resources--at least not the ones in print.

Students frequently hear their professors condemn encyclopedia articles as sources worthy of citing. They understand that they must cite X amount of articles and-or books, so they skip the step of consulting an encyclopedia article when it could be extremely beneficial to them in a number of ways. First, it gives them a basic backdrop for understanding the article or books they read later. Second, it can identify keywords they can use later in their database searching. Third, it contains a list of references they can then consult to further their research.

Anyway, the broad base of the triangle is where you begin the research with reference materials, such as textbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc. Books fill the second portion, and journal articles fill the last tip of the triangle. In sessions I have taught, I included another segment to the triangle for personal interviews and personal experience. Students ought to reference their own life experiences and compare and contrast them with the ideas encountered in their research process.