Over the weekend, I have been busy researching for an ongoing project.  I had some time to kill yesterday afternoon while my companion was busy.  So I rolled into my favorite Louisville Free Public Library Branch, Crescent Hill, and hit the computer station.  I logged into my library account, accessed the EBSCO databases and commenced my searches.

I had no paper, I wasn’t using my computer and I didn’t even have my USB drive.  Before I headed to the library, my companion asked, how will you be able to research?  Until I logged into the databases and realized I could save items to my folders, I wasn’t sure how I would deal with this problem.  The cloud is very beneficial to mobility and research on the fly of an otherwise playful Saturday.

After we spent some time catching up on the print Harper’s and GQ and were driving back, my companion and I reflected on how we used to do research.  We were both history majors in college.  The college we attended was a small private college with a small library.  Both of us used the Interlibrary Loan services heavily.  We definitely knew our librarians by first name and ERIC was like magic.

The old way of research used specific Title/Autho/Subjects access methods.

The old way of research used specific Title/Autho/Subjects access methods.

We used a mixture of print indexes and dedicated databases.  Our library still had the card catalog, but they also had a very simple OPAC.  Our computer lab was full of AB switches and WordPerfect 4.0 was so much better than the electric typewriters.  In my theses course, my professor said there was no way the paper could be written in two nights, (draft and final due dates) but that’s exactly how I did the writing.  My dorm room was full of books, all open to the indexes and out came a great paper, lost along the way, on Women Rulers…(I can’t even remember  the title now.)

Today, the research is easier and more convenient, but I wonder, if I would be as good at it as I am without the experience I had as an undergraduate.  The process was harder, my professors and librarians had clear expectations of following the process and when I spent a semester in the Master’s History program  at the University of Kentucky, I was better prepared than many of my fellow students.

Research requires awareness and intelligence.  Google and other search engines make keyword searching much easier but I think that ease causes some  loss in the research process.  Researchers rarely go beyond the first few results and the game of SEO makes it easy for the the best sources to get pushed to page to 2 or 3.

Index terms were necessary to find the relevant sections of the sources I used when a college student and I still tend to disregard books that don’t have good indexes.  Social tags are not nearly as reliable as structured taxonomies.  I know the value of expert indexing and rely upon that.  Keyword searching is easy but it only takes me so far.  EBSCO provided me the structured terms and Boolean searching I require for my current project.  I’m glad I had the research experience from college and the skills and knowledge I gained as I completed my Masters of Library Science. Without it my research process would be flawed and my projects would not be as accurate and relevant as they should be.

Today’s information users don’t always know what they are missing because they don’t understand the importance of information structure and the research process.  Information literacy is a constant battle in college and universities.  My academic library colleagues work hard to partner with professors so that these important skills can be passed on.  They use innovate methods and mediums such as Second Life to reach the student where the student lives.  The battle goes on and smart information users will arm themselves with the weapons they can learn from their librarians.  I’m glad I still have those weapons.

Constance Ard August 30, 2009