For as long as I have been in this profession (since 1979 for those keeping score), scholarly communication has been the blessing and the curse of libraries. The blessing because, let’s face it, without scholarly communication there isn’t much reason to have a library. A curse because figuring out how to pay for it has bedeviled every librarian since Callimachus. Thousands of years later, we’re still trying to figure out the cost part of the equation.
But it isn’t just costs, either. Preservation of materials, collections, housing, and access all figure into the imbroglio of providing scholarly communication in the context of a library setting. A new study, however, sheds bright light on the matter. Ithaka S+R is a not-for-profit group that tracks libraries and their changing digital landscape. Its most recent study shows that faculty attitudes about libraries and their work are more important than ever. Students must not only graduate on time, but they must also be able to take their place in the world. Any college graduate who cannot access scholarly communication easily and well is going to find herself behind from the start.
More than half the faculty respondents said that students’ ability to access scholarly communication is weaker than ever before. In our ever wired and more digital world, this may come as a something of a surprise. It isn’t to those of us working in libraries. We see students struggle routinely with so-called simple research investigations, even seasoned students on the verge of graduation.
While the degree of oversight among faculty in the study differed from discipline to discipline, faculty in the Humanities were the most critical with six out of ten faculty saying their students struggle with finding the simplest of scholarly work. Most students still begin .. and end with a Google search. While Google may well be an acceptable beginning point, it cannot be the end. While Google is vast and quick, it is no mithridate to illness of research. Most students find daunting the millions of possible sources in a given search and quickly decide to take the first three or six–not the best of all possible research worlds.
The vast majority of faculty also see the library as a partner in this work, and are looking to librarians to enable them to help students ferret out their way in the arabesque thicket of academic information. One areas that most faculty agreed upon was the importance of a discovery tool rather than individual databases as a starting point. A quarter of faculty respondents thought that being able to search across databases and disciplines far more important than starting in one and looking for others. This is likely the result of Google and other search engines that search across vast oceans of information.
Fortunately for Winthrop students, Dacus has been in the business of teaching information literacy skills for decades. Not only that, but with additional programs like Book-a-Librarian, Winthrop students can learn general searching skills in Writing 101, and then move to more advanced searching skills by making an appointment with any of nine librarians helping out with the program.
On every university campus there are really two kinds of scholars. There are those in the classroom that you see each day who know the topic, who teach you what years of experience and training have taught them. Then there are the other kinds of scholars, those who know how to find information on that topic–or any other–and these folks are in the library. The study may be new, but its result merely confirm what we librarians have known for a very long time. We make not teach in classes routinely but we do teach students how to find their way through the dark forest of scholarly communication.
We hope you’ll come by early and often to see us and let us help you find your way around the so-called information superhighway. Google may well be the entrance ramp to it, but if that’s all you know, you’ll never make to the actual highway, much less your hoped-for destination!