Category Archives: Research

Free access to Oxford online resources the week of April 13th

To celebrate National Library Week, Oxford University Press is providing free access to their online resources from April 13th through 19th:

Username: libraryweek
Password: libraryweek

Go here to see the full list (with links) of online resources you can access. A few highlights:

  • Oxford English Dictionary
  • Oxford Bibliographies Online
  • Oxford Reference
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online
  • American National Biography Online
  • Grove Art Online
  • Grove Music Online
  • Berg Fashion Library
  • Oxford African American Studies Online
  • Electronic Enlightenment

 

I’ll be teaching a research workshop for Clarion West in May

I’ll be teaching a one-day Clarion West workshop with Louise Marley on Sunday, May 4th from 10am to 4pm in Seattle’s University District:

Fiction R&D: From Research to Ideas to Stories
Research is a creative process that can help writers with inspiration, storytelling, and worldbuilding. Lisa Gold will share practical advice on doing research and finding useful and unusual sources, and she’ll provide an annotated list of resources. Louise Marley will explore generating, refining, and developing ideas into stories. They’ll use a combination of lecture, discussion, brainstorming, and writing exercises.

Check out these other Clarion West one-day workshops:

  • Rachel Swirsky, Telling Old Stories in New Ways, April 6
  • Nicola Griffith, The Magic of Immersive Fiction, April 13

For more information or to register: http://www.clarionwest.org/workshops/oneday/fiction-rd-from-research-to-ideas-to-stories/

My posts on Thomas Paine on the Bauman Rare Books blog

I’ve started a new series of posts on Thomas Paine on the Bauman Rare Books blog. You can read my earlier Forgotten Founders posts on George Mason (Parts 1 and 2) and John Dickinson (Parts 1, 2, and 3) here.

I’ll add links as each post goes live:

Paine-220x300“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
–Thomas Paine, Common Sense

My posts on Forgotten Founders on the Bauman Rare Books blog

I’ve started a new series of Americana posts on the writings of the “Forgotten Founders” for the Bauman Rare Books blog. My first two posts are on George Mason of Virginia, who Jefferson called “the wisest man of his generation.” Mason was the principle author of the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Virginia Constitution, which had an extraordinary influence on the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

I’ll add links as each post goes live:

My posts on American Ephemera on the Bauman Rare Books blog

I wrote a series of posts on late 18th-century American ephemera– pamphlets, broadsides, and newspapers of the American Revolution– for the new Bauman Rare Books blog.

My first post, American Ephemera: History as it Happened, is now up. Here’s a preview:

The United States of America was the first nation created though revolutionary acts of writing. Many of our most significant and influential founding works—Common Sense, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers—were first printed not in book form, but as ephemera, printed material not meant to be preserved.

There are many types of ephemera, but in this series I’ll be discussing late 18th-century American pamphlets, broadsides, and newspapers. They were usually printed for a particular time-sensitive purpose and then discarded, so relatively little from this period has survived.

Ephemera captured history as it happened and quickly spread it on both sides of the Atlantic—breaking news, public reaction to current events, government declarations and documents, speeches, letters, sermons, essays, and furious debates about the political, economic, and philosophical issues of the day. These invaluable primary sources are like time travel, allowing us to witness key events, gain insight into everyday life, and understand how Americans evolved from loyalty to rebellion to self-government….

The other posts in the series will appear every other week. I’ll add links to the titles below as they are posted on the BRB blog.

If you’re interested in rare books, you should check out the rest of the blog, which includes posts on Rare Books 101, Stories About Books, Modern American Literature, Legends of Photography, The Best Illustrated Books You’ve Never Heard Of, and Sex, Drugs & Books.

Let’s talk about search

So my last post, “Yet another study shows that ‘digital natives’ suck at searching,” seems to have struck a nerve– it’s received over 5000 hits (thanks to links from BoingBoing and Fark, as well as Twitter and Facebook), and I’ve been reading  the wide range of comments that have sprung up in various places (including my blog, BoingBoing, and the original article at Inside Higher Ed).

I think what many people (especially students) don’t understand is that search is both a tool and a process, requiring different skills, knowledge, and experience. You can learn just enough to get by or really master it with a little curiosity, persistence, time, and practice. There are many ways to do this, and you don’t need a formal class– you can teach yourself (as I did).  There are lots of online resources to help you, including tutorials and how-to guides on university and library websites and specific search engine help pages. (And don’t forget about librarians, a seriously underused resource.) There are links to some resources in my posts and my blogroll and I’ll add more soon.

I do believe it’s important for students to be taught (and regularly practice)– at school, in libraries, and at home– the essentials of digital and information literacy and critical thinking, starting at a young age  and continuing throughout their education. These are important life skills which are being sadly neglected.

Yes, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that most students are lazy and want to get quick and “good enough” results. But the problem is that they don’t know what they don’t know. (As the ERIAL researchers noted, “students were just as unaware of the extent of their own information illiteracy as everyone else.”) They have no idea that there’s a world of information out there that you can’t find through a Google search. Most of it has never been digitized and probably never will be (for lack of funding and copyright concerns, among other reasons). Some has been digitized but is locked in proprietary databases and the “invisible web.” Most books and articles published in the US after 1922 are still under copyright, so even if they’ve been digitized chances are they aren’t free (unless you borrow them from a library). Even if information has been indexed in Google, you may never find it if you don’t know how to properly search for it.

Google could certainly improve the situation, but it is a company of engineers trying to make search as easy and simple as possible for the vast majority of users, giving them a single “magic box” into which they can type anything and get results, even if they’ve spelled the keywords wrong or don’t really know what they are looking for. Some of the “improvements” they’ve made over time have made it frustrating for advanced users like me, such as ignoring the terms I’ve actually typed and substituting what they assume I’m looking for, or filtering my results based on my past search history. And if you want more advanced search options, Google doesn’t make it easy to find or learn about them, and their help articles often aren’t helpful at all. Search is not just an engineering problem to be solved– it is both an art and a science, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But no matter how good or flawed a tool like Google search is, anyone can learn how to use it well and get far better results.

A number of people have asked for some advice and tips on search, so here you go.

General advice:

  • When using any search engine, database, or website with search functions, take a few moments to read the instructions or help pages to figure out how to use the site to its full advantage.
  • Search engines are constantly evolving, so you should periodically review the instructions to see if you need to make changes in the way you search.
  • Every search engine is different, so what works for one won’t necessarily work for all, and each may produce different results using the same search terms.
  • If there is an “advanced search” option, you should always use it, as it will give you much more control over your searching and the results.
  • Refine your search. Experiment with different keywords and combinations of keywords. Look for clues to other possible keywords, such as related terms, alternate names, and subject-specific terminology. If you don’t get the results you are looking for, keep trying different things.
  • Remember to look beyond just the first few search results.

Some Google-specific tips:

  • Google’s search tips and help articles can be hard to find, but they do have useful information. Here are direct links:
  • Use Google’s advanced search function, which allows you to limit your search  in many different ways and combinations (all these words, this exact wording or phrase, one or more of these words, don’t show pages that have any of these unwanted words, language, file type, search within a site or domain, etc.). There is no longer a link to it on the main search page– it’s now hidden behind the gear icon (search settings) in the upper right corner. Here’s the direct link:  http://www.google.com/advanced_search?hl=en
  • If you’d rather use Google’s main search box instead of the advanced search, the help articles I linked to above have command shortcuts you can use, such as placing quotation marks around exact phrases. Note that Google no longer uses all Boolean operators. (You don’t need AND as it is the default in all searches. You can still use OR. Don’t use NOT, instead place a minus sign (-) directly before any words or terms you want to exclude.)
  • Google has many specialized search functions for images, news, blogs, scholarly papers, books, patents, etc.  Look in the upper left-hand corner, click “more,” then click “even more” for a full list. Here’s the direct link to the list:  http://www.google.com/intl/en/about/products/index.html
  • All the words you put in the query will be used and the order you put them in matters.
  • Search is case insensitive, punctuation is usually ignored, and common words (the, a) are usually ignored.
  • Google automatically searches for common variations of a keyword.

A final note: Improving your search skills is important, but it’s even more important that you think critically and evaluate your search results and sources.  (See some of my previous posts for more about this.)

Yet another study shows that “digital natives” suck at searching

I’ve blogged before about studies showing that so-called “digital natives” lack basic information literacy skills and have great difficulty doing academic research and finding and evaluating sources.  (My two posts on Project Information Literacy studies are here and here.)

This Inside Higher Ed article reported today on the results of new studies by the ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) Project. Here’s an excerpt, but you should read the whole thing:

“The majority of students — of all levels — exhibited significant difficulties that ranged across nearly every aspect of the search process,” according to researchers there. They tended to overuse Google and misuse scholarly databases. They preferred simple database searches to other methods of discovery, but generally exhibited “a lack of understanding of search logic” that often foiled their attempts to find good sources….

The most alarming finding in the ERIAL studies was perhaps the most predictable: when it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy….

The prevalence of Google in student research is well-documented, but the Illinois researchers found something they did not expect: students were not very good at using Google. They were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results. Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources. (For instance, limiting a search to news articles, or querying specific databases such as Google Book Search or Google Scholar.)

Duke and Asher said they were surprised by “the extent to which students appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school.” Even students who were high achievers in high school suffered from these deficiencies…

In other words: Today’s college students might have grown up with the language of the information age, but they do not necessarily know the grammar.

“I think it really exploded this myth of the ‘digital native,’ ” Asher said. “Just because you’ve grown up searching things in Google doesn’t mean you know how to use Google as a good research tool.”

Even when students turned to more scholarly resources, that did not necessarily solve the problem. Many seemed confused about where in the constellation of library databases they should turn to locate sources for their particular research topic: Half wound up using databases a librarian “would most likely never recommend for their topic.”…

Years of conditioning on Google had not endowed the Illinois Wesleyan students with any searching savvy to speak of, but rather had instilled them with a stunted understanding of how to finely tune a search in order to home in on usable sources, concluded the ERIAL researchers.

Regardless of the advanced-search capabilities of the database they were querying, “Students generally treated all search boxes as the equivalent of a Google search box, and searched ‘Google-style,’ using the ‘any word anywhere’ keyword as a default,” they wrote. Out of the 30 students Duke and Asher observed doing research, 27 failed to narrow their search criteria at all when doing so would have turned up more helpful returns.

Unsurprisingly, students using this method got either too many search results or too few. Frequently, students would be so discouraged they would change their research topic to something more amenable to a simple search….

Duke and Asher noted: “Students showed an almost complete lack of interest in seeking assistance from librarians during the search process.” Of all the students they observed — many of whom struggled to find good sources, to the point of despair — not one asked a librarian for help.

In a separate study of students…, other ERIAL researchers deduced several possible reasons for this. The most basic was that students were just as unaware of the extent of their own information illiteracy as everyone else.

How are students supposed to acquire these important digital and information literacy skills if they aren’t being taught in schools, many parents and teachers lack these skills themselves, and the librarians who have the skills are ignored or fired as libraries close in record numbers?