ResearchScapes

Discussions on the art and craft of research

Authority: Who Needs It?

(Note: This is the first in a series of planned blog posts exploring the key concepts of the Association of College and Research Libraries’ [ACRL] Framework for Information Literacy.)

In 2016 ACRL — the national organization for academic librarians — finalized its Framework for Information Literacy, a document that had been a number of years in the making. Simply put, the Framework seeks to define and describe six key points, called threshold concepts, that students seeking to become information literate need to understand.

I thought it might be useful in our blog to explore, point by point, the six key concepts of the framework; part of why I thought so is that the first point, “authority is constructed and contextual,” seems to be such an urgent topic to discuss, given the social and political moment in which we find ourselves.

As readers of this blog may recall, last fall I discussed one of the hot buttons generated by the divisive 2016 presidential election: the issue of media literacy or, if you will, fake news. Put succinctly, the fake news crisis can be thought of as a crisis of authority. In what news, media or other information sources can we trust? If people don’t take the time to discern which sources are trustworthy (in other words, authoritative), what can or will they be led to believe, and what does that do to the state of education, research and democracy itself?

The framework — advancing a view of authority that is constructed and contextual — states: “Authority is constructed in that various communities may recognize different types of authority.” It goes on to recognize the need for acknowledging biases “that privilege some sources of authority over others, especially in terms of others’ worldviews, gender, sexual orientation or cultural orientation.” The traditionally dominant voices of authority, in other words, need to be tempered or even overruled by the inclusion of voices that have been long shut out of the conversation. This, to me, is necessary, and frankly unassailable. Authority must be queried and questioned; researchers and students need to pay attention to the social processes by which authority is constructed, and be ready to challenge those processes.

But at the same time, to what extent does the assigning of context to authority mean that facts themselves can be overruled by asserting an alternative authority that claims to have, as has been famously done recently, “alternative facts”? Are facts — which, after all, are important products of authority — themselves constructed and contextual?

One may be tempted to say no — that a fact is a fact, and we’re not entitled to our own facts in the way we are entitled to opinions. While this isn’t exactly wrong, it’s also true that some facts, such as scientific findings, can be revised as new information comes to light. It’s also true that what counts as a fact can vary from discipline to discipline. So do these qualifications leave us in a world without facts — and, some might say, without moorings? Are all researchers thus in a “post-truth” quandary, between a proverbial rock and hard place?

The way through, I think, is to recognize that there simply isn’t anything like a one-size-fits-all edict that provides all the answers to the issue. Instead, researchers need to adopt a set of practices that help to evaluate materials and claims, and to think of this as a process, rather than as a quick judgment or a foregone conclusion. I offer a few suggestions here; some of these are partially based on some of the recommendations that ACRL provides in its “Dispositions” section of the framework.

First, query everything, constantly asking questions about the information’s provenance, its reason for being, its date of creation and its own sources of information. Remember that facts can sometimes be disproved, and that the questioning of established truth is part of a healthy research community (and, by extension, democracy).

Second, place different sources into relation to one another. This is what journalists do when they determine what should go into a story: Is there a second, third or fourth source that corroborates what this first source is arguing? To what does the preponderance of evidence lead? If multiple sources are pointing in the direction of a fact, it’s more likely to be true; but even then, since such things can themselves be the product of groupthink or a particular way of constructing authority, they often need to be qualified or tempered in their description.

The overarching recommendation of the ACRL framework is, as it states, to “develop and maintain an open mind” when thinking about authority: to recognize that authority is constructed socially, and can be made and unmade; that it may be constructed or interpreted differently in various contexts; and that established authority may be related to power.

These points won’t necessarily solve the conundrum about how to know when something is truly, incontrovertibly, absolutely a fact — particularly in an age when information sources claiming to be authoritative are thrown at us in ever greater volume, and at ever greater speed. But they may serve as good points to keep in mind when one is trying to decide how to think about a given claim as authoritative or not.

— Fred Folmer

 

 

Deadline for Library Research Prize: February 12

As a follow-up to a previous item announcing the second annual Connecticut College Prize for Undergraduate Library Research, here’s a quick reminder that applications for the prize ($500 cash!) are due on Sunday, Feb. 12, at 11:59 p.m.

All currently enrolled Connecticut College undergraduates are eligible. Students, please submit an application! Faculty, please encourage students to submit an application!

You can find all the pertinent information concerning rules for entry, project eligibility and more at the Library Research Prize’s webpage (found at http://conncoll.libguides.com/libprize). Entries must be posted to the prize’s Moodle site, which can be accessed using the aforementioned library prize URL.

We look forward to reading your application!

 

 

The ICPSR Undergraduate Research Paper Competition: An Overview of the last 10 Years’ Winners

The Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) will soon be reviewing submissions for its eleventh annual undergraduate Research Paper Competition (submissions are due by midnight PST on 1/31/2017). ICPSR is a consortium of academic institutions and research organizations that maintains an impressive data archive in the social and behavioral sciences, providing access to rich data sets on aging, arts, attitudes, criminal justice, economics, education, elections, political behavior, psychology, substance abuse, terrorism, and other fields. Part of ICPSR’s role as a data steward includes providing a variety of educational opportunities for students and researchers to learn more about working with data. To mark the occasion of this year’s research paper competition, let’s take a look back at the last ten years’ winners.

As one of two ICPSR representatives at my institution (Connecticut College), my interest in the past winners is to see what kind of work they did so I can promote the competition at my home institution. That means I want to see what data are being used and who is using them. One thing that’s great about ICPSR is that every study has a unique ID number, so it can be easily discovered or shared among researchers. Unfortunately for my purposes, some of the information requested on the Entry Form for the competition, specifically the ICPSR study number, does not appear clearly in the public view of past winners.

This is frustrating because it makes it difficult to determine exactly what data are used in the winning papers. One has to open each paper individually and carefully search it. According to my review of all 26 previous undergraduate winners (there are numerous winners each year), more than a third do not cite the unique ICPSR study number (ID) in their references (e.g. of an ICPSR study number would be ICPSR31521, which when searched on the ICPSR site will take you directly to the data set). Another third of past winners do not cite it accurately (e.g. ICPSR02597 does not seem to exist and it is not obvious to remove the first 0 in order to find it). My findings indicate that only a minority of winning papers accurately cite the ICPSR study number (ID) for the data they used. A list of data sets used for each paper is documented in my review linked above.

ICPSR - studyID

In terms of who was using the data, my main interest is in which department the research was undertaken. Unfortunately again, there is neither class- nor department-specific information provided for the winning papers. Instead, the Entry Form asks applicants for their expected majors and/or minors upon graduation. For the most part, this information carries over to the public view of the winners, as represented in the chart below. But to give an example of when it does not, take a look at the 2012 second place RCMD winning paper, “Black Feminism and Hip Hop: A Cross-Generational Disconnect.”* With this winning paper we cannot tell what the student’s expected major was, and moreover we don’t know in which course or department the work was done, except that it was for Professor R. Khari Brown at Wayne State University. But why does the major/minor matter anyway? And if the work was done early in the undergraduate experience, the major could have changed between winning this award and actually graduating.

Besides, an excellent research paper could have been done in Economics, Sociology, or Political Science, for example, by an English or Religious Studies major. The major could therefore be considered irrelevant. What matters is the course and department in which the winning work was done. Such information would lend itself to thinking about ways of replicating or furthering the research in similar courses or departments at other institutions. It is nonetheless interesting to see that the greatest number of past winners for whom a major is given went on to receive degrees in Economics (28.1%), Sociology (18.8%), and Psychology (15.6%). Perhaps more interesting still, is that the next largest group of winners (12.5%) did not list a major; enough to change the results significantly depending on what they were.  

ICPSR - images

Another aspect of who is using the data that matters to me, is what sort of institution they come from. Fortunately, this information is clearly provided for all winning papers. It is not surprising that research universities account for half of the winning research. What is somewhat surprising and a little exciting for me is that Liberal Arts Colleges makeup about a quarter of previous  winners. This means that students at my institution should plan to submit their research and expect to do well, since so many of our peers already have.

ICPSR - institution

My takeaway from this brief review of past winners is that the winning work is impressive and exciting. I want my institution to focus on submitting papers to this competition in the years ahead. However, as a liaison librarian, I wish there was more clear information about what classes and in which departments the winners did their work. I also think it is not sufficiently clear exactly what data were used for many of the winning papers. Moving forward, I recommend that the Research Paper Competition Winners website clearly indicate each of the following for all winning papers:

  • ICPSR study number (ID) used
  • Class in which the research was undertaken
  • Department in which the research was undertaken

While collecting and sharing this kind of information about applicants could help attract interest in the ICPSR Research Paper Competition moving forward, I certainly hope researchers everywhere will take the occasion of this review to spread the word and get submissions ready for the upcoming deadline on January 31, 2017.

—Andrew Lopez

 

*The RCMD competition is for papers written on data held within the Resource Center for Minority Data archive and/or on a topic relevant to the focus of that archive.

Manage Your Citations with RefWorks to Save Time and Keep Organized

Per the request of seniors writing honors theses this year, the librarians offered an advanced workshop on citation style. In the workshop, we took a close look at how the three main style guides (APA, Chicago, and MLA) handle translated sources, and we did some exercises with the additional tools in RefWorks (the citation manager of choice available to all at Connecticut College):

  • Save references on the Web
  • Cite in Microsoft Word
  • Cite in Google Docs

Pros & Cons of Citation Managers

It is important to be clear up front about the advantages/disadvantages of using a citation manager. Now that we can export citations for virtually everything in a library catalog or database, as well as anything listed in Google Scholar, citation managers promise to substantially cut down the number of keystrokes required to compose a list of citations. As the number of citations grows, we are quickly talking about hours of typing labor that can be saved by using a citation manager. Organizationally, it’s a tremendous help to keep all citations stored in one place. The major drawback is that all sorts of typographical errors creep into the citations, whether from the exporting source such as a database, or from within RefWorks itself. It does not take long, however, to recognize the pattern of typos that occur. Just keep an eye on them and make sure to edit them as you go along, or at the end of a project.

Citing Translated Sources

For translated sources, the main style guides do not have a whole lot to say. But they provide just enough guidance that we should be able to document non-English language sources clearly and consistently. That guidance is reflected on these slides, which spell out the main rules for translated sources:

Translated_Sources

Click here to view slides on style guidelines for translated sources

New Tools in RefWorks

In the new RefWorks interface, click on the three dots located on the top white ribbon to access the tools.

Click here for the Tools in RefWorks

Screenshot of RefWorks

The “Save references on the Web” tool can be dragged to your browser and used to capture information from Web pages for composing a citation. It works perfectly on a site like PubMed, which must have really good metadata; less so on the New York Times and other sites, but worth a shot.

The “Cite in Microsoft Word” tool needs to be downloaded and installed according to your operating system and version of MS Word. While there can be as much as a two-hour learning curve in getting this tool up and running, it ultimately promises to be a major time saver. With this tool activated, one can seamlessly insert formatted citations into a Word document, whether parenthetical or footnotes, as well as inserting a bibliography or list of works cited. If at a later date you need to change the citation style of your paper, you can do so with the click of a button, and watch your entire document reformat to the designated citation style.

The “Cite in Google Docs” tool is an Add-on that’s easy to implement. If you need footnotes instead of parenthetical citations, simply manually insert the footnote in Google Docs, then select a reference from the RefWorks sidebar.

Conclusion

As far as citations go, we know there are a thousand exceptions and a million quirky sources that don’t seem to fit the rules laid out in style guides. That’s why we encourage anyone with questions to contact one of our librarians for assistance.

Additional Resources

The Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) has long provided a very useful overview of the main rules from the three major citation styles. It’s easy to cross-check what you’re doing with the rules laid out on Purdue OWL.

Our own succinct Citation Guide for Print & Electronic Sources provides links to RefWorks and other leading citation managers, as well as to the major style guides, which are all available at the Reference Desk in Shain Library, and to additional online help.

Additional support from RefWorks:

—Andrew Lopez

 

 

 

 

On Fake News and Research Skills

In light of the emergence of fake news as one of the key stories following the 2016 presidential election, it’s worth (re-)considering the importance of evaluating information to any research process—whether that process involves writing a paper or gathering information about a candidate for office.

Although developing evaluation skills has always been integral to any research process, it’s arguably even more urgently needed now. That’s because libraries are no longer the sole gatekeepers of information, and it’s now possible to simply do a quick search on the web, find something that appears to relate to the topic at hand, and either forward  to someone else, or incorporate it into a paper or other piece of research.

As has been widely reported, a great deal of the fake news now circulates on social media networks. In this New York Times op-ed written by Zeynep Tufekci, a professor of library and information science at the University of North Carolina, the author takes Facebook to task for becoming a platform for misinformation campaigns (the pope endorses Donald Trump! An FBI agent who leaked Hillary Clinton’s emails found dead!).

Part of the problem, Tufekci argues, is Facebook’s algorithmic system, which promotes updates based on whether users find them “comforting.” But research isn’t supposed to be comforting; neither, correspondingly, is the moral and ethical work of citizenship. And helping students learn the moral and ethical work of citizenship is—or should be—in large part why we teach research skills on a college campus.

There have been signs that Facebook is taking steps to limit the fake news stories that are shared on its servers, but researchers—that is, those doing a paper or those simply gathering information to make an informed choice on an election—need to ask themselves a set of questions about every source they’re using, no matter how much the source may support one’s thesis or existing worldview, and no matter how much that source has been useful in the past.

First, who is responsible for the piece? A name isn’t enough; one needs to ask about the author’s credentials or authority to have written something on a particular topic. If it’s a news story, does it come from a reputable service—one that checks its facts, verifies its sources and provides multiple perspectives? Some of the fake Facebook posts came from the “Denver Guardian,” which sounds great until one realizes that no such news source exists. (Go ahead, Google it.)

Second, when was the piece written? In this election season, I saw articles forwarded and shared on social media that had been created months and even years earlier, making it seem as though they had just appeared. But facts and situations can change quickly, and in many research or fact-finding situations, it’s important to have current information, or at least to be aware of when an article appeared so that its date of creation can factor into one’s judgment about it.

Why was the piece written? To report the news, or to advance knowledge in a particular field? To get someone elected to an office? To spread fear, or to propagandize an issue? To make money? This question is often entangled with who wrote the story, but it’s equally important. (To think about the ways in which who wrote a piece can be bound up with why he or she wrote it, I suggest checking out this self-exculpatory New York Times op-ed written by someone who works for WikiLeaks.)

How and where did the author(s) get their information? In scholarly writing, this is precisely why citations must be provided—so that authors cannot simply assert something without some kind of backup. We need to be able to believe what authors are saying; it’s equally important to be able to verify their sources.

I’ve been trying to share the above questions with the first-year seminars with whom I’ve worked this past semester. We’ve looked at sources we found on the web and tried to think about evaluating them based on the above questions, rather than applying such abstract, blanket maxims such as “sites that come from a .edu or .org address are okay.” That’s not necessarily true; it’s always necessary to look closer at each article or book.

One of the first-year seminars I worked with was entitled “Performing Citizenship.” It was striking to me that the course focus and our work with evaluating sources were in particular alignment—and, similarly, that the task of critically evaluating research information and that of truly becoming an informed, participating citizen are one and the same. Whenever we undertake or assign research—and learn or teach the requisite skills to perform this research—we would do well to keep the responsibilities and imperatives of citizenship in full view.

— Fred Folmer

Announcing the 2017 Library Research Prize

We’re pleased to announce the 2017 Connecticut College Prize for Undergraduate Library Research, which will be awarded for the second time during the spring 2017.

A group of librarians worked to launch the $500 prize during the 2015-16 academic year; it’s the first award at Connecticut College that’s specifically designed to honor excellence in the research process. Entrants will be judged by a committee of librarians and faculty members on their ability to develop search strategies, use complex tools and techniques, and evaluate and synthesize resources in a project.

We encourage all students to submit an entry for the prize — and, similarly, all faculty to encourage students to do so. All currently enrolled undergraduate students are eligible. The deadline for submission is 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017.

To be considered for the award, you’ll need to submit the following to the prize’s Moodle site, accessed here:

  • An application form, to be completed in the prize’s Moodle site;
  • A Faculty Support Form (using the standardized form found on the library prize website);
  • An essay of up to 600 words describing research strategies (closely following the guidelines found on the library prize website); and
  • A draft or final version of the project for which the research was done.
  • A bibliography.

To be eligible, the work must have been completed for a credit course (not an honors project) in spring 2016, fall 2016, or spring 2017. The prize’s Moodle site can also be accessed via the prize’s website at http://conncoll.libguides.com/libprize.

For more information, email libprize@conncoll.edu. Good luck, and we look forward to reading your entries!

Going Public: Student Digital Scholarship and Copyright

In late October, I had the opportunity to attend the Bucknell Digital Scholarship Conference in Lewisburg, Pa. The idea of digital scholarship has of late been a strong and consistent trend in academia, with libraries providing key support; here at Connecticut College, the creation of the Digital Scholarship & Curriculum Center and the hiring of a librarian focused on digital scholarship have been emblematic of this development.

At the conference, there were several presentations, from institutions that included Bucknell, Lafayette and Gettysburg, that featured undergraduate students who had worked on digital projects of various kinds. One thing that several student presenters discussed, I thought, deserved special mention: the complications that can arise when making student work public by publishing it on the web, particularly regarding copyright.

In the existing paradigmatic model of undergraduate scholarship, students write papers that are read by a single professor, and then discarded or archived by the student as he or she desires. Copyright claims don’t apply to this model, because what the student writes is entirely written and consumed within a very limited educational context. Per Chapter One, Section 110 of the U.S. Copyright Code, “the performance or display of a work by instructors or pupils in the course of face-to-face teaching activities of a nonprofit educational institution” cannot be an infringement of copyright. (Fair Use, which outlines certain rights held by users regardless of context, may also apply; the TEACH Act, signed into law in 2002, extends Section 110 protections to online and distance-education activities.)

But at the Bucknell Conference, students described work that would not necessarily apply under any of these copyright protections. This work, created to be displayed on online publishing platforms such as Omeka, WordPress or Scalar, is increasingly available for public consumption, and this raises possible copyright issues for works and images that are incorporated into these projects. We’ve seen this trend here at Connecticut College too; for example, students from a history class digitized and displayed pages from a journal of a Connecticut man who sailed to China; another class digitized images from 19th-century Japanese books. (You can look at these exhibits here, or read more about those classes in the online version of the fall 2015 edition of Inside Information.)

In the latter examples, the digitized journal entries and images were in the public domain, and not subject to copyright claims. But if one is publishing a copyrighted work, it often can fall outside of the parameters of Fair Use and require permission, particularly if the use of the image is illustrative and not part of the analysis.

And so going forward, student research that’s presented in public will have to take such things into account, and students, librarians and faculty alike will find themselves needing to consider copyright as part and parcel of their research process. Here is a quick overview of the questions that need to be asked when doing this research, although I hasten to add that more could be said about each one of these items (and we hope to do exactly that in upcoming posts to this blog).

  1. Is it copyrighted? Works published before 1923 are firmly in the public domain and not subject to copyright, but for many works, it’s much more complicated. One needs to ask whether the work was actually published, whether the author is still alive (or when he or she died), and whether there was a copyright notice, among other factors. It’s a lot to sift through, so I suggest using this website from Cornell’s Copyright Information Center to help you decide.
  2. Does it fall under Fair Use? Fair Use is a protection afforded to those wishing to use or transform a copyrighted work in certain legally prescribed ways. When deciding whether Fair Use applies, courts weigh four factors: the nature of the use of the work; the nature of the work (e.g., whether it is artistic or factual); the amount and substance of the work used; and the effect of the use on the marketplace. You can read more about Fair Use here, on a page provided by Stanford University Libraries. For specific information about Fair Use and visual works, check out this page from the College Art Association.
  3. How do I get permission? While the specifics can get complicated, basically you need to 1) figure out who owns the copyright, and 2) ask them for permission. For works found on the web, see if there’s a way to contact the site owner and ask. (Brown University Library has a page with some helpful hints for this process.) For those not found on the web, some additional research may be involved. I suggest asking a librarian to ease frustration.
  4. How do I find images or other works that are not copyrighted? One great way to do this is to search for images published to the web under a Creative Commons license, which signify to a potential user that the image can be reused. This Creative Commons Search page allows you to look for works that can be used for commercial purposes; modified or adapted; or both. From here, you can search within such popular sites as Flickr and Google Images.

Here at Connecticut College, we have a very handy guide on copyright that covers all of the above; I heartily suggest referring to it when you have a question. You can also find a great list of resources at this page from Brown University Library.

— Fred Folmer

Library Budgets and Open Access

It’s International Open Access Week, and so here we offer a summary of our own library’s budget difficulties, along with an argument for why open access initiatives are a crucial aspect of the solution to these issues.

In the most recent issue of Inside Information — the newsletter for the College’s Information Services division — we reported the unfortunate news that a task force created to make cuts to the libraries’ materials budget (books, journal subscriptions, databases, etc.) had indeed reduced expenditures by $100,000, primarily by dropping subscriptions to databases that included Scopus, Royal Society of Chemistry, IoP Science, Newsbank, Art & Architecture, LGBT, Credo Reference, Mango Languages and Book Review Digest, among others. Further, the article states, it’s currently projected that the budget will need to be cut by an additional $60,000 by the end of this academic year.

The cuts have been necessitated by rising subscription costs that are coupled with a flat acquisitions budget — so as the subscription costs go up, there are fewer dollars available to spend on materials. As the Inside Information article, written by Beth Hansen, states, “[w]ithout a substanial budgetary increase, cancellations will continue to be the norm.”

What follows is a revision of what I wrote in the sidebar to the article, regarding open access.

The prospect of another round of cuts in library materials highlights an ever-growing problem: rising annual costs of these materials, particularly electronic journals and databases. These increases exemplify what many observers have called a broken system, whereby colleges and universities support the work of scholars to create new research, which is then published in journals and curated by vendors (Ebsco, ProQuest, Gale, Alexander Street, etc.) in electronic databases. The journals and databases are in turn sold or leased back to institutions’ libraries, often at a substantial markup.

Colleges and universities are therefore paying at both ends, and this double payment is proving unsustainable for many institutions, including ours. As a corrective to this system, many libraries have been pushing in effect to cut out the middleman in the form of open-access policies such as the one passed by our own faculty in 2013. For our part, Connecticut College’s libraries have strongly advocated that scholars adhere to the existing open-access policy and deposit articles in our Digital Commons archive — so that they can be found and used by those who may not have the means to pay the costs associated with access to materials. It’s also why many college and university libraries have undertaken publishing projects of their own, including the Amherst College Press or the Oberlin Group’s Lever Intiative.

Scholars also need to begin to become aware of — and assert — their own rights before they publish an article. Contracts are written to be advantageous to publishers, and not necessarily scholars and writers; thus, scholars can, and often do, unwittingly sign away their rights to their own work when they agree to a publishing contract. It’s also important to realize that contracts supersede whatever copyright had been held initially by a writer. And so when negotiating a contract, it’s a good idea to try to retain the right to deposit a version of the work into an institutional repository — and/or to publish in a journal that meets open access criteria.

One good place to look for more information about these options is the website of SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), a coalition of librarians and scholars seeking to advance the idea of open scholarship. SPARC’s website includes a page specifically about open access, as well as a handy fact sheet on open access describing actions scholars can take in more detail.

While placing an article into Digital Commons will not by itself change the system, it’s also true that the system of scholarly communication can only be rethought if a critical mass of scholars are willing to rethink their own publication practices. In order for this to happen, it’s important for everyone to understand why and how libraries are getting squeezed, and why emerging forms of open access are integral to thinking about the road ahead.

— Fred Folmer

Google Searches: Mastering Your Domain

As we all know, Google searches typically return huge amounts of results — numbering well into the millions — for practically any initial search. As frustrating as this can be, it’s especially vexing when adding additional search terms not only fails to limit the number of results in any significant way, it also may screen out lots of possibly useful items.

But it turns out that there’s a way to limit your results that doesn’t involve adding search terms — and that can help you retrieve useful items much faster. This method involves adding a domain search along with your search terms. And while this may sound daunting, it’s actually quite easy.

First, you can search in a wide domain, such as .edu, .org or .gov. The latter can be especially useful in finding an array of public materials, such as government reports, statistics and court cases. Suppose we’re looking for statistics on gun violence. If we search for “gun violence statistics” (without using quotes in the search), a Google search turns up 4,550,000 results — a hodgepodge of news stories, government reports, nonprofit organizations (including pro-gun advocacy groups like the NRA) and Wikipedia entries. But if we enter the following string into a Google search, we’re now at 30,700 results:

gun violence statistics site:gov

See how you do that? To whatever search you’re doing, you add the word “site,” followed by a colon, followed by the domain. In this search — which now only looks at sites with the “.gov” domain — the very first link that appears is a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics documenting firearm violence statistics from 1993 through 2011.

Screen Shot gov search
What’s more, once we know that the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (bjs.gov) may be a useful site in which to look, we can limit our searches to only sites within the Bureau’s domain, that is: “gun violence statistics site:bjs.gov”. To wit:

Screen Shot bjs search

We now have only 425 results to comb through. Moreover, we can easily see other categories, such as “Weapon Use,” on which the BJS offers information, and adjust our search terms accordingly to pinpoint the items that might be most useful to our project.

This technique can be used to similar effect to search .org or .edu domains — whether we’re looking within entire domains or particular sites. It’s especially useful when searching organizations big, complex web structures, such as the United Nations (un.org). There are, of course, pros and cons to searching any one of these domains, and this may be the subject of a future blog post. In any case, it’s worth remembering that limiting to a wide or narrow domain may help you find useful items quicker, and at the same time lessen one’s experience of information overload.

— Fred Folmer

Schedule a Research Consultation to Get Help Finding Sources

The fall semester is well underway at Connecticut College and the reference desk in Shain Library is abuzz with questions and consultations about finding, evaluating, and citing scholarly sources on a wide variety of topics.

What follows is an overview of a recent transaction in which an undergraduate student wanted to find works by two renowned anthropologists. The takeaway is that sometimes when it seems like the library doesn’t have a book you’re looking for, be persistent (e.g. ask us); it could be just a few searches away.

An anthropology student contacted the library by using the Schedule a Research Consultation link on the library website. One can schedule a research consultation using the library mobile app as well, so it’s super easy to schedule an appointment with a librarian.  In her message, the researcher told us about her project and the kinds of sources she was hoping to find:

I would like help finding works by Franz Boas such as his 1907 essay “Anthropology”, or his 1911 book “The Mind of Primitive Man”, or his 1920 essay, “The Methods of Ethnology”. And such works by Lewis Henry Morgan as “Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family” or “Ancient Society” (1877)

We scheduled an appointment and met in person to work on this together. Some of the sources can be found using the library catalog online, but some of them are trickier and require a more advanced search technique.

Here’s a look at how we found them:

Franz Boas’ work called “Anthropology”:

  • Do an Advanced Search in the library catalog

    Screenshot of an Advanced Search in the library catalog.

    Screenshot of an Advanced Search in the library catalog.

  • Search for franz boas in the first search box (case doesn’t matter), and set the drop-down option to search Author Name
  • In the second search box, search for anthropology, and set the drop-down to search Title
  • This search produced 5 results, including one for the book Anthropology and Modern Life, which is what it turned out we wanted

Because we were not sure at first if “anthropology” is the title of a whole book or perhaps just an article or chapter, we started with an advanced search to see how the catalog would handle this information. The advanced search technique helped in this case, because we found what we wanted and quickly.

The next item of interest, The Methods of Ethnology, sounds more like a book title, so we thought we would find it with a basic title search:

  • Do a Basic Search in the library catalog

    Screenshot of a Basic Search in the library catalog.

    Screenshot of a Basic Search in the library catalog.

  • Search for the title (without the initial article, because library catalogs and databases do not search initial articles such as “a” and “the”)
  • Limit the search to within the Title field
  • Unfortunately there are no results for this title, so it is either something we do not have in our library, something that’s contained in another item or classified under another title, or maybe it’s not a book, but a journal article or conference presentation instead

Assuming the work in question is at least part of a book, we can redo the search in WorldCat, the catalog of library catalogs, where we can hope to find out for sure if it is in a book somewhere:

  • Under the Catalog search box on the library website, click on WorldCat

    Screenshot of search results in WorldCat.

    Screenshot of search results in WorldCat.

  • Do a keyword search like this: “Methods of Ethnology” Boaz
  • This search contains a unique phrase (“in quotes”) and a unique name (Boaz); all as keywords
  • We still get a lot of results, but notice the first few. They happen to be titles available at Connecticut College, because the name Connecticut College appears highlighted in green
  • Click on those records to find out more about them
  • When viewing the full record in WorldCat, one can see these various titles contain the chapter we’re after – The Methods of Ethnology / Franz Boas
  • Pick any of the titles that appear to contain the essay of interest, and return to the Connecticut College Library Catalog to find out where the book is located in our library

With the search techniques listed above, we found everything we needed in about 15 minutes. It was all available only a few steps away.

— Andrew Lopez

 

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