ResearchScapes

Discussions on the art and craft of research

Tag: Undergraduate research

3rd Annual Library Prize Recipient – Dominic Lentini

For the last three years, Shain Library has been awarding a Library Research Prize. Each student applicant must submit detailed information on their research process, and get faculty support for the submission. This is the essay/application for this year’s winner, Dominic Lentini. Dominic is a senior, and a double-major in International Relations and French. His paper was entitled: Media Framing, Violent Protest, and Race: A Comparative Analysis of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ coverage of the Ferguson Protests.

Dominic Lentini ’18
Research Statement
Spring 2018

Describe how you came to choose your topic, specifically noting any pre-research that you did. What sources did you use in this pre-research? To what extent did you consult with librarians, faculty, or others? How did this pre-research lead you to your topic?

The process through which I arrived at my final topic was very time consuming. The first proposal I wrote was about protest repression, media coverage, and the police. For this, I first consulted the textbooks as well as other assigned readings for our class and I critically examined their bibliographies to help guide me in the direction of appropriate and related literature. This search involved exploring both theoretical literature to establish a framework for my analysis, as well as information on potential case studies and primary sources that could be used to take the existing research in a new direction. Using those sources as a springboard, I compiled a large list of peer reviewed articles and books on protest policing, policy, and organization, as well as on media coverage of protests.

However, as I began to read through those texts, consult with my professor, and meet with research librarians, I realized that what I had proposed could be three separate papers. While my research clearly started with a very large scope and a lot of energy was used to research topics that I did not write about, over roughly a month and a half of reading and evaluating sources, I eventually guided and narrowed my initial interests into a topic that was appropriate for the course: Media Framing, Violent Protest, and Race: A Comparative Analysis of The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ coverage of the Ferguson Protests.

Describe your process of finding information for your project. Note specifically the tools you used to undertake your research, as well as the specific search strategies you used within these tools. (Note: “Ebsco,” being an umbrella vendor, is not a specific enough response when identifying tools; listing the “library database” is also an unacceptably vague answer.

Specific tools include JSTOR, America:History & Life, Web of Science, etc., along with OneSearch, the new library system.)

As I described in question one, the first step in my process was exploring the sources used in the bibliographies of sources provided for my course. Following that, however, I used the library’s OneSearch, JSTOR, Political Science Complete, Google Scholar, and Lexis Nexis as the main tools for finding new articles and books. Within all of the databases I would do advanced searches with a variety of different search terms such as “framing,” “media framing,” “framing violence,” “framing race,” “framing protest” and many combinations within those terms. I would then read the abstracts to gauge potential relevance, and save every potential article to RefWorks so that I could later examine their
methodology, data, and conclusions. For anything I could not access through those databases, I used both the CTW network, WorldCat, and Inter Library Loan to access them. Additionally, within JSTOR I explored the utility of their text analyzer, which is in its beta mode.

For collecting my primary source newspaper articles, I initially used ProQuest Newspapers. I even contacted them, with the help of Andrew Lopez, to learn about how they code and sort their articles. For my data collection process, I used ProQuest Newspapers to search all articles published in certain date ranges based on set search terms in order to create frequency tables of article publication, and then to do content analysis of a selection of those articles. I realized, however, that some articles were coded inconsistently, and consequently double counted, which threw off all of the article counts. Thus, I did not end up using that particular database. Instead, I used the website search function for both The New York Times’ and the Wall Street Journal’s sites. Using the search functions within each newspaper required more manual work, and I even called the WSJ to get information about how their search feature functioned, but it ultimately provided me with the data I needed.

Describe your process of evaluating the resources you found. How did you make decisions about which resources you would use, and which you wouldn’t? What kinds of questions did you ask yourself about resources in order to determine whether they were worthy of inclusion?

I went through several different steps to evaluate my sources. Firstly, for my literature review, I only considered peer reviewed articles and books. Within sources that met that requirement, I would examine their research methodology as well as their bibliography in order to gauge the soundness and scope of their argument and conclusions. This process, however, still left me with more articles than I could use. Consequently, I made my final selection with the intention of laying a base to the framing literature, then additions and variations to that literature, and finally critiques to it. The ultimate goal was to paint a well-rounded picture of the literature.

The process for selecting background pieces for my case study was more challenging. For one, due to the slow process of academic publication, there does not exist a huge body of peer reviewed literature on the Ferguson protests. Consequently, most of the information on what transpired had to be gathered from newspaper and magazine sources. This, however, left me in a paradoxical situation because I was being pushed to use newspapers as the background for a paper in which I was arguing that newspapers paint a “framed” version of what transpired during the Ferguson protests. To try and mitigate this issue, I used a wide range of newspapers and magazines, as well as any quality academic literature I could find, in order to cross reference and evaluate the validity of my sources. While this did not totally eliminate the issue, it definitely reduced its severity.

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!

 

 

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!

Overloaded?

One of the principal arguments that we present-day librarians make about ourselves is that in an age of massive and pervasive information overload, we are able to help library users cut through the dross and find what they truly need. We often discuss this in terms of time — specifically, reducing the time that patrons spend in finding useful sources. (In fact, “save the time of the user” is one of the five laws of library science, developed by S.R. Ranganathan, that all librarians learn.)

We also, with good reason, talk about quality — librarians’ ability to act as a filter for patrons who are confronted with millions of Web search results, along with anyone’s ability to publish anything, regardless of credibility. Every day, we help students develop search strategies and ask the right questions, and we provide platforms (database pages, catalogs, research guides) that attempt to direct them to high-quality information.

But as I listened recently to an NPR report by Manoush Zomorodi entitled “Get a Grip on Your Information Overload,” another significant framework for talking about our role in mitigating information overload occurred to me: that of stress, and the effects of information overload on the body and brain. One of the key points raised by the report is that overload causes physical symptoms such as headaches, insomnia and eye twitches, but even so, it’s nearly impossible to stop consuming information. The report also quotes a neuroscientist, Daniel Levitin, who argues that so much information makes it difficult to discern what’s important, and that so much decision-making about all this information simply wears people down.

Although the report is talking mostly about everyday interactions with information and media, and not specifically about academic research, the implications for the latter seem clear. Students today are confronted with far more options for finding information than they had been in the past. And indeed, every librarian has stories of students who come to the desk clearly stressed — not just because they’ve had trouble finding things that relate to their research, but because they’ve done Web searches and then had no idea how to sift through the millions of results that turned up. We’ve also all seen the face of relief when students do a search in an academic database and suddenly are dealing with only dozens of options instead of thousands or millions — and that, lo and behold, many of these options are actually viable.

Particularly with the focus today on student physical and mental well-being, we perhaps ought to focus more attention on how librarians and their various strategies might contribute to this well-being. How much, one wonders, could it alleviate stress to discover that there are well-marked paths for finding information on an academic topic, not to mention people whose task is specifically to help them navigate these paths? It’s not just about being nice and friendly, although all our librarians here very much are. It’s also about reducing the need for so much processing of information, all the time. It’s about taking students to the heart of the matter, and teaching them how to get there — separating the signal from the noise, and feeling happier about being able to do it.

— Fred Folmer

Connecticut College Prize for Undergraduate Library Research

Connecticut College Libraries is pleased to announce the launch of an annual award dedicated to recognizing excellence in the undergraduate research process. While it is becoming more common today for academic libraries to offer an annual research award, a preliminary review of Oberlin Group library websites indicates that Connecticut College Libraries would be only the 11th of our 80 peer institutions to offer such a prize.

 

Lib Prize at Tufts

A poster display of recent winners of the library prize at Tisch Library, Tufts University

Why aren’t there more prizes at Oberlin Group libraries? This may be because it is a more common practice among research universities – our own efforts at creating the Connecticut College Prize for Undergraduate Library Research were based on previous work undertaken at the University of California, Berkeley, and at Temple University. Other recent prizes of note could include those at Brown University or Tufts University, or the one established this year at University of Toronto Libraries. If there is a dearth of library research awards at smaller colleges, could it have something to do with the hands-on approach to academic work undertaken at these institutions? What if it stems from a sense of ambivalence about the role of library research in the digital age?

 

Questions like these have called our attention to the potential benefits of offering an annual award. The Connecticut College Prize for Undergraduate Library Research would play an important role among other awards offered at the College, because it focuses on the research process more than on the final product, and because it is open to all currently enrolled undergraduate students who have done research in some form for a credit course. When we looked at other awards at the College, we noticed that a good number are focused within departments or applicable only to a certain type of student doing a specific kind of work.

 

Sociology of the wild - foraging

A foraging tour of wild foods in the Connecticut College Arboretum

The research in question for the library prize can be a traditional paper, but it could also be some other form of work for a class, including (but not limited to) a video, a presentation, or an artistic project. It is not hard to imagine the brush strokes of a painting being informed by creative or painstaking research. However, work created for honors projects is ineligible for this prize. For more information about the honors award, see The Oakes and Louise Ames Prize.

 

By offering an annual prize, the library aims to foster appreciation for outstanding student research at Connecticut College. Citations and research statements for all winners and finalists will appear in the Digital Commons – Connecticut College’s Institutional Repository. Along the way, we hope this new form of recognition will help demystify the importance of libraries for student research. This includes encouraging the use of library resources and collections, as well as enhancing the development of library research techniques.

 

The library’s commitment to scholarship will be reiterated formally each year by recognizing student work that demonstrates rigorous, innovative, and/or unique approaches to engaging with library collections and resources.

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