Perhaps nothing terrifies a college student like the research paper: finding a topic, creating an original thesis, searching and vetting sources, reading thoroughly, writing meaningfully – all difficult, time consuming tasks requiring focus and perseverance.
However, today’s technologically transformed library offers students tools that vastly simplify the research process. Sources emerge with a finger swipe, and incorporating them into a paper is simpler with an online library catalog. Compared with 30, even 20 years ago, searching and finding sources today has never been more streamlined, and academic research has benefited.
Students curious about library research methods pre-Internet – or promotional videos from the mid-‘80s – should see this quirky, parodical video, made in 1986 to feature Ekstrom Library, which had been built five years earlier. Unearthed recently by Anna Marie Johnson, UofL Libraries Head of Research Assistance and Instruction, the video is interspersed with tongue-in-cheek “ads” promoting various library resources (one features Cleopatra requesting information on asps, a large python curling nearby). It presents a pseudo-athletic event, held in Ekstrom library, in which two students compete to find information the fastest on an obscure subject (“squirrel cage motors” and “dancing mice”) using the various tools in the library.
In the video, students confront the difficult “athletic” challenge of conducting research, something intended as parody. However, compared with today’s research methods, the students’ tasks do indeed look athletic.
“Conducting research was very different from today’s methods,” says Johnson. “In fact, back then the process of finding a scholarly journal article involved several time-consuming steps in three separate locations.”
“First, you had to find the right subject index. So, if you were looking for articles in psychology, you needed to know that there was such a thing as Psychological Abstracts and that those were located in the reference section of the library. In addition, if you wanted all the articles on your topic for the last five years, it would likely involve paging through multiple volumes of the Abstracts.”
“Once you settled on some articles – which may have required you to also look up a journal abbreviation since the journal names were often abbreviated to save space – and wrote down the citations , you had to look at a printed list, which was often on a different table or shelf, of all the journals the library subscribed to in order to determine if the articles you wanted were in the library.”
“Remember, there were no cell phones handy to take pictures of your citations,” she added.
“Finally, you would take your list of citations upstairs to the journal stacks and choose the correct bound volume of the journal that you needed.”
“Contrast that with today,” Johnson goes on. “You probably are not even walking into the library, but you are accessing a database on the web that Ekstrom Library subscribes to, searching 50 years of those printed volumes, and with often one or two subsequent clicks, finding a PDF of the article you’re seeking, all without leaving your couch.”
So while we sympathize with students confronting their first college research paper, we can say this: researching a topic today is wildly more convenient than in years past, and as a result, the act of writing, research, and even thinking, can be deeper, better synthesized, and stronger.
You can see the video for yourself here.
By Anna Marie Johnson
Many of us have had this experience recently: You read something odd, exaggerated or outrageous on social media and think, “Could something this odd/exaggerated/outrageous be true?” But have you taken time to investigate? Most people don’t.
Sometimes the consequences are minor. For example, an ad appeared on social media recently for a Fisher-Price Miniature Bar Play Set, complete with tiny beer bottles and bar stools. Posts immediately disparaged and urged boycotts of the toy company Fisher-Price, which subsequently issued a press release saying the ad was fake.
Sometimes, however, the consequences can be severe. A conspiracy theory story about a child sex ring run by Hillary Clinton first appeared on a white supremacists’ Twitter account and went viral, ultimately leading Edgar Welch to take a gun to a pizza parlor and attempt to shoot people (See “Pizzagate” on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pizzagate_conspiracy_theory).
How can you tell if something is fake or even just misleading? There is no easy formula, and we must first fight our own propensity to believe things we want to be true. However, here are three important ways to avoid spreading fake or misleading news:
- Keep a skeptical mindset about any news.
Being skeptical means being a critical thinker and examining your own thinking. When you read story that makes you think, “Wow, that’s unbelievable,” stop and examine that idea. What about the story seems unbelievable? What about your own feelings on the topic make you want to believe the story? What pieces of the story seem to lead you to see the story from the author’s perspective? Often reading beyond the headline is important because headlines are designed to memorable and catch your attention, the details of the story are often far more mundane.
- Rely on respected news sources.
Relying on respected news sources is an important piece of the puzzle. Respected news sources follow standards of practice or ethical codes of conduct. They will provide evidence for their claims. The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, are all legitimate and respected sources of news. That doesn’t mean they never get anything wrong, it simply means they have a long history of accurately and fairly reporting the stories they cover. Often checking several of them is a good way to get the full perspective on a particular story.
- Refuse to share anything you haven’t checked for truth.
When news that is fake or misleading is shared on social media, the problem is compounded, because more hits mean that search engines will surface the news item more readily, more people will see it, and it will seem to attain greater legitimacy.
While there is no surefire formula for detecting fake or misleading news, help is available! The librarians in Ekstrom Library’s Research Assistance and Instruction Department are available to help you decide the quality and legitimacy of news sources. Come by and see us on the first floor in Ekstrom Library’s east wing, call us at (502) 852-0433, or use our chat service to reach us!
By Matt Goldberg, Head, Access and User Services
Have you ever stopped at a desk in Ekstrom Library to ask a question, such as: Do you have any copies of Dan Brown’s new book? Where’s the bathroom? What time does the library close? If you have, our desk staff have carefully recorded the question and answer so that we can determine trends in patron needs and service requests in an effort to improve how our library operates.
Using a program called Gimlet, the Access and User Services Department (AUS) records every question and answer asked at the west, east, and technology desks, and this data is reviewed weekly by departmental staff. Beyond looking to make sure our staff is giving correct information, we do significant work to refine, manipulate, and extrapolate the hundreds of questions asked per week.
The collection of these questions is quite labor-intensive, thanks to the frequency of questions asked by patrons. From June 2015 to May 2016, there were nearly 32,000 questions asked at the desks, an average of more than 2,600 per month, or about 90 per day. Each question is tagged by the desk staff to group them into easily sortable categories (internal directions, policy, technology, research, etc.) so that we can go back and look for data trends.
You might wonder how we use these trends to make decisions. For instance, in early 2015, we noticed that there were an abnormally high number of printing and copying questions being handled by desk staff at the east and west desks. To alleviate this we opened the technology desk in the computer commons to give students more direct technology help. In another instance, high levels of directional questions have led to improved signage across the building to help patrons find what they are looking for with more visual cues.
We routinely examine trends in the data to examine our own processes and policies. Last semester we opened the east side of the building until 2 a.m., a move that was fueled by a combination of student suggestions, gate count data, and Gimlet numbers that showed students in the building later in the evening than usual. We periodically run visualization reports of the data to see how users are asking their questions, producing word clouds like the one above.
So the next time you ask a question in Ekstrom, just know, we are listening and always looking to be of better assistance!
By Maurini Strub
It’s been over a year since the east wing of the 1st floor of Ekstrom Library was renovated. We hope that during this time you’ve enjoyed using the space, and maybe discovered a new favorite spot.
Before the renovation, we collected feedback on your needs, desires and difficulties, and that data helped inform the design of the space. Design solutions include a clearly identified, “one-stop shopping” service desk; enhanced technology support and printing services; an intuitive approach to the layout of services and spaces; and a mixture of learning and study spaces.
Assessing how well we met our goals is the focus of a survey we’ll be conducting through April 25. As you walk through the first floor-east, you’ll see some questionnaires, and a large red box as you enter the east lobby (see photos).
The survey seeks to discover your satisfaction with these improved learning spaces, how these spaces have impacted your success at UofL, your experience using our services, and the value of collocating some of our primary services. Concurrently, we’ll conduct periodic observations and review collections usage data.
We’d love to hear about your experience in these new spaces. Please feel free to complete this very short questionnaire or fill out the paper one and leave it in the red box in the lobby!