Learner's Library Dumbs Down

By O'Leary, Mick | Information Today, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Learner's Library Dumbs Down


O'Leary, Mick, Information Today


You've heard about the dumbing down of America: the decline of thought, knowledge, and education. Well, I'm afraid it's true. My evidence is Learner's Library (LL; http://www.learnerslibrary.com). Yes, the name sounds good, but in fact the Learner's Library does just the opposite: It provides a pretense of research while "saving" you the nasty work of actually learning. In an educational environment beset by grade inflation and rampant cheating, LL fits right in.

Learner's Library is produced by Knowledge Ventures, Inc., a self-described "educational tools software company." It's a database of multidisciplinary, full-text journal articles intended primarily for college students. To this extent, it's similar to products from EBSCO, Thomson Gale, ProQuest, and H.W. Wilson. However, it's hardly fair to compare these excellent resources to LL. Actually, LL bears a closer resemblance to Questia (remember Questia?), another ragtag collection of dubious content intended to lure shortcut seekers from the genuine riches of libraries while charging them for it. LL's content is inferior in both the quality and number of its sources. For searching, it offers one (!) option. Users have to pay for it, and although the price is almost nominal, they are still overpaying. As for LL's advantages, well, I can't find any.

Learner's Library 'Content'

The LL database contains several hundred journals and magazines. You can't tell exactly how many, because LL puts out different numbers. There's a list of 200 source publications, but it's "partial." Yes, that's right, a "research" database that doesn't list its entire content and instead puts out an incomplete list of periodicals that lacks start dates, extent of full-text coverage, update schedules, etc.

LL's journal collection is indeed multidisciplinary. Social science has the largest number of titles, with approximately 80. Arts and humanities, science, and current events each have about 50, and business has about 20. (These counts are based on the published Source List.) Most of the titles are academic journals, with a small number of general interest magazines, including Harper's Magazine, New Statesman, and U.S. News & World Report. The content appears to be provided by Thomson Gale, which is listed as an LL partner.

LL's collection is OK as far as it goes--it just doesn't go very far. With 400 titles (or whatever) representing the entire sweep of business, the liberal arts, and current events, LL's search results are often thin and spotty, with the same few periodicals providing the bulk of the retrieval in a given search. Some of the journals, like the Journal of English and Germanic Philology and the Review of Metaphysics, are quite technical and therefore not a good match for LL's intended audience.

Single Search Option (Really)

LL uses relevance searching, only no Boolean or proximity operators, phrase searching, truncation, wild cards, or nesting. There's no field limiting or date searching. In 20 years of reviewing databases, LL is the only service I've ever seen that has only one search method. It's true that the point of relevance searching is to avoid complicated Boolean searching, but no date limiting?

Go into LL (searching is available without registration or payment) and search on "tax cuts and federal budget deficit." You'll get hits that are several years old. Let me point out that information on this subject has changed since the last century. Yes, you can scan through mostly obsolete citations for those from this year, but wait a minute: Analyzing citations goes against the LL philosophy of avoiding as much brain work as possible. It's also a heavy strain on LL's purportedly citation-challenged users. (See the discussion below on LL's Citation Check.)

An LL search identifies the passage within the individual document that has the highest occurrence of search terms, and it sorts results accordingly. …

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