Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Searching Mindfully: Are Libraries Up to the Challenge of Competing with Google Books?

Academic journal article Library Philosophy and Practice

Searching Mindfully: Are Libraries Up to the Challenge of Competing with Google Books?

Article excerpt

Traditional research tools used by libraries, such as encyclopedias and catalogs (OPACs) were created in an age of print and information scarcity. They have not kept up with changes in the information world, including an abundance of online information in different formats and the rise of interdisciplinary topics which attempt to solve 'real world' messy problems. The search results they deliver offer excessive information with very little guidance on how to systematically sift through them. This makes the research process harder and turns novice researchers towards Google. Information professionals and advanced researchers do not encounter these obstacles because they are familiar with the content and the process (Chu, 2003; Grassian, 2011; Twait, 2005) and may have access to better tools.

One strand of library literature suggests that students turn to Google out of laziness or convenience (Griffiths and Brophy, 2005; Stieve, 2006; Thompson, 2003) while another suggests that Google Books and Scholar serve students better (Chen, 2012; Golderman, 2004; Jones, 2010; Ludwig and Wells, 2008; Vilelle, 2007). There is no study to date that documents the specific hurdles faced by undergraduates, the accompanying issues and steps needed to address them.

Standard Two of ACRL's Information Literacy Standards for Higher Education states: "The information literate student accesses needed information effectively and efficiently." Towards this end, students deserve not just better instructions but better tools. Library instruction urges students to start research by getting an overview using a library encyclopedia and a college catalog to find relevant books (Badke, 2011; Booth, 2008). For this article the interdisciplinary topic of mindfulness was searched in an encyclopedia, a variety of OPACs, and in Google Books. Results varied widely and were not easy to interpret. Google Books returned the most relevant results with the least effort. The resulting screenshots and findings were documented. Journal databases were not examined because they tend to be discipline specific. FirstSearch is discussed to illustrate problems with searching even though all libraries may not subscribe to it. An abundance of sources were obtained with very little guidance on how to interpret or sort the most relevant ones. The searches lead to a host of questions, such as, how many books are optimal to start research? How does one choose among experts? How does one choose a subject encyclopedia in an interdisciplinary topic? If advanced researchers get tailored tools to help them, then why not something for the novice? Why should one go to the college catalog or FirstSearch when WorldCat or Google Books can provide the needed information?

These issues must be addressed if novice researchers are to use the traditional tools of research created collaboratively by educators, catalogers and librarians. Admonishing students not to use Google is not enough; the traditional purveyors of research need to collaborate to offer a better alternative. Towards this end the paper offers suggestions for improvement.

The New Research Environment

The new research environment is characterized by information in different formats and in abundance. Topics of research tend to be interdisciplinary.

Online Information in different formats is the norm

The new information environment has made information accessible but not necessarily easier to locate at the time of need (Booth, 2008). Information is readily available as text, audio or video with several options available at every step, whether of language, format, content or platform. These choices can be valuable, entertaining, informative and empowering, but can simultaneously be distracting, overwhelming, addicting, and inefficient.

Big data and information are here to stay and we multitask to deal with them (Rosen, 1998). In a university setting this enormous change has greatly impacted the library, the traditional hub of knowledge. …

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