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Caulking the Cracks: Scholarly Social Science Resources on the Web

Magazine article Searcher

Caulking the Cracks: Scholarly Social Science Resources on the Web

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Only four years ago, the World Wide Web still only smoldered, giving little indication of the white-hot heat of the information explosion that would follow. Today, when I search for information, I often turn to the Web first. I can't imagine doing reference work without it.

Still, I routinely teach my university students that the Web lacks the scholarly resources that they will need for their academic work. This is especially true in the Humanities, I explain, because information in that area changes slowly. They will have better luck finding Web resources in the Sciences, because scientific information changes very fast. I tumble when I talk about the Social Sciences, though. Social science information tends to have a middling rate of change. What is the state of academic social science information on the World Wide Web today?

I know that some collections of scholarly Internet resources exist, such as Infomine, developed by Kurt R. Heidelberg, Steve Mitchell, Margaret Mooney, and Carlos Rodriguez at the University of California at Riverside. Infomine

Interestingly, Heidelberg et al. categorize all of the Social Sciences and the Humanities on one page (http://lib 1), as if the Web resources available for these two major sections of knowledge were not sufficient to warrant having a page for each of them. To pad out the holdings, Infomine even throws in its general reference collection. So, unless you know what you are looking for, you can browse down a subject page that includes "Abused Children" and "Accounting Firms."

Not enough. I need to talk to some experts. So I interviewed Linda McCann, Reference Librarian at the Doheny Memorial Library at the University of Southern California, and Betsy Lindsley, an instruction librarian who divides her time between the Santa Monica Public Library and the Leavey "cybrary" at USC.

I talked first to Lindsley, to see what social science Web resources she uses when teaching undergraduates. "What I look for is driven by the assignment," Lindsley stated. "And I found that it really turns the students on if you can walk in there and give them some sites." For instance, for a class of social workers on the verge of graduation, Lindsley demonstrated sites that she thought might help them in their work. "I show them government sites or child welfare sites, or show them how to find community foundation support, or their local congressman."

Lindsley has a couple of favorite sites that she always uses when she offers Web classes to students interested in social work.

Social Work Access Network (SWAN)

This site features listservs and newsgroups and a searchable index of social work Web sites in such areas as adoption, youth violence, and even Nate Prentice's "Social Work Joke Page" ( okes.html). SWAN also serves up a heaping helping of political information and the skinny on relevant government regulations.

National Association of Social Workers: California Chapter

This site has advocacy and legislative information, links to other relevant Web pages, and job postings.

"This is the kind of stuff you can find just doing keyword searching under `social work' in Yahoo!." Lindsley continued. "I like the way that Yahoo! is organized, although I am aware that it covers fewer things than some of the other Web indexes. So, if I can't find something on Yahoo!, I look elsewhere. If I know any experts, I ask if they know of any sites."

Lindsley pointed out that this way of searching the Web works particularly well for finding practical social science material. "In academic research," she commented, "we still have to deal with the limitations of the Web." In the arena of political science, for instance, Lindsley thinks that a licensed periodical database like PAIS would prove much more effective than freely available resources available on the Web. …

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