Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Primary sources

There are as many possible definitions of "primary source" (and its counterpart, "secondary source") as there are researchers, and the research process map I referred to in my previous posting doesn't even use the term. Mark Tucker's research map instead refers to "primary information" and "secondary information", given that the same source may be primary for some information and secondary for other information.

For instance, a newspaper story may contain an eyewitness account of an event (primary information), combined with some historical research into the individuals involved in the event (secondary information).

To be frank, I find that sources containing primary information tend to be more interesting, because I get to be the person who makes the analysis of the information without it being filtered through some number of other individuals. Who hasn't been fascinated with a diary or letter that describes a time in history?

Depending upon the assignment, students can be encouraged to seek out primary information sources. Not only does do the USF Libraries provide access to relatively recent news sources (our databases include Access World News and LexisNexis Academic), but we have historical newspapers as well (such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Times of London). News magazines in print or microform (including Time and Newsweek) go back many decades, and can be found on the USF Tampa Library's 2nd floor in the Periodicals area. Several local Florida newspapers are also available in microfilm going back to some very early issues.

If your assignment has an historical component, consider making your students aware of these great historical resources.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Visualizing the research process

There's no question that some people, when needing directions to get from Point A to Point B, respond better to a textual list of directions, while others prefer a map (and of course, some like both).

Some students may need a map of the research process. While there are no doubt many of these somewhere on the Web, I'm especially impressed by this map designed specifically for genealogical research by Mark Tucker:

Do you think your students would benefit from a map like this one? Let me know what you think.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Grown Up Digital

Don Tapscott, who wrote Growing Up Digital, has just come out with a sequel. Grown Up Digital describes a generation now in its teens and twenties who are in college (or very soon to be) or entering the workforce. While Tapscott devotes chapters to various applications of his ideas (business, consumerism, etc.), the most interesting to me is the one on education. Throughout the book, Tapscott describes 8 "norms" that apply to the Net Generation (as he calls them): freedom, customization, scrutiny, integrity, collaboration, entertainment, speed, and innovation.

How does this apply to information literacy? Let me take a stab at that.

Speed? Unless students are given a *very* good reason to look at print materials, they are going to go for the online (from anywhere) sources every time.

Integrity? Students expect assignments to be honest. They reject busywork but can see the value of an assignment that is going to model some real-world behavior that they can envision themselves doing in the future.

Assignments need to be fun, not merely frustrating. They need some flexibility (freedom and customization). Ideally, they should involve the student in some sort of collaboration (with the instructor, the librarian, other students, others?).

Scrutiny? This generation already goes first to the Internet before they make a purchase, to see what others are saying. Help students learn to scrutinize information sources for themselves (Google vs. the library databases). Have them do the same assignment both ways, and compare the end result. Have different groups do it different ways, and come back together to compare notes.

Innovation? What new ideas can your own students generate to help themselves (and others) acquire information literacy skills? Why not ask them how they would go about learning these things?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The latest MLA citation style (and RefWorks)

In May 2008, the Modern Language Association (MLA) published the 3rd edition of its MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, which made some changes in the official MLA citation style. One of the biggest changes was in the way that electronic publications should be distinguished from print publications.

This month, MLA has published the 7th edition of its MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, the book commonly used as a reference for MLA style by undergraduates.

If your students use RefWorks (the online service provided free to USF students and faculty) to manage their citations and to produce bibliographies, you'll be happy to know that RefWorks now includes an output style listed as "MLA for Scholarly Publishing, 3rd Edition". Students may want to make this one of their standard citation styles in RefWorks.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Note taking via the Web (Evernote)

As students launch into an assignment, they need ways to keep track of the many bits and pieces that they discover. Some of these are in written form (printed books and articles), others are e-books, online articles (journal, magazine, newspaper), and websites.

One of the most popular free solutions to this is a product/service known as Evernote. With Evernote, you create an online account, and can use the online service to keep track of these many notes (which are searchable). But even better, you can install Evernote on a PC or Macintosh. And you can install it on a Windows Mobile device or iPhone.

And you can have it automatically synchronize all of these various incarnations of Evernote on different devices. So whether you're online or offline, you've got it available. Evernote also makes a plug-in for popular Web browsers, to make it even easier to grab that information from web pages. Oh, and did I mention yet that Evernote can be installed on a SanDisk U3 flash drive, so that it can be run on computers where it isn't installed?

I'll have more to say about Evernote later after I've had more personal time to play with it, but for those students (and faculty) who need an ever-present tool to keep track of the information they find (in all of its little bits), this may be an excellent solution.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Finding articles at USF

A few minutes ago, I was in an online chat dialog with a student who needed to find peer-reviewed journal articles for his assignment. The student had used databases before, but wasn't sure where to find them on the USF Libraries website.

Most USF undergraduate students, especially those in lower-level General Education courses, will find the following steps helpful:
  1. Go to the home page of the USF Libraries website (at If off-campus, click on the "Not Connected" button at the top left to sign in.
  2. Click on "Databases by Title/Subject". Then choose the "by Subject" tab, and scroll down to the "General and multidisciplinary" category. Highlight that one, and click "Go" on the far right.
  3. The 7 databases listed are good starting points for research, including several for journal articles, and two for newspaper articles. The first one (Academic Search Premier) is an especially good starting point, because it covers so many excellent journals.
With these simple steps, your students can be directed to high-quality sources.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Assignments and the Library

If you are using an assignment for your class that requires using a physical resource found within the USF Tampa Library, or a resource that can be accessed online via the USF Libraries website, you may want to check to be sure that the resource is still available and in the same location as when you last used it.

Also, some kinds of resources change names, so using an older name in an assignment may frustrate a student if they can't find it with that name. For example, in the past few months a student came to the Reference Desk and said that their instructor had asked them to use "LUIS". This is a name for a previous version of our online catalog that has not been used for several years. Newer librarians and library graduate students may be unfamiliar with these older names, and be unable to help your students find the appropriate resource.

If you're short on time, feel free to e-mail me (or any other USF Tampa librarian) your assignment, and we can review it to make sure that the referenced resources are up-to-date and available to your students.