Posted by: Emily | September 26, 2008

Teaching with tools that don’t quite work

I was a key agitator at my last campus for getting a link resolver (I felt like we were the only library who didn’t have one yet; very old school) and was happy to arrive here to find a 21st century library with article linking software all in place. I’ve only used the Serials Solutions product, but have to say I’m a fan–students can get from citation or abstract to full text in just a click or two, and we see big big usage jumps in databases only a librarian could love, like Sociological Abstracts (xoxo SocAbs). My big issue, though, is that the link resolvers are forever not quite working exactly right. The configuration is a litle sketchy in this database or that one, and the results screen is a jumble that only a librarian can decipher–it’s searching by title instead of ISSN and so pulling junk results from ProQuest–or is simply funky, triggering the wrong kind of search across our sources, missing this and that and that and that.

I love a techtool that works like magic (xoxo refworks), but worry that when I teach students to use those tools, they end up ill-equipped to solve the problems that inevitably come with our clunky systems. And I also worry that we end up with students who are highly skilled at finding resources only in a particular library using their particular branded tools (for example, the student who asks in a graduate course, Where’s your FoxHunt?). I think an obvious solution is to develop better, more reliable library search systems that work more often than mostly. Absenting that, here in a short-term future without next-gen catalogs or universal health care, how do we equip our students to use our tools, even when they don’t quite work?


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