Journal or book – does it matter anymore?

Discarded Ideas 02.04.2008 by mskogly via flickr CC

Today I put out on twitter

Does it really matter if students know if their source is a journal or a book? Why/why not? #infolit #crowdsourcing

as this is something that has increasingly had me wondering. This has been prompted in part by a discussion on twitter yesterday about whether as undergraduate students ourselves we ever used the library or contacted a librarian (most of us said no) and partly as a result of a discussion at MPOW about what the journal subscription model may look like in the future. I think both of these discussions are worthy of further investigation and thinking in their own right at another time.

So, back to the point of this post. As stated in the tweet, I was crowd sourcing, looking for some ideas, possible arguments for and against this position & trying to gauge the mood of my potential audience before putting this post out there.

I’m very grateful to my PLN for their responses, including:

still think it’s important because they will need to know for reference formatting. so boring but true

[important for] selecting sources, eg. book provides overview, journal more likely to be orig research…good scholarly practice

journals still regarded as “better” for some subjects

I don’t think it matters if the info is relevant to their topic eg history uses a lot more book references than info science

if trusted source (lecturer) is pushing papers to students distinctions b/w source types not key – all abt content

If students (& by this I am referring mostly to the average UG student, who make up the bulk of the student population at most universities) are given a list of readings or citations to look up, then yes, it’s helpful if they can tell the difference between a journal & a monograph. It certainly makes our job in reference much easier if they know that.

However, my point is slightly different – and here I run into the fact that at times it’s hard to express myself adequately in 140 characters. I think I am really asking “Once having arrived at the source, does it really matter what the source is?”

Let me explain further. At MPOW, we put a great deal of energy into helping academics generate stable links to our online resources.  These links can placed into the Learning Management System (LMS) usually Blackboard or Moodle, and they route students via the library proxy server to land them at their article, e-book, digitized chapter or AV resource without the student having to navigate any of the path along the way – other than to authenticate themselves as our students at some point if they are off campus. So increasingly, students are not being given a list of readings or citations to look for and often their further reading from the subject can occur as a direct hyperlink provided in the document they were originally sent to read.

In my experience, the academics generally like these links and while it’s a slightly complex process to generate them it’s usually a one-off investment of their time. While some are concerned about what they see as the loss of student research skills, the feedback from most is that they want the students to read, absorb & synthesize the material. Many feel that unless it’s made easy for the students, they will just not bother reading it. I have also had academics tell me that the time spent generating these links pays off in terms of less time spent further down the semester track answering emails & phone calls from students who can’t find the citation from a list.

This situation of course causes an instant librarian dilemma! On the one hand, if the link is provided as a ‘click here’ service, without citation data being included then students arrive at the reading with no context whatsoever and this has the potential to bring an information professional out in spots. However, the point of this post is to stop and ask myself ‘why is this so?’

Even when academics attach the hyperlink to an actual citation, aren’t students still just going to click & not notice the context? Many e-records include a copy & paste ‘how to cite this’ – and while I understand that this may not meet the requirements of a particular referencing style, it still means students don’t really need to have context to create a citation for the information they have just used. It might look wrong and the student may lose a few marks for not following instructions, but let’s face it, an academic can still find & check the source document even if it’s formatted in Harvard when they really wanted Chicago or APA.

On the other side of this argument, supporting our academics is my role – and if this link generation makes their lives easier & enables them to help students focus on the skills of critically evaluating the content then isn’t that a good thing? Is this actually a similar argument to the print vs e? Is content king rather than the container?

Increasingly, the publishing gap between monographs & journals is closing. Traditionally journals are more agile, more reflective of current practice, published faster and peer reviewed journals are seen as more authoritative. The different publishing models, rise of open access publishing and the increase in academic blogging are all pushing the boundaries of the traditional model. I’m in no way suggesting we stop helping students understand how to evaluate their sources, I’m just wondering if the model for that is coming to its use-by date. Is the issue of format in publishing becoming irrelevant in that evaluation?

The obvious elephant in the room here is the serious researcher, whether post-grad or academic, as context is bound to be more appropriate or relevant to them, but they are not really who this is about. I think there’s a lot more to say on this topic and some others that float around it in a more or less connected way. Another time perhaps.

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2 thoughts on “Journal or book – does it matter anymore?

  1. Food for thought, definitely. Thanks for sharing. I’d certainly like to work in a university at some stage, your thoughts, ideas and observations provide a valuable insight.

  2. This exactly the point I came acroiss in my reading this week. I like your reflection on “research skills” remember the days, only a generation ago, when there was no “online”. Students had to choose books from a library, and these books were selected by a . . . librarian. By selecting resources for the students to read you are allowing them more time to synthesise and absorb.

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