The second part of our exploration of research tools, periodicals, and databases focused on the digital side of things. Where last week we compared different sources to their online databases and familiarized ourselves with the library’s resources, this week really engaged with the computer based things. We were no longer asking the question of “why do we even still need printed periodicals, indexes, and encyclopedias. Instead we looked at the virtual resources in isolation; it was about learning how we can make the online resources perform.
The biggest surprise for me was just how varied the platforms for each site were in both general set up, usability, and content. Outside of the EBSCO run sites, which still had variation in the amount and types of filters, there were some very intuitive sites and others that were a struggle to navigate. Where the EBSCO run Library for Literature and Information Science Index was limited due to the finite amount of journals, the Gale Virtual Reference Library had a enormous variety of both subjects and information on those subjects. Some sites, like American Memory lacked ease of use due to its age, while Business Decision had much more modern and sleek system. And we looked at a very small sample size, I imagine there are sites even more unintuitive than the ones we looked at and others that cover an even smaller area of study.
The sheer variety and quality of these different sites does not necessarily mean one is superior or inferior than another. While the LISA is immensely useful for librarians and those researching libraries, it is confusing and frustrating for someone who is trying to find general topics. In the same vein that Gale would be frustrating for a librarian attempting to find specific articles on an area of information science. A child would be better off using Kids InfoBits, but the information there would be next to useless for a phD candidate. The utility of these sites and even their usability are completely subjective. It all comes down to the information, the person looking for it, and what site best accomplishes that task. Without Shevon, I wouldn’t know the majority of the small sample existed and already I have highlighted ones that may be useful to me in the future.
It seems to me like the only person who would have the time, background, and resources to learn to navigate all these sites would be a librarian. It seems that the person a patron would look to to explain all their options would be a reference librarian. Without the librarian’s specialized skill set at their disposal, it would be difficult to locate the correct database. Even if they found the correct database, it would be even more difficult to locate the information they need within it without the help of someone with experience forming search queries. This makes me think that it is even more important than ever for a librarian to share their screen with users as they navigate through a search, rather than doing it and telling them what they found at the end of it. To me, the point of reference is to empower the user. So that, eventually, that user has the knowledge to navigate databases, such as those we looked at in class, and use them.