Undisruptive searching

A Happy New Year to everyone. What will 2013 bring to the World of Search, I wonder?

Well, not all of it will be disruptive, if the rest of this post is anything to go by.

The Financial Times reports on a study of 17,000 doctoral students, carried out by the British Library and the charity Jisc, which suggests that there’s a lack of interesting digging and disruptive searching being done by these students.

The article, Beware the Google Convenience Store, lays the blame at the door of convenience: online journals, online scientific searching sites and similar sources which, the study says, are being used to the exclusion of primary sources such as newspapers, manuscripts, data sets and archives – i.e. the nitty-gritty of going for a good combination foraging session both among digital archives and in the library. This will leave the students lacking in analytical skills, and a proper in-depth knowledge of their subjects, says the report.

First thing that occurred to me – don’t just blame Google for this. Although we have the unfortunate verb “to Google” and Google Scholar, there are many other academic research sources out there (see previous posts), and the rise of these sites has proved most useful too.

Secondly, I agree with the article. There’s nothing like proper hunting among primary sources. You almost always discover something that would not otherwise have come to light, you can more easily draw your own conclusions from what you find, since you’re not reading about what you’ve discovered via someone else’s opinion and analysis. I fondly remember, as an undergraduate (not a doctoral) spending several wonderful afternoons in Leeds private library (one of the first subscription libraries) researching the history of libraries among the dusty tomes. Of course I diverted a little and ended up finding out some very interesting info. about Charles Dickens and his publishing along the way, which although not directly relevant to my project, has stuck in my mind ever since. But I loved carrying out the research, it was so interesting, opening volumes that hadn’t been taken off the shelf for years.

Did these doctoral students not discover the value and joy of primary source research while undergraduates (as I did)? Had the online-convenience rot set in at the earlier stage, so that they didn’t then bother at the doctoral level either?

In a corporate setting where time is of the essence, and many of my colleagues have already done their PhDs, and now have minimum time for lengthy searching, the world of online research is invaluable and has helped greatly in finding and getting hold of necessary papers, but this is step 2: the idea is that we still know how to forage among primary sources if we need to: we’ve done that, been there.

So, if the “primary source” step is now really being missed out by doctoral students, they will be the poorer for it, they will not know how to truly dig and delve, but – and this is important too – they will also have missed out on the huge amount of fun and fascination that feeds a researcher’s sense of curiosity. Isn’t that what we’re always being told is the key to learning? A sense of curiosity.

I’m optimistic that there are still many doctoral students out there who do know how to research properly, but I hope the study proves to be a wake-up call for the rest, inspiring them to try some disruptive researching.


This entry was posted in Digital books, Featured sites, Future views, Information literacy, Psychology of search, Scientific sites, Search engines and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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