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Keeping Up With the Librarians

A librarian's secret

by Nicole Tassinari on 2021-09-09T15:11:00-07:00 | 1 Comment

I have a confession. Okay, it's a librarian confession, so its salaciousness is not on the scale as, say, reality TV. But it's a confession nonetheless.

I use Google and Wikipedia for research.

And you're thinking: Big deal. We all do it.

Sure, we all do it. But we don't all admit it. And librarians rarely come out of the closet and admit it. But, I feel it's time to address the elephant in the room. We've all had instructors/professors tell us that Wikipedia (and Google) are not credible sources for academic research, so don't use it. Don't even peek at it. Like it's a gateway drug to fake news. Or the dark web. One day you're clicking through Wikipedia, and the next day you're citing the crazy cat lady's blog in your paper on feline leukemia.

The fact of the matter is that Wikipedia and Google are established sources of information and have a (limited) place in research. Just ask any high schooler. Seriously, both of these tools can be helpful in the pre-research process (but I wouldn't go so far as to cite them in an academic paper).

Let's break it down.

Wikipedia

It's essentially an encyclopedia, which means it can be useful to get some basic information about a topic. Other reasons to conduct a quick Wikipedia scan include 1) finding keywords associated with a topic, 2) locating other cited sources (obviously vetted for credibility), and 3) gathering ideas for topic development for a paper.

If you are going to flirt with the bad boy of web content, however, you should consider its problems. Wikipedia trades reliability for fast, easy updating that may or may not be accurate at the time of viewing. The quality of its entries is uneven. Purdue University has a great video, About Wikipedia, that breaks down how and when to use Wikipedia in the pre-research phase of academic writing.

Google

Ahhh. The little search engine that grew into a verb. Just Google it. Three little words that produce a teeth-grinding snarl in librarians everywhere. It's the 21st-century equivalent to misfiling a card in the card catalog. For those of you too young to get this reference, just Google it.

Use Google the same way you would Wikipedia: for pre-research. Just keep in mind that Google searches the internet. That same immense, unorganized internet that can suck up six hours of your afternoon when you were just going to take a quick look at the football scores and found yourself evaluating the return of tracksuits. Don't just Google it: 3 ways students can get the most from searching online, posted on The Conversation, provides some practical pointers for using Google. 

I could list many concerns with using Google for research, but in my opinion, the largest is that Google search results are based on popularity. Your browsing history, location, and even IP address impact the results that are retrieved. The most frustrating issue is that a Google search can produce academic research articles; however, most are not publicly available and reside behind a paywall.

And here is where my "use the library" pitch launches (come on, you knew we were heading there - it's a library blog!). The library subscribes to dozens of databases with millions of pieces of content. Many of these databases have an Advanced Search feature that you can use to narrow your results by criteria like date, source, subject, and even content type. Google's Advanced Search, and its more respectable sibling, Google Scholar, offer a couple of limiters, but nothing on par with the library databases. But what if you don't know how to search these databases? We have you covered there. Use the Ask Us! service for help. A librarian will provide you with database recommendations and sample search strategies based on your topic. And yes, that was shameless self-promotion for the library.

In short, go ahead and flirt a little with Wikipedia and Google - but have a relationship with the library.


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Posts: 4
Walt Doherty 2021-09-17T13:16:45-07:00

The Wikipedia can be a great starting place for when you know nothing to little about a subject.
(Who was Emile Zola anyway, and what did he do).
BUT (and it's a big "but"), it's just a starting lace and has to be taken with a grain (pound?) of salt.  :-)
Some articles are very good, but some aren't worth the paper they are written on.

As Nicole says, "it can be useful to get some basic information about a topic."

 


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