Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Find that invisible information!

Most library users should be familiar with the books housed in the Reference collection on the 2nd floor of the library. These are the books that have certain characteristics like:
  • Big
  • Heavy
  • Multiple volumes in sets
  • Books that you don't read cover-to-cover but, instead, REFER to only a portion of the information included

The Statesman's Yearbook

Many students are familiar with using the Bible commentaries, dictionaries, handbooks, and encyclopedias in the Reference collection. For those on campus with easy access to the physical library, some of these resources are heavily used. Some of them are hardly ever touched even though there is a treasure trove of research material available. Why is that?

The Corsini Encyclopedia
One reason has to do with the invisibility of the information inside these types of resources. The researcher needs to think in broad terms and type of resource instead of specific keywords in any resource. For instance, let's say a student is looking for information on infant socialization for a psychology paper she is writing. The most likely thing the student will do is type the keywords "infant socialization" into the library Catalog or the PsycINFO research database. The student will undoubtedly retrieve journal articles and might retrieve a book or two on that very topic. What the student will NOT find is the fantastic article titled "Infant Socialization" inside the 3rd volume of The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science ... unless the student is thinking in broad terms (psychology) and type of resource (an encyclopedia). Put together the concepts of psychology AND encyclopedia, enter it into the library Catalog, and one of the items in the results list is The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science. The student will then need to go to the Reference collection, look at the Index volume, and find the entry for infant socialization. OK. Not likely. But a librarian can hope.

So how can this invisible information be made more visible? One answer is to collect Reference books in electronic format. Most electronic books are keyword searchable across the entire contents of the book, not just the title and a few assigned subject headings. So the student can type "infant socialization" into an ebook collection search engine, like ebrary or the EBSCOHost eBook Collection, which will then point to a link to the electronic copy of The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology and Behavioral Science. The search engine has already identified the book with an article on the topic without the student knowing to search for a specific subject heading or in a particular type of resource.

(Note: At this point, the library Catalog does not search the content of books but the electronic book search engines will do this.)

This is one of the reasons that we have been adding more electronic versions of Reference resources.

Other reasons include:
  • They can be accessed by online students bringing more parity to the availability of library resources.
  • The nature of Reference resources. These resources don't generally need to be read cover-to-cover but, instead, are referred to and therefore don't require long periods of computer screen reading (an issue for many people).
  • They take up less shelf space!

So next time you need to find information, don't forget to search the electronic books by going directly to one of our electronic book collections and find those invisible book chapters, essays, and encyclopedia articles!

Go to http://library.hiu.edu > Choose Research Databases > Choose eBooks from the Select a Subject Area drop down list > Choose one of the ebook collections to search


Terri Bogan is Reference & Instruction Librarian at Hope International University. She is passionate about helping students navigate the ever expanding world of information. She specializes in the area of information literacy and instructional design.

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