how the experts do it – and does JSTOR make a difference

This presentation from last week’s JSTOR Annual Publishers Meeting, examining how digital access to information has affected scholars’ research patterns, is very interesting.  Meredith Quinn presented some research from Ithaka that looks at some of those disciplinary differences in research practice that I think most of us intuitively feel are there.

What a difference a discipline makes: How scholars use resources across the academy

A few points I pulled out on first scan – which are worth thinking about as we find ways to teach new scholars and undergraduates how to navigate these types of resources –

  1. There’s a difference in how scholars in different disciplines approach the process of exploratory search – historians tend to search broadly, hoping not to miss anything and to make unexpected connections. Life scientists, on the other hand, look to narrow their inquiry to limit the amount of information they have to sift through. Both sets of scholars want to be comprehensive – but they approach that task (and probably define that goal, though the presentation notes don’t go there) differently. As a former historian, I definitely fall into the broad exploration category – which might be affecting how I communicate with those in other disciplines.
  2. Across the disciplines, scholars are more likely to use Google than Google Scholar to find material in the journal literature. Given that this slide immediately follows one on “targeted” (we’d call it “known-item”) searching — I’m wondering if that’s not connected. If I’m looking for the full-text of a specific journal article I’ll use Google instead of Scholar — why wouldn’t I?  This may also suggest that Google is used more as a retrieval tool than as a scholarly search environment — which is something to think about when we think about how to teach our students to find expert information after they leave the university, with its database subscriptions.
  3. The availability of online resources and online search tools has made interdisciplinary research easier and more important. But scholars struggle, just like the rest of us, evaluating information outside of their area(s) of expertise. And many of them rely on colleagues — so how do we realistically expect students to do this work without a network of experts to turn to.

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