Sunday, September 28, 2014

Reflections on Anthropology

The field of anthropology involves the study of all people through all times.  As such, it's a remarkably diverse field, encompassing many different other fields - history, geology, biology, art, psychology, and so on - and subsequently requires that researchers have at least some understanding of each of these, as well.  Librarians must recognize this fact as we seek to direct users toward appropriate information sources, sources that are accurate, reliable, and preferably lacking in bias.

In the article Evolving Internet Reference in Anthropology, the authors address the above challenges and provide a list of sources for anthropological research, all web-based and one of which (AnthroSource, which is cited multiple times) we used in our work for the course's anthropology module.  Because we are asked to discuss what we have discovered about anthropological sources, I will say this: good sources last.  This is simplistic, to be sure, but consider that the online world is irregular: some sites simply disappear, others cease to be managed and become outdated, others are crowd-sourced and are innately inaccurate...certainly the reader can agree that the internet can be problematic.  And yet researchers turn to it regularly and increasingly, expecting that information will be current, accurate, accessible, and available at little to no cost.  It is incumbent upon librarians to provide direction and guide researchers through what can feel like a quagmire of results.  I admit that, prior to reading the article, I was skeptical when I saw the date of publication.  Yet these are sources to which we can still point our patrons. 

Problematic access continued to be the theme of this week's module for me, as I was unable, again and again, to access the AnthroSource articles to which we were directed.  Despite the use of the VPN, I consistently received errors from EBSCO.  No amount of re-direction solved the problem.  This, of course, is not the result I sought, nor is it a result that Professor Roland will appreciate, particularly as I draft this post at a late hour on the last day of the module.  Yet - while it might seem like a cop-out - I'm left considering other researchers, on deadlines, unable to access materials that they should be able to access but cannot, or relying on the internet to provide them with the answers they seek.  How can we, as librarians, help?  Of course, we may not be able to help if the issue is with accessing databases remotely or with technical services for database providers, but with knowledge of suitable information sources, we can certainly provide researchers with a helping hand via email, chat reference, or services like Know It Now. 

Above, crowd-sourced information sources were called into question as being, sometimes, unreliable. Each week, however, we are asked to look at sub-Reddits, and this week was no different. What strikes me each week as we do this is the incredible wealth of information to be found, often in the form of links to articles by reputable authors. Again, anthropology is a remarkably diverse field, and the articles to which links are provided reflect this, ranging from ebola to studies on stone-age tools to a marketing campaign to bring organ meats to the dinner table during World War II. Comments, too, often include links to other articles, providing additional research sources. Just as rules for research are made – such as my previous comment on crowd-sourcing – they are broken...although it is again useful for librarians to direct patrons to those rule-breakers that are worthy of consideration. As an aside, the anthropology sub-reddit is a fascinating meta-sources for anthropological study: individuals with common interests or common backgrounds coming together to create an online society with rules, a hierarchy, conflict (and, sometimes, conflict resolution), and social status. There is certainly a research paper there!

For the first time, we were asked to use YouTube as a source for study. YouTube is crowd-sourced, as well, and the quality of videos found there runs the gamut from excellent to absurd. Yet I was able to find a large number of sources for anthropologists, all of which were useful and reliable. Interestingly, the video I viewed – The Celts: Lost Treasures of the Ancient World – speaks to the issue of reliability of sources, a theme that has recurred for me throughout the modules in this course. The Celts were an illiterate society with an oral tradition, and so much of what we know about them was written by sources outside their culture, such as the Greeks and the Romans. As such, while they shed light on some of the practices of the Celtic peoples, they must be considered as being partially inaccurate. Librarians and their patrons are contemplating this challenge regularly. Are sources reliable? Bias is difficult to avoid, particularly in the social sciences, and must be considered at every turn, beginning at the moment we recommend a source. Bias is not necessarily negative; to the contrary, it has aided in the preservation of the online sources mentioned in Evolving Internet Reference in Anthropology, as well as other excellent sources. 

In a field as huge as anthropology, finding appropriate sources can be a large challenge. Yet by acknowledging that the challenge exists – and with a bit of creativity – librarians can help researchers (even procrastinators like me) find the sources they need.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Sources for Researchers: Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly and Subsequent Titles

Since its launch in 1887, the regularly-published reports of the Ohio History Connection has gone through four titles.  In fact, the agency itself is on its third title, recently having changed its doing-business-as name from the Ohio Historical Society.  Reports began as the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly (1887-1934), changed to the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Quarterly (1935-1954), to the Ohio Historical Quarterly (1955-1961), to the simply-named publication Ohio History (1962 to present). 

Despite changes to both the publication and to the institution itself, the reports of Ohio History Connection are consistently of high-quality and are extremely useful to researchers of anthropology.  Later journal articles focus more on the history of Ohio, but articles in the earlier volumes are centered on archaeological discoveries in our state.  Volume 1, published in 1887, contains multiple articles on earthworks and native peoples, as well as archaeological studies throughout the state and the artifacts found in each.   Other articles in later issues include one entitled “Cave Dwellers” from 1915, and one from 1994 entitled “James McBride: Historian and Archaeologist of the Miami Valley,” by Terry A. Barnhart. 

The published pieces in each volume are of interest as both primary and secondary sources.  It is clear that the articles written by researchers are secondary, but it is the meeting minutes and similar items representing the work of the Society’s board that are of interest as primary sources.  They address donations to the Society, projects funded by the Society, concerns of the Board, and so on.  These meeting minutes and similar items show what was of interest to researchers and tell us a bit about the culture of the time.  For example, it is at the end of the 19th century that antiquarianism splintered into different branches, with archaeology being just one of the splinters.  Could it be that the formation of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society was part of this movement?  The answer could very well be found in the pages of the inaugural volume in 1887 and throughout subsequent volumes.

Numerous OhioLINK members hold at least a portion of this series; the Ohio History Connection, of course, holds all of the issues for this title, as does the State Library of Ohio, which allows browsing of post 1900 titles but keeps pre-1900 titles in an environmentally-controlled room, making them available upon request.  Select titles are also available online at, although at the time of this writing (September 26, 2014) the site is unavailable.  According to the site, however, the database features search and browse capability for issues dating from 1887 to 2004, the period during which the title was published by the Ohio History Connection (in 2005, Kent State University Press took over publication). 

Certainly, any researchers who focuses on Ohio history, anthropology, or archaeology should make use of this rich resource.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Source for researchers: Wealth of Nations

Adam Smith's An Inquiry Into the Nature and the Causes of the Wealth of Nations, generally known simply as Wealth of Nations is said to be the cornerstone of capitalism, with Smith being cited as the "father of economics."  As such, it is an excellent source for economics researchers.

Wealth of Nations examines the means by which economies work most efficiently.  It is based on enlightenment thought, which generally assumes properly-designed entities work best when left to do as they will with little interference.  Enlightenment philosophers are less concerned with morality than with logic because morality is not necessarily logical. 

As we move forward through the units in our course, it becomes apparent that the study of social science is not the study of silos; that is, each discipline is intertwined with the others, and each can be better understood by studying the rest.  Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations  introduces the researcher to ideas in history, politics, geography, as well as philosophy and culture.  It is a study of values, with which we may agree or disagree, dependent upon our political beliefs. However, again, those same beliefs are built upon our own sense of right and wrong; Smith is unconcerned with these. Consequently, Wealth of Nations argues against allowing emotion to rule economics by simply not taking up the argument.

The text is divided into sections, with each section discussing a means by which a nation builds wealth. Due to its influence, it continues to be reprinted today, and is easily available at libraries, as well as online. Project Gutenberg has made the entire text of Wealth of Nations available, free of charge. A search of the OhioLINK catalog returns 194 results, either for the text itself or related titles. These related titles are useful, in fact; again, we cannot study economics without understanding other areas of the social sciences. Titles relating to enlightenment thought, and to other important texts on economics, history, and philosophy will help us to understand our current climate and economic system.

Also of interest: a search of the OhioLINK Electronic Journal Center returns 66 results for journal articles relating to Wealth of Nations and the theories it espouses when limited to titles published between 2010 and 2014, indicating that Smith's magnum opus continues to be of high relevance in the study of economics through history and to modern day. As a librarian, I might point researchers to these titles, as well as the related titles in the OhioLINK catalog, should they prove to be useful to understanding Wealth of Nations itself.

Wealth of Nations is a classic text, one not necessarily read unless assigned; I, for one, have never read it, despite it coming up again and again in classroom discussion when I was an undergraduate student in history. As an 18th-century text, it is not as accessible as those written and published today. However, as previously discussed, it encompasses much more than just a blueprint for capitalism, and remains highly relevant. It is certainly a resources that deserves examination for those studying a variety of disciplines, and certainly for those studying economics.

Reflections on Economics

A fascinating post (categorized as "change my view") came up on Reddit, regarding the veracity of the study of economics.  The author of the post argued that economics is the least grounded in "the objective and open-ended pursuit of knowledge as found in the sciences" and, in fact, is more susceptible to political agendas than any other social science.  I considered this point of view as I reviewed, and reflected upon, the week's materials.

 In the EconTalk podcast "Fragile by Design," Charles Calorimis and Stephen Haber discuss the impossibility of avoiding bank crises due to the conflicts of interest between governments and politics and banking systems, seeming to prove the premise introduced in the Reddit post discussed above.  Banks will always fail so long as politics are involved in financial regulations, but financial regulations cannot be established or maintained without politicians.  As we have seen, both in our class module and in real-life, politics is subjective and unreliable (in terms of changing climates), while being entirely predictable; politicians will disagree, and those disagreements will affect legislation.

Also affecting economics is culture. Our introduction to the unit states that "economics is the study of how people choose to use resources."  Thus, economics is highly reflective of culture.  How people choose to use resources is influenced by social factors, such as gender roles and familial structures.  Economics is also values-driven, both in terms of the ways in which people use resources and in the way in which people study and define the use of those same resources. Yet culture is proscribed, based in theories and fluctuating over time. What's more, no single culture is monolithic, and to understand economics it is important to understand varying cultures, and their histories, as well.

The libguide provided by the University of Florida lists materials which reflect this relationship between economics and culture. The page for book sources includes a quote by the famous economist, John Maynard Keynes: “Ideas shape the course of history.” Of course, Keynes would disagree with the Reddit author who questions the integrity of economics as a science, social or otherwise. But Keynes is certainly aware of the fact that the study of economics requires the acceptance of the ephemeral. With the right idea at the right time, our trajectory can change on a dime.

Interestingly, though, “Information Overload” seems to indicate that researchers, particularly undergraduates, are less interested in authoritative sources than they are in sources that are convenient to access and easy to use. Does this rule out complicated sources, or sources in which the user must dig for the perfect evidence to support his or her premise? Are these worthwhile? We have already determined that they most likely are, considering the fact that economics are complicated and require an understanding of a variety of fields in the social science arena.

I cannot say whether the Reddit author is correct when he or she says “while Economists (hilariously) try to create an air of credibility to their work by expressing their theories with mathematical formulas, this doesn't change the fact that the basic ideas that underpin the field are based not on empirical data but rather the assumptions they've made about the world and humanity.” However, I do believe that, as librarians, we must present a variety of sources to researchers so they can find the clearest picture possible, one based on available data from all related fields, not simply on “the assumptions they've made about the world and humanity.”

Friday, September 12, 2014

Common-place: A Source for Historians
Although we have been asked to favor paper-based resources for our reviews, I would like to present the online history journal/magazine, Common-place.  According to the description, “a bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaks--and listens--to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900.”  It goes on to say that, rather than focusing on “great men and great events, Common-place embraces the commonplace, or ordinary, in American life.”  It is this that makes Common-place a unique and worthy resource.

Each issue of Common-place includes book reviews, a letter from the editor (called Publick Occurrences), and a column called “Just Teach One,” in which a relatively obscure text is featured as an educational material.  “Object Lessons” describe the history behind an object, including provenance, and the “Web Library” feature is an annotated bibliography of web resources relating to varying topics.  Users can utilize a search box to perform keyword searches, as well, using Boolean operators to narrow returns.

Each issue also features relatively brief articles on different topics in history, sometimes organized around a particular theme or event, and other times simply relating to the period highlighted by the magazine’s area of focus.  Past themes have included early American cities, Pacific routes, 19th-centurygraphics, and one issue entitled  A Cabinet of Curiosities,” in which articles focused on unusual items and, yes, curiosity.

Articles can be contributed by any researchers, although the vast majority of those who are published are post-secondary educators.  History majors will recognize many names, including Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Mary Beth Norton (both of whom appear multiple times), as being reputable and authoritative in their fields of study.  Published pieces are immensely readable and include references, both paper- and web-based, for further research.

As an undergraduate student in history at OSU, I frequently turned to Common-place for research ideas as well as materials to support my own theses.  Later, post-graduation, I continued to turn to Common-place for my reading enjoyment.  I imagine it to be the type of work that scholars do for fun: research and writing in their preferred field without the pressure of peer review.  The quality is high, as would be expected, but the writing is friendly and fascinating.  For those who do not appreciate history, Common-place is a possible antidote.  For those who love history (and I count myself among this group), Common-place is fun, fascinating, and extremely valuable.

Reflections on History Reference Materials

The study of history is never complete.  There is always one more piece of evidence, one more missing link, one more point of view that could turn a thesis on its ear, changing everything.  This subjectivity is increased by the researcher; he or she is challenged to set aside preconceived notions, emotions, and belief systems in order to focus on concrete facts, all while keeping the humanity, and the consequent emotions, of those being studied in mind.  It is also affected by the librarian, who provides access to relevant research materials via processing (for archival collections) or cataloging and metadata creation for all items.

I was reminded of this fact as I progressed through the steps of this week’s module on research materials for historians.  First came “Historians and Their Information Sources,” by Dalton and Charnigo.  One of the findings of their study was that articles are increasingly chosen over books, manuscripts, and other materials by researchers.  This being a 2004 article, they do not address the prevalence of online journal databases as a possible reason for this increase.  Instead, they suggest reasons the following: more articles than books are published; articles provide information in context more quickly than books; articles tend to be more specialized.   They also point out that books and articles are more likely to be used by historians than are manuscripts, and while they express surprise at this fact, it would seem that access to materials is a strong hindrance to their use.  Is it possible that these materials not in use by historians contain answers that would change history?  Perhaps not, if we are discussing major events, but certainly they can increase our understanding of those events, particularly at a personal level.  But, certainly, if these items can be located and accessed, they may provide a more complete picture.

The Royal Society Library collection exemplifies the access challenge mentioned above.  Although there are a handful of digitized renderings of collection items available for viewing, the patron side of the viewer displayed no metadata and no transcript of manuscript materials.  How do we know these items are available and what they are about?  The collection is lovely, and it is clear that a multitude of collection items are not available online, but a large collection that is difficult to access is a collection that cannot easily be used; this also applies to items are available online but are lacking relevant metadata.

Both libguides – one from Kent and one from Cleveland Community College – demonstrate a tendency to reach for online articles and books for research materials.  What struck me about these, and about the Digital Librarian’s history section, was the subjectivity.  This is of necessity, certainly, and subjectivity does not mean that the guides are sparse; indeed, each is an excellent portal for finding useful resources.  However, neither the Kent libguide nor the one from Cleveland has been updated since 2013, which is problematic considering the speed at which new resources are made available.  The Digital Librarian’s site, while extensive, is missing links to materials on Ohio history, and was also last updated in 2013.  This is not a deal-breaker, of course, and history researchers are certainly aware that no resource is a one-stop shop.  It simply highlights that access is key, and that when access is inhibited for any reason, materials are difficult to use.

Similarly, the RUSA section’s history page on Facebook is an aggregator of recent articles and events relating to the study of history, as is the sub-reddit on history.  As resources for researchers, these are good methods for accessing secondary sources and, possibly, primary ones when references are included.  Still, like the other sources discussed above, these are curated and presented, and thus are exclusive.  This is not to discount them as resources, only to serve as a reminder that access remains a concern and that no resource can ever truly be complete.

One link from the history sub-reddit serves as an excellent example of this (although, admittedly, this is applicable to nearly every resource used by historians).  I conducted my review of Reddit on September 11, so it stands to reason that a number of articles shared there were relating to 9/11.  One such article was about the photograph of the Falling Man, an individual who chose to jump from one of the towers rather than waiting for its collapse.  We are not certain of his identity (although some believe him to be Jonathan Briley, an employee at Windows on the World), but his identity is not key to understanding the photograph and its place in history.  He appears to be in control and, indeed, he demonstrated a modicum of control by choosing to jump from the tower.  We cannot view this photograph without feeling a strong emotional reaction, and we cannot learn all there is to know about this moment by viewing the photograph.  In context, with knowledge about the day, however, we are able to understand something different about humanity and our will to survive or control our own destiny.  There has been a good deal of criticism of the photographer, Richard Drew, for having taken this photograph and the others in the series (which show the Falling Man tumbling through space), criticism which called Drew tasteless, crass, voyeuristic, and so on.  Again, the photos draw a strong emotional reaction.  But, again, what can we learn?  Could we learn as much if we did not have access to this image?  Can we undertake the herculean task of setting aside emotions that, after a decade, remain raw?  These questions are primarily for researchers, but as librarians we should ask them of ourselves, as well.  We have the power to curate the research experience for our patrons, simply by providing access, or not, to related materials.  We should strive to provide the most complete experience possible.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Reflections on Political Science Sources

As an undergraduate student of the humanities, my primary challenge was not writing papers that would sufficiently support my thesis. Rather, my biggest difficulty often was to find the primary sources I needed. This is supported by the Political Science Research Competency Guidelines from LPSS, which state that “political science research...relies heavily on primary sources that may be difficult for the undergraduate to find and understand.” Thus, its list of competencies provide a framework for the librarian, who must provide research aid, and the student, who must be literate in information-seeking.

The Competency Guidelines make a variety of recommendations for information literacy on the student's part, one of which relates to bias in sources. This is a topic addressed by the article I examined for this unit, The Taking Liberties Exhibition at the British Library (Kellner, 2009). The article itself is a review of an exhibition on several centuries of efforts toward obtaining personal liberty in the UK, but Kellner introduces the notion of bias in his piece, saying that the definition of liberty varies from individual to individual. That is, liberty is subjective. Liberty is also a driving force in the political climate of most nations, and the notion of liberty is a common thread through those documents that students and researchers in the political science field will utilize. As librarians, it is imperative that we understand this subjectivity and help our patrons to understand it, as well, not to influence their understanding of liberty – or any other topic or source of bias – but to help them to seek out those sources which are either unbiased or, if bias is the topic, those which will satisfy the requirements of our patrons.

Topical libguides are an excellent means of directing students to a variety of sources in multiple formats. The Political Science LibGuide provided by Westmont College's Voskuyl Library recommends many different political science resources, including books, databases, websites, and courses. Westmont's political science libguide was updated recently (August 29, 2014) and also includes a class list for prospective and current students. In terms of access to relevant materials, this libguide is an excellent source.

The Social Sciences Librarians' Blog from the University of Leicester, on the other hand, was easy to use and navigate and highly accessible. I scrolled through and found a post on Iraq, Syria, and the Middle East. By nearly anyone's definition, and certainly for students, the events taking place in, and the cultures of, these nations are complicated and challenging. To ease understanding, this particular blog post links to a number of sources of information. It may not be exhaustive, and bias may be a concern: these sources are authored by individuals who may be experts but may not be members of these cultures, and any published list of “good” resources is inherently biased. That said, students are well-served by such a list (this is also annotated), and it is clear that the author, Andrew Dunn, has a good grasp on the competencies suggested by the LPSS.

The CQ Press, which was assigned for exploration, is a rich resource for government information. However, I found it to be challenging to locate CQ Press on the Kent libraries website until I recalled that it is a database. Sources of political science information were linked from the library page for government documents but that page did not list CQ Press databases as a source for information. Instead, I navigated to the library home page, selected the link for databases, and found CQ Press databases in the list. This is a logical construction method for accessing materials but intuition would direct the researcher to the government document resource page first. Because I am focusing on access to materials, rather than the quality of resources, I would say that CQ Press as a source of information through Kent was difficult to use.

A large number of courses, and related materials, are available via the MIT Opencourseware site. Course links include syllabi and readings, and it is conceivable that students studying the topics offered, but not enrolled in courses at MIT, would still find these links useful. Instructor lectures can be a useful source for research, and may even be considered primary sources under certain circumstances. Students who are directed to such a source by reference librarians will find a unique resource for their studies. As with other sources of information, bias may be present, and students should take that fact under consideration.

As a resource for usable information, the political science reddit is a mixed bag. Some threads focus on whether to continue school or on post-graduation job prospects. Many others, however, link to articles of interest to political science students or other interested parties. Like instructor lectures, comments in response to articles and other discussion board contributions can be utilized as primary sources under the right circumstances, and with the large following that reddit enjoys, it is logical that it is a tool of which reference librarians should be aware. Unfortunately, I found that the threads most likely to receive comments were those relating to education and careers in political science rather than to posted articles. Still, reddit could be considered a database, albeit a crowdsourced one, and as such is an indicator of culture and current events and interests, which increases its value as a unique resource.

Ultimately, librarians understand two important things: that patrons should be directed toward resources relating to their topics of interest, and that patrons should understand that resources for research vary in quality. I have attempted to assess the quality of each of the sources to be explored this week, and have found that, while some are more usable than others, all are excellent in terms of access to resources.

United States Serial Set and the American State Papers

The United States Serial Set, which is also known as the United States Congressional Serial Set, has been in publication since 1817, the year of the 15th U.S. Congress. The Library of Congress states that “The Serial Set contains the House and Senate Documents and the House and Senate Reports … from congressional committees dealing with proposed legislation and issues under investigation [and] all other papers ordered printed by the House or Senate,” all bound together in single volumes by year. For a period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Serial Set also included Executive documents (those from the Executive branch of the U.S. Government). The predecessor to the Serial Set, the American State Papers, contains similar documents from Congress from 1787 to 1838, thus overlapping the Serial Set by several decades.
Federal depositories, such as the State Library of Ohio, and some selective depositories, provide access to the Serial Set in a variety of formats: print, microfilm, and online. To access online versions via the State Library, users must authenticate using their library card. Select years have been digitized and can be found at the United States Government Printing Office (GPO), as well as via LexisNexis, although this source requires a subscription. Google Books is also digitizing the Serial Set for online access. Print distribution of the Serial Set has been limited since the 105th Congress (1997-1998), but despite this loss of access to print versions, this still leaves nearly 200 years worth of print volumes available for research.

With the documents included in the Serial Set, as well as in the American State Papers, students of political science can learn about important topics of the day. They can learn about the changing political climate as well as about culture and social issues, both of which strongly influence politics. They can learn about important political figures, and they can follow the progress of political actions.

For online access to the U.S. Serial Set and the American State Papers go to:

Bowling Green University and the State Library of Ohio both maintain lists of Federal repositories in the state; these lists will direct users to institutions which include print versions of the Serial Set in their collections.