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but consider that the online world is irregular: some sites simply disappear, others cease to be managed and become outdated, others are crowd-sourced and are innately inaccurate...certainly the reader can agree that the internet can be problematic.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.

1 comment:

  1. "Good sources last" - what a great rule of thumb, catch phrase!