Sunday, October 5, 2014

Reflections on Psychology

As a field of research, psychology is extremely diverse. Unlike the other social science subjects we've studied thus far, psychology involves medical conditions and, as such, sources include medical terminology that may be difficult for researchers at some levels to understand. Finally, psychology is an evolving field; conditions, and the symptoms they encompass, change as we learn more about the human brain, its functions, and its responses to the environment. Librarians must understand this and be prepared with suitable sources.

Embedding librarians as described by Bennet and Simning (2010) is one response to the difficulty that students at all levels may have with psychology assignments and courses. The librarian, likely a subject specialist, may be present in the classroom, or may be involved in preparation of coursework, or may monitor online discussions. This is a useful tactic for any course. Yet, as an undergraduate student in a social science major (history), I frequently found that history was fairly straightforward; there was no governing body revising history periodically or renaming events, as is the case with psychology. An embedded librarian can help with this.

Smith and O'Hagan (2014) discuss an online library instruction course offered through University of Alabama at Birmingham's Lister Hill Library (LHL) of the Health Sciences. This course guides participants, who run the gamut from student to medical professional, through the use of the library and its services. This is not unusual – library instruction is often offered online – but LHL designed the course to be synchronous, with users actively participating in the class. This is an interesting means of conducting library instruction, and could be particularly useful for students entering into the psychology field and unsure of how to find materials. After all, for many students, college is their first exposure to psychology. They have learned how to study history, anthropology (often through their history coursework), geology, and so on. Psychology is often brand new.

Perez (2005) points out that the field of psychology is vast and, as such, lists recommended sources for research. One such source, Encyclopedia of Psychology, includes a page entitled Pseudoscience and Quackery. As I reviewed the topics listed – such as astrology and phrenology – I was struck by their being called “quackery,” not necessarily because I believe them to be scientific or accurate tools for understanding human behavior, but because they have been accepted as plausible...and, in the case of astrology, continue to be so in certain populations. Consider what was stated above regarding the nature of psychology: it is dynamic, conditions are named and renamed, symptoms revised, and so on. For example, what we previously called attention deficit disorder (ADD) was renamed in 1994 and is now called attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This is a small difference, to be sure, but is representative of the field. Will it change again? Possibly, as could other diagnoses. They may never be thought of as quackery, or perhaps the whole field will be considered so.

Perhaps knowing that research in psychology is challenging, the American Psychological Association provides guidelines on its website, including tools and tutorials for searching its databases . These are useful, certainly, but also serve as a reminder that, plainly-put, one may need an understanding of the field before additional research will be successful. For this reason, the magazine Psychology Today and its accompanying website (both of which I evaluated as sources for researchers) are excellent starter sources. Designed to be accessible to all, Psychology Today uses terminology a layperson can understand. For more advanced students it is likely not suitable, but it would seem that, like sites such as Wikipedia, it is good as a starter source, one at which one might check his or her understanding of a topic before diving into more challenging sources.

More than most other subjects in the social sciences, psychology requires a great deal from its librarian subject specialists. They must be prepared to help beginners and experts alike, and must stay abreast of not only new sources of information but, frequently, to changes in the field. Sources such as the ones listed above will help tremendously as they strive to serve their population.

Bennett, E. and Simning, J.  2010.  Embedded librarians and reference traffic: a quantitative analysis.  Journal of Library Administration.  DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2010.491437.

Perez, A.  2005.  Psyched about psychology internet resources.  DOI: 10.1300/J111v43n03_14

Smith, S. and O'Hagan, Emma.  2014.  Taking library instruction into the online environment: one health sciences library's experience.  Journal of the Medical Library Association. DOI:

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