Librarian Response, Amherst College


Q. What specific resources in the social sciences do you think would best contribute to or support student learning in the classroom? For each full-text database, index or other web-based information ;source, explain briefly how it could help expand the students' critical information gathering skills.

This question is, at first glance, impossibly sweeping. Certainly the most interesting and challenging aspect of recent developments in the production, storage, and dissemination of information is that consumers (faculty, students, and librarians) get so many choices - choices of formats, media, sources, and points of view. In fact, preparing students to make well-informed, thoughtful choices must be the focus of the collaboration in this project. Therefore I will limit my answer to the context of Ron Lembo's Sociology 11 (Self and Society).

Redesigned to incorporate a larger technology-based component, the course will require that the students learn to distinguish between primary and secondary sources. That is, ideally they will learn to draw a distinction between the websites and databases selected by the Library and websites not pre-judged or pre-selected by librarians and/or faculty. Fulltext databases (for example, Expanded Academic ASAP and LEXIS-NEXIS Academic Universe) can provide primary documents which embody the issues and trends the students study as well as critical commentary on those issues. Likewise, websites created by interest groups may become primary objects of study for the students while other web-based sources may focus on critiques of the politics and agenda of those groups. The same search engines that help students reach one kind of source can help them find the other as well. The Amherst College Library's website has a table of search engines to offer students and faculty choices for their searching. The Library also offers discipline-oriented webpages of academic sites selected by librarians. Recommended metasites may often provide launching pads for web searching as well.

This course focuses on convincing students of the value of using information in many formats and media. With a greater emphasis on technology, it will continue that approach. To find theoretical and other academic studies, students can use the local online library catalog as a key tool. To make judgments about what to use from the Library's collection, they will depend on their professor's recommendations, literature reviews such as the online Annual Reviews, scholarly encyclopedias in the Library's reference collection, etc. A wide selection of online indexes such as Sociological Abstracts and Social Science Abstracts from FirstSearch or Expanded Academic ASAP or Academic Universe will support this course.

In cooperation with Ron Lembo and other members of the team, librarians will concentrate on instructing students in identifying and evaluating sources of information. Students should learn to discriminate among conflicting approaches and opinions at the same time they learn to chart the course of their own research.

Q. What roles and responsibilities do librarians on your campus currently assume regarding the instruction in the use of electronic information sources in support of student and faculty research?

Librarians have assumed several responsibilities:
a. At the invitation of faculty, they give presentations on research techniques to classes - often, depending on the class content, with an emphasis on electronic sources.
b. They offer individual instruction in electronic sources to students and faculty.
c. They cooperate with Amherst's IT in a Mellon-funded technology-in-teaching initiative for faculty - giving instruction about the Library's discipline oriented webpages, electronic journal collections, etc.
d. They also actively publicize the library's electronic services to the whole campus.

Q. What goals do you have for collaboration with faculty, students, and information technologists in the field of electronic information?

As more courses place on emphasis on electronic sources, especially on information on the Web, faculty, librarians, and technologists all recognize that students must hone their ability to evaluate sources and make informed judgments about their relevance to their projects. Particularly in a course like Ron Lembo's Sociology 11, those judgments must not be reduced to good/bad or academic/nonacademic or even reliable/unreliable. Instead students must look at websites, for example, and determine what group or organization supports the site and for what purpose. They must learn to "read" political points of view and social messages. Their evaluation of technology and its products must become increasingly sophisticated. Librarians can help students develop the skills needed to reach the goals of a course like Sociology 11. The goals in this case are established by the faculty member and advanced by librarians and technologists.

Margaret Adams Groesbeck

Head of Reference and Online Services

Amherst College Library