Librarian Response, Smith College


Q. What specific resources in the social sciences do you think would
best contribute to or support student learning in the classroom?

Specific resources in the social sciences are difficult to identify,
due to the number of databases offered at the Smith College Libraries and
the interdisciplinary nature of research undertaken by scholars and students
in all disciplines. This response is focused on the present and future
information resources and services provided by the Smith College Libraries,
primarily Neilson Library, the humanities and social sciences library on
the campus. Student learning is promoted in an instructional program with
common goals and objectives across disciplines. (Instructional programs
within Young , Hillyer or Josten libraries -- the sciences, fine arts and
performing arts, respectively -- and in Special Collections may offer differences
that may be addressed in future workshops.)

For the past several years, the librarians at Smith College have
worked to incorporate web-based instruction through the use of a gateway
to the Libraries resources, subject web pages and individual class pages.
The use of subject web pages is the primary vehicle the reference librarians
use to guide students in accessing appropriate information resources. Each
subject page, for instance, History, lists indexes and databases appropriate
to the area, including scholarly indexes, indexes in related fields, interdisciplinary
indexes, general periodical indexes and selected web resources.
The selection and use of specific resources in the social sciences
rests on the information needs of curriculum and research at Smith College.
Scholarly bibliographic databases in the social sciences -- PsycInfo, Sociological
Abstracts, EconLit, etc. -- form the basis of instruction within each discipline,
followed by more specialized sources as assignments dictate (i.e., statistical
sources such as International Financial Statistics and World Development

Databases such as Congressional Universe and Statistical Universe increased
in value and use when electronic access became available, due to the difficulty
students encountered in their print counterparts. Students now need assistance
in refining their searches to gather more relevant and less overwhelming
results. America: History and Life and Historical Abstracts in their electronic
form opened new avenues of research in many disciplinary and interdisciplinary
areas, whereas their print versions were the primarily the province of
dedicated historians. It seems evident that electronic access to print
resources increased interdisciplinary research, as students and scholars
gained access to materials via databases and the Internet.

Full-text cross-disciplinary databases, such as Academic Universe and
Expanded Academic Index, offer collections of periodical titles libraries
would not necessarily purchase separately. There are drawbacks to the full-text
experience: expectation and demand for full-text, inappropriate selection
of research results due to preference for full text, proliferation of mainstream
titles across many libraries, and the lack of distinction between popular
and scholarly titles within databases.

The Internet provides a valuable and nearly irreplaceable role in the
social sciences, after the sciences. The emphasis on electronic dissemination
by state, national and international governments gives students unprecedented
access to government information. Identifying, locating and accessing the
resources of organizations, institutions, advocacy groups, library collections
and catalogs gives students and faculty access no library could offer individually.
In economics and education, for instance, a reliance on data
sets and local, state and national census materials respectively require
more advanced information skills on the part of student, faculty and librarian.
Early collaboration with the statistical resources of the Jahnige Center
has been successful; staffing irregularities, however, have lessened the
librarians' knowledge and use of the Center's resources and services.