Another Perspective on Information Literacy
This morning, I began working on reading through some new material on information literacy that relates to an article I’m preparing to write. As I perused the research, I realized I promised a student I would send him an article that we discussed in a conference last week. I put on my researcher cap, and went to work. Twenty minutes later, I came to realize that perhaps there is at least one other reason students turn to the Internet rather than scholarly databases for their research–utter frustration.
The search seemed easy enough. I already knew exactly what article I needed to accomplish this quick (5 minutes, max) task. I logged into my My.GeorgiaSouthern account. This first step provides one-click access to the library databases without the need to enter an additional password. The link (listed as “Galileo” in my account) takes us directly to the library main search page in the Galileo database. Since the school instituted the “Discovery” database, it now takes us to this page.
I typed in the title of the article I wanted. I used quotation marks to narrow down the search to this specific article. I know what I’m doing.
Discover brings me no results. I know the article is available through our library. I retrieved this article only two weeks ago. Discover is designed to be the Google of our library database, and it searches the databases as well as the online library catalog. Yet, it’s not working. I’ve had plenty of problems with Discover in the past when looking for specific titles, so I navigate to the library website and choose to enter Academic Search Premiere. Now, as I mentioned earlier, the additional step of logging in to my My.GeorgiaSouthern account eliminates the need for the Galileo password. However, that appears to be untrue now that we’ve switched to Discover. My two clicks (one to select Academic Search Premiere, and one to select “Go”) lead me here.
If you can’t read the red print, it’s telling me I must have the Galileo password to even access the database. The Galileo password (for one reason or another that I’ve never understood) is not connected in any way to my password for the university. It also changes every so often, so I have to request the password. To receive the password, I have to follow the “forgot your password” button, provide my university ID, last name and PIN number for Galileo. Well, I don’t remember that PIN number; I haven’t used it in over a year. So, I have to request my PIN, log in to my email, retrieve my PIN, return to the request password page and retrieve the current password. Then, I return to this page, provide the password, and NOW I can move forward with my search.
I finally reach the Academic Search Complete database. (We’re now 15 minutes into the search.) Again, I type in the title of the article–and I do this in the advanced search feature so I can tell the database this is the title. I push search and wait for my one result to appear on the screen.
Well, we’re not that lucky yet. I follow the link to “Linked Full Text” where I retrieved the article two weeks ago.
The system is working against me. Now, I can see the article exists behind our library firewall, but the link doesn’t work. It’s 11am on a Saturday; the Help Desk won’t reopen until Monday. I know (from my experience with this specific journal) that I can locate the journal through Elsevier. So, I navigate back to the library homepage, type the name of the journal into the catalog search, select Elsevier from the list of databases through which I can access this article, and I am met with a brand new screen.
Now, keep in mind I am still logged into my My.GeorgiaSouthern account and Galileo. Now, I must provide my university credentials again? Once inside, I retype the article title, again in quotation marks, receive no results, remove the quotation marks, and finally come to my article. This link works.
I repeated the search–step by step for the screenshots in this post. The results were the same. From start to finish in both cases, the search took nearly 30 minutes. Keep in mind, I knew specifically what I needed. However, a student conducting a similar search would not start with a single article title, but with much broader search–perhaps for “information literacy.” On the chance that this article and it’s corresponding abstract appears in their search results, what chances do we run that they will not go through this amount of frustration for an article they are unsure will truly be useful to their research? I spent nearly 30 minutes trying to track down a single article. To think of my own overachiever undergraduate self, I cannot be certain I would have gone through this hassle then. Students certainly should not be punished for doing academic research from home, but part of this certainly felt like punishment.
Sure, I could have removed a few steps to this–two or three–if I were on campus connected to the university system which overrides the need for some passwords, but conducting research often happens when we have the time for this task. I don’t know that undergraduate me would have stopped searching here, gotten in my car, found parking on campus, and returned to the search in the physical library. Most likely, I would have ignored the article and moved on–or tried tracking this article down via Google. You can do that, but then it requires a $41 purchase for the same access available for free via the library.
I don’t want this to come across as an overall excuse for all student Internet research. Rather, I want this reason to linger in our minds. We are working to better the pedagogical approaches to teaching information literacy. We are working to improve students’ information seeking skills, and a task like this would be excellent proof of those skills. However, students should not have to encounter obstacles like these just through their library databases. As we reconsider approaches to information literacy, perhaps we should also consider restructuring some of the obstacles present in the library databases.