Saturday, May 07, 2005

"But my professor said it has to be in print, not from the internet..."

I hear that line from students coming to the library looking for an article more than you can imagine, unless you happen to be an academic librarian as well, in which case you hear it too I bet. A professor, who shall remain nameless (but it can be any professor pretty much), sends students to the library with instructions such as this, or a few variants:

"You have to find an article. It has to be from a peer reviewed journal, and it cannot be from the internet."

Now, as many librarians know, periodical indexes with full-text may be accessed through the internet, but they are not the "internet" in the usual sense of Google or Yahoo!, which is I am sure what the professor is trying to avoid. Nowadays, a lot of these databases feature PDF files of articles, which are just as good as the print item itself. Now, you can explain this to a student. You can show them what the actual PDF looks like, how it is an exact reproduction of the article they may want with exact page numbers. You can even point out that if they make a photocopy (since journals do not check out), it will look about the PDF. However, the problem is I am offering to print it out of the computer, so therefore, it is bad, and they will be in trouble with their professor.

Many blogs and academic articles as well have pointed out the issues of journal pricing, its increases, and the need for libraries often to go to an electronic format for periodicals due to cost or space restrictions. In fact, I made a note about this upon reading an article about the same topic in Collection Building. But very often, no matter how much you try to reassure the students, there is always the one student who feels I am not serving her well unless I get her something in print from the actual stacks. So, in the end, what do I do? Well, I just say "yes ma'am (or sir)" and try to find them a journal issue we have in the stacks. In the case of today, I managed to find a couple of titles, so I gave her two choices. I like whenever possible to send them to the stacks with at least two citations, just in case.

P.S. In what can only be described as an ironic twist of fate, that young lady came back with the bound issue of the journal. When I saw her approaching, I thought she was maybe going to ask, "where is the photocopier?" or "Can I check this out?" So, what was the question? She asked in a soft voice, "Do you have this particular article online so I can print it out?" I just smiled and said, "sure, let's check." I checked; we had it, and I printed it out for her. It was a PDF, so she felt better it looked just like on the page she had. Thus we have another happy customer, in spite of what the professor said. I wonder what the advocates of "give them what they want" would say to this?

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