Friday, November 30, 2007

Article Note: On Latin Americanist Grad Students' Research Habits

Citation for the article:

Mazurkiewicz, Orchid and Claude H. Potts. "Researching Latin America: A Survey of How the New Generation is Doing its Research." Latin American Research Review 42.3 (October 2007): 161-182.

Read via Project Muse.

This article reports on a survey of Latin Americanist grad students conducted by the authors. The survey participants were members of LASA (Latin American Studies Association). In their introduction, the authors note that students in this area often lack awareness of core resources in the field. There is a concern that the Internet's ease of use may mean these students would use core resources even less. Given that this field still relies heavily on print resources as well as some very specific online tools, too much reliance on things like Google is a significant concern. According to the authors then, "graduate students were chosen for study as they are likely to be heavily engaged in research and are the next generation of instructors" (163).

From the literature review, we learn that students in this area often rely on informal scholarly networks for their research. It really is a matter of who you know. There is less reliance on librarians. Overall, browsing and other informal ways of discovery are still important for this group. Other obstacles for the graduate students:

  • "Spanner (2001) expands upon the earlier studies, and concludes that interdisciplinary scholars face distinct difficulties with disciplinary acculturation, and inadequate library collections and that more research must be done to better address the needs of this user-group" (164).
  • "Another obstacle that Latin Americanists encounter, as identified by Westbrook (2003) in the context of women's studies, is that they work in a high-scatter field as opposed to traditional low-scatter disciplines where resources are consolidated, controlled, and standardized. The Internet, with its promises of greater connectivity and access to resources, has dramatically increased resource scatter" (164).
The authors then go on to describe their method followed by their results. Some highlights of their findings:

  • "The growing availability of easily accessible electronic resources has not yet eliminated the use of print sources" (168).
  • Only a few respondents reported asking a librarian as part of the research. However, visiting the library for research is popular.
  • Use of J-Stor was very popular. The authors do see this as troubling due to J-Stor's limitations. They wonder if "perhaps the ease of online full-text access is tempting as a quick source for information, regardless of whether it is the most pertinent or current" (171).
  • Then there is the concern that a generation of researchers fixated on full-text will skip or ignore valuable resources just because they are not available in full-text online. In this regard I'll say that some things never change. I've seen the same concern in relation to undergrads.
  • "While it is encouraging that students have a relatively high level of comfort and confidence in their ability to carry out their research, when paired with a lack of awareness of some of the core tools in the field, it suggests that some students might know what they are missing" (175).
  • An action call: "The new generation of Latin Americanists must develop the skills necessary to navigate the many possible sources of information, and the knowledge to evaluate the potential efficacy of various research strategies in various media and the value of the information found through such strategies" (176). Maybe this is something that professors and librarians can collaborate on.
FYI: The four core tools mentioned in the article. The only I did not know before the article was LAPTOC, and that is pretty new. The others I have used at one time or another:

  1. HLAS (Handbook of Latin American Studies).
  2. HAPI (Hispanic American Periodicals Index. Subscription-based resource, available online or in print).
  3. LAPTOC (Latin American Periodicals Table of Contents).
  4. LANIC (Latin American Network Information Center, a portal at UT Austin).

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