Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Article note: On alternatives to ERIC, and a few extra thoughts

Citation for the article:

Strayer, Jean-Jacques. "ERIC Database Alternatives and Strategies for Education Researchers." Reference Services Review 36.1 (2008): 86-96.

Read via Emerald.

I am in the middle of a weeding project for the library's reference section. I will spare my two readers the details, but I will say it has been a bit of a learning experience. Anyhow, my director had sent me a printout of the ERIC list of changes since 2004. Of course there was an ulterior motive for this, which was to ask if we could get rid of the ERIC fiche collection (the collection does take an awful lot of space). Based on the list document, if I am reading it right, we can probably weed out anything from 1993 to 2004, with the caveat that there may be the rare document missing from the online system due to copyright reversals (i.e. those people who for some reason decide they do not wish to have their work made available online. And no, I am not even touching that).

Anyways, that's the background to go with the article I am featuring in this post, which deals with research alternatives to ERIC. Strayer looks at journal indexing coverage in ERIC (the old and the new) as well as in alternative databases. What I found really useful in this article was the discussion of suggestions and research strategies for librarians and education researchers. I am going on faith that a good number of education librarians have read this or have it on their pile of stuff to read. This is probably the kind of article that education faculty should look at as well.

Some highlights from the article:

  • What's the big deal? The Department of Education announced in 2003 that it would close down the clearinghouse system (87). In essence, ERIC had a decentralized system of clearinghouses that provided the information and materials for ERIC; the clearinghouses each collected information and materials on specialized areas of education. In my view, this was probably not of the brightest ideas for the DE.
  • Strayer on the "new" ERIC: "The 'new' ERIC started in September 2004, is improving in some ways: its website is more user-friendly; more and more ERIC documents are digitized and available in full-text; its search engine features and functions have been improved. Generally, however, it is not indexing and keeping up to date with the same number of important education journals that the "old" ERIC covered before December 2003 when the US Department of Education closed down the ERIC clearinghouses, stopped the indexing of education journals and ERIC documents and hired a private company (Computer Sciences Corporation) to create a new database" (87).
    • The more user-friendly aspect of the site and the improvement of the search engine are a bit questionable at best. There is a reason that EBSCO does pretty well selling us ERIC, a freely available resource online, on their interface (full disclosure: we get that EBSCO option here).
    • I will keep to myself my views on when the government privatizes something like ERIC in the interests of "streamlining" and "improving."
  • The results: "The 'new' ERIC is not indexing and keeping up to date with the same number of major education journals as the 'old' ERIC used to. In each study, in all three categories of journals, the 'new' ERIC provides current indexing (indexing for journal issues published within the last 12 months) to substantially fewer titles than the 'old' ERIC (i.e. before December 19, 2003)" (88).
    • You can look at the tables in the article for specifics. The checking was done using two recent issues of ISI (Institute of Scientific Information) Journal Citation Reports.
After the numbers, Strayer moves on the discussion, which as I mentioned, is the real useful part for those of us who do reference and teach students how to do research. His three basic suggestions are: "know your databases and research objectives," "know your vocabulary," and "use multiple strategies in multiple databases." Some notes from the discussion:
  • At times, Academic Search Premier may work well, especially for quick searches of up-to-date and relevant material. ASP can fare better than the new ERIC and even Wilson's Education Full Text. If the librarian teaches education graduate students, then its time to introduce the students to Web of Science. However, you should also be using EBSCO's Education Research Complete.
    • Disclosure note: We do not have WoS. We do have Education Research Complete, which I do teach to the couple of education classes that come in for instruction. Since EBSCO is pretty good about combining databases in a search, one can run a search combining ERC and ERIC. I also show them how to use PsycInfo. A lot of what Strayer writes in this section is stuff I know from experience, but it is nice to see someone validating it.
  • Why use PsycInfo? For its coverage of interest in areas of special ed., ed. psych., and counseling. This is APA's database by the way. Strayer notes that "it is supported by a thesaurus of psychology terms that are specific to learning theory, teaching methods, cognitive and language development, verbal communication, reading comprehension and more that can be applied to education research. PsycInfo is a good source for empirical studies published in peer review journals" (90).
    • When the students come in asking for an empirical study, PsycInfo is pretty my ace.
  • If your students are doing in-depth research, teach them how to identify and find the specialized journals in their field. Also tell them which databases index the journals and teach them how set up alerts for the tables of contents for the journals as the journals get published (different from waiting for the database to index it) (91).
    • If the journal has RSS, so much better. Show them if need be how to use a feed reader. I am thinking this could lead to a post on the library blog on setting alerts.
  • Teach them how to use a database's thesaurus. Also teach them about acquiring "a thorough knowledge of the current vocabulary in the field of education--standard terms and also those that are coming into popular use and those that appear in author-supplied keyword" (91). This is then how students can create better search strings as part of their research strategies. How the heck do you learn the vocabulary? You read in the field of study, and you discuss with your professors and peers. That's one way I do it, and it works, not just for education (which is my subject specialty), but for LIS as well. In my case, I also blog and make notes like this post, but that may or not work for everyone. Find what works for you.
  • If you are using the multiple database technique: ". . .it is very important for librarians to emphasize that each discipline has its own thesaurus and its own set of specialized vocabulary and definitions. PsycInfo will, therefore, have its own thesaurus. Its terminology can be different than ERIC's, even when it is describing educational, learning, and cognitive development topics. The education researcher will be well served if s/he is acquainted with the PsycInfo thesaurus as well as the ERIC thesaurus and if s/he proceeds to devise keyword strategies that incorporate both of these vocabularies. As educators, these vocabularies combined comprise a core working vocabulary" (92).
    • In plain English, learn how to use the tools that have the lingo of your field of study. Learn that lingo and how to incorporate it into your search strategies.
Strayer also points out some implications:
  • For openers, ". . .we can no longer count on ERIC as the one, comprehensive and reliable source for all aspects of educational studies. . ." (92).
  • If you are a good instruction or subject specialist librarian, or reference for that matter, you should not just be teaching the database. Instead we should be teaching "a strategic approach to research that can be applied to and used as a means of evaluating a growing number and variety of information sources in various forms and formats and media" (93).
    • When some snobbish or resistant professor asks what is it we do in library instruction, give him or her that answer. That is where our skills lie. It's not just teaching to use an interface or a tool but what you do with the tools in the box.
  • What else should librarians be doing? Well, according to Strayer, database analysis work like this article is a good example. Why? Well, Strayer says it better than I ever could, so I will let him say it: "The analytical pursuit of information and rigorous evaluation of information sources, research strategies and information technologies are at the very heart of information literacy. As academic librarians, our role and responsibility is to integrate these critical thinking and informed decision making principles into the curriculum at all levels and across all disciplines. As academic planners and administrators, we bring to this process a knowledge of current and emerging information and instructional technologies (their scope, balance and potential to increase or limit access and usability of information sources) that cannot be matched by the narrow disciplinary, scholarly and administrative concerns of our colleagues in most college and university communities" (93).
    • When some person wants to denigrate the MLS or MIS degrees, saying that they are not needed to be a librarian (especially an academic librarian), or faculty that think we are glorified clerks taking up space, point them to Strayer's paragraph above. This kind of skills is why people go to library school. If your library school is not providing those skills, then demand better or go to a different L-School. And then work on proving your worth and educating the faculty and administration on your campus about what it is exactly you do.
Overall, if you are an academic librarian who works with education students, you have to read this article.

No comments: