Monday, November 30, 2009

Article Note: On local research guides and academic business librarians

Citation for the article:

Lyons, Charles. "Are We Covering Our Own Backyards?: An Analysis of Local Research Guides Created by Academic Business Librarians." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 35.5 (September 2009): 421-430.

Read via ScienceDirect.

The simple answer to the article's title question is "no." There is much work still to be done. The article by Lyons looks at local research guides created by business librarians in academia. These are guides usually created to assist patrons with researching their local communities. For example, my workplace has one here. The article explains that these guides "list resources that provide information about the community, such as news publications, business directories, government Web sites, demographic data sources, and more" (421). Like many of these LIS articles, the sample is pretty small. The author looked at 70 academic library websites, and he only identified 29 local guides. The guides were then analyzed in order to identify trends and common elements.

The literature review helps to provide a justification for academic librarians to create these types of guides. You can justify it in economic terms given that many universities now are using local economic development as part of their strategic goals (as well as to justify their existence). According to Lyons, "local benefits attributed to universities include their catalytic roles as major employers of local residents, as prodigious developers of local land and real estate, and as providers of cultural and entertainment activities" (422). Lyons adds that the literature provides examples of how academic libraries help local businesses. He notes that much of the work in this area is done by public libraries, but academic libraries are catching up, and these guides are one way to see how academic libraries are engaging with their local communities.

The research found that "23 out of 70 libraries surveyed (33%) included guides to local research on their Web sites" (423). Also, the study found that the majority of guides focused on state information rather than very local (city, town, county) information. Yet, the author found a broad range of topics in these guides. He notes that "one noteworthy type of specialized local guide covered local job and career opportunities" (424). I have a feeling that as the economy continues to be on a low level, that more libraries will have to work on providing local job and career information as well as access to resources like computers. Lyons does note that "compared to other subjects, local guides seem to have fewer links per guide on average" (424). However, do not think that this means the guides' quality may be lower. As Lyons indicated, there is a lot of variety in the scope of the guides.

So, what do these guides include? According to the article (pages 424-425):
  • The largest category was "government." Data and links from the Census Bureau were popular and prominent, seemingly the most popular. However, there were other government agency links.
  • "Local organizations" was the next. This is things like the local Chamber of Commerce.
  • Then we have "news media." This refers to local newspapers, news channels, so on.
  • Directories refers to things like business directories, often from large publishers like Dun & Bradstreet.
  • Finally, there was an "Other" category identified. A lot of these were usually free websites for local information. One example is use of Yahoo! Local.
Lyons argues that the best guides incorporate a variety of information sources. He goes on to say that "no single source adequately provides comprehensive local information, and a multiplicity of local resources is necessary for researching almost any place" (425).

There was no mention of using or linking to local bloggers in any of the guides. I do not know if that means there was a lack of such, or if the author did not investigate or ask the question. I am just posing this as a possible avenue of further investigation. However, I will note that finding good local bloggers outside of large metropolitan areas is not easy. While I could find any number of local bloggers covering a broad range of local topics when I was in Houston, I am not aware of any substantial local bloggers here in Tyler. Anyone reading this who is local is welcome to leave me a comment and let me know if they are either a local blogger themselves or know of one. I have given a little thought to local blogging and provision of local information by libraries before; this article reminded me of what I had written before, and it gives me a bit more to think about.

Some final notes from the article:

  • "All that said, there is compelling evidence that the provision of local community information is a largely under tapped area for academic libraries and an area which may warrant greater attention" (425).
  • I wonder what this implies for outreach: "The 'engaged university' is a term that describes academic institutions that strive to make their neighboring communities a higher priority by creating campus-community partnerships and by promoting civic engagement, community service, service learning, and volunteerism among its students, faculty and staff" (425). As I read that, I wonder how many universities do more than just give it lip service in their mission statements, if they do at all.
  • The conclusion: "As more people search for local information online, the importance of guides that identify reliable, credible, informative sources for local information will only increase" (427).

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