Thursday, March 19, 2009

Death of the Library?

Essay time is upon us (in fact, it is right on top of us!) and it’s gotten me thinking about the process of writing essays. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I hate doing research. I don’t mind learning, don’t get me wrong, but what I don’t like is trying to find sources for five major essays which are all due at the same time. Going through the stacks takes so much time and, quite frankly, it can be confusing trying to find exactly what you’re looking for. I absolutely love books (have worked with them for way too many years at a library and then a bookstore) so you think I would enjoy going to the library more, but I don’t. I would think that it’s just because I need to find books for an essay that, for the most part, will not interest me in the slightest. There’s also the fact – and this is the big one – that sometimes I am just too lazy to go wander the stacks. This is where the beauty of the online library comes in. Students everywhere are rejoicing because they can sit at home on their couch or in bed and search for sources that are just as reputable as the books in the library. This is all well and good, and I am guilty of using the online library frequently, but what is that doing to our research skills?
I think that there are two sides to this idea, like any good argument. I believe that people who are against the use of online technology to find sources think that it is making students lazier than they (ok, we) already are. This is a valid point. If we are able to search for academic journals on various online databases, why bother going to the library to search through the hard copies? I’ve never done it because it’s much easier just to look at them at home. Then I can print them from my own computer without paying for photocopying.
I will often find books that I need are available at other schools so I’ll have to order them in. I think that is a combination of not wanting to try and find the books I need and the fact that our library is quite small in comparison to others and I can’t always get what I need at ours. I remember in my first couple years of university we would be able to order any book to be picked up at the circulation desk, even if it was available at ours. I thought that was great! I could just pick a book, get someone else to find it for me, and then go pick it up when it was ready (which I found out by email). To most people that would seem incredibly lazy – but when there are multiple essays to be written and a huge amount of sources to be found, students are going to take any easy way out they can. This is why we’ve adapted so well to the use of online libraries.
I think this is the positive side of the use of technology to do research. While the skills of actually going through books and doing research that way may be dulled, I don’t think they will completely disappear. Not in my age group anyways. I think we are learning new kinds of research skills. We have to learn what a good thing to search for is when we want to pull up a relevant academic journal article. There’s also the idea that we are actually expected to do more research because we have the knowledge of looking up sources in different ways. There have been many essays that I’ve had to write that ask me to have a mix of books and journal articles. This has forced me to learn how to look for articles in different ways, both at the library and online. We are embracing this new type of technology and learning to adapt and use it to our benefit.
Whether or not people believe that is a good thing for our education is another matter. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using online books and articles for essays as long as they are trustworthy. We still learn to figure out which sources are good and which are not, we just do so in a different way. I don’t think that physical libraries are going to suffer too much, as long as we don’t let it. We can’t overestimate the benefits of online sources. Sometimes we do have to go look through all the books and find something of help to us. There should be an equal balance between physical sources and online sources and students should make sure they are using both. Students have so much going on in their lives that we’re going to latch on to anything that makes our lives easier. If it’s easier to get a mix of books and online journal articles then we’re going to take advantage of it. Besides, who wants to carry ten books home from the library anyways?

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