A lot of the reference or current events databases have been reinventing themselves over the summer to have “topic” or “concept” pages. Opposing Viewpoints and Credo Reference are two such examples. The idea with this is that students not only get the information provided in the database, but also information pulled in from other sources such as Google Books, news sites, podcasts, or potentially other library subscribed databases. Initially I was excited about this idea, but now that I see it in practice I’m not so sure.
Partly this is just an aesthetic reaction. Yes, I know we are all used to seeing pages filled with lots of stuff, and are getting more and more used to it. I also know that undergraduate students are not pursuing their research with the single-mindedness of a scholar. But really, there’s a lot on the page, and it becomes difficult to focus on one element long enough to evaluate its relevance to your own research.
Since these features are so new, I haven’t yet had a chance to see how actual students use them. For the first year students we teach, I can see this as a good way to get them into something at least vaguely credible right away. One thing that the new Opposing Viewpoints has done, however, is to remove the “pro” and “con” indications from sources. The idea behind this is to make it possible to give an assignment to spot the bias. This is something that students invariably struggle with unless it’s made very obvious.
From the way these thing are working right now, I still think librarians should be thinking about ways to construct more dynamic research guides with a lot more focus on search and discovery. That way it’s easier to ensure that we are giving students a multiplicity of viewpoints and not just a one stop shop of topical information. I do recognize, however, that this is a time-consuming process, and in the end it may be better to throw students into a topic page with too much stuff on it that has some selection at work than to just leave them to find their own way. Not that I am so naive as to think most students are using library resources to start their research–but a girl can dream!