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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Five years of discovery

The librarians at Bates College first became interested in Oxford Bibliographies a little over five years ago. We believed there was great promise for a new resource Oxford University Press was developing, in which scholars around the world would be contributing their expertise by selecting citations, commenting on them, and placing them in context for end users. It would be an innovative approach for finding authoritative and trusted sources, and one that was likely to work well in an online environment.

In the summer of 2010, our research librarians agreed that they would really like to see how we might make use of Oxford Bibliographies at our undergraduate liberal arts institution. OUP also wished to work with libraries and their end users to make sure that needs for ongoing use would be met.

Along with other libraries, we were able to offer our ideas in the early months when a core list of subject modules was already in place, with additional ones being worked on in the wings. Librarians, students, and faculty from various departmentssuch as classical and medieval studies, philosophy and religious studies, history, and sociology—responded to very comprehensive questionnaires and interviews that I believe were engaging for all. In truth, we still benefit from that engagement as we continue to think about where and how to improve access and use, such as initiating an informal faculty conversation this fall. At that time, we were able to offer opinions about the presentation of the resource as a database site, suggest potential new functionality, including increased linking, citations, and associated notes, and give advice about bibliographic records and other means of discovery. Some suggested possible new modules that would be of interest as well.

The platform and resource itself evolved rapidly. The number of subjects covered is now is very broad, ranging from African Studies to Victorian Literature.

Why has this resource worked for our college? There are so many reasons, but above all, these particular online bibliographies essentially help us accomplish what we try to do for our students and faculty all the time.

We are always striving to keep our collections relevant and reliable with resources that can quickly help introduce students to topics they need for their study and research. We usually only have a small amount of time with them at our research desk or in bibliographic instruction classes to teach them the basics. Wanting to make sure that our time is as valuable and efficiently used as possible, we often recommend this particular resource. We know they will find Google and large databases—as well as citations—from our vast discovery system, but getting to the heart of a new topic is key.

Our ability to recommend a resource that students can go back to when they have gone to their study places is reassuring for them—and for us. At first, they may just need an overview on a topic, but the next step of their journey may require knowledge of journals in the field, primary sources, films, or even knowledge of the best data sets available. Oxford Bibliographies provides a discovery system unlike ones that merely bring all our resources together. Instead, it is backed by evident mastery of a field of study constructed in a coherent framework, and may even seem to have a personal quality about them. (This is not to say that we don’t also feature the Bibliographies effectively in our large discovery system.)

Getting an overview of a topic will not only ground a young researcher, but will help orient a faculty member to an unfamiliar topic. Thus, the expert is aided as much as the novice. Faculty members can use it to develop bibliographies of their own for a class, or a librarian may find that he or she has missed getting an important title for the library’s collection. Several faculty members have said that they routinely direct their seminar or thesis students to make use of Oxford Bibliographies, which, as part of their structure, will also list related articles on a given topic. If, for example, you are reading about Buddhist Art and Architecture on the “Silk Road,” you will find that you can seamlessly move to articles—or module topics—on Buddhist art and architecture in Japan or Mongolia. This is yet another form of discovery and one that is truly exciting for anyone.

As we move toward an era of online research, we continue to find grounding in scholarship that we can rely on, particularly when it comes to avoiding overwhelming amounts of information. The schedule for new topics that will be added to Oxford Bibliographies is ambitious and even exhilarating. Since libraries have such an array of resources, however, we need to pay attention to the details. We still need to place our links carefully in resource guides, and we need to ask discovery providers to get the best metadata possible from publishers. Most importantly, however, we need to continue to work closely with our faculty and students to make sure they know what we have and how we can help.

Image Credit: “Mary Idema Pew Library Learning and Information Commons (Grand Valley State University, August 10-12, 2015)” by Corey Seeman. CC BY NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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