Students tend to assume that all the information they need for a project (perhaps other than print books) is available freely online. They may have rough ideas that some journals cost money (like magazine subscriptions) but I’m guessing that most students have a simplistic and rather naive concept of how they have access to information (I’d love to see some data on this).
Are we doing students a disservice by not making the details of the scholarly information landscape more prominent?
Libraries and information providers have worked hard to make much of this landscape transparent to the end user (including faculty). If the student is on campus, many of the journal articles may appear “free” to the end user through a complex series of IP authentication, proxy servers and other behind-the-scenes technology.
When we teach students how to access information, we encourage them to use library databases, touting their scholarliness and focus. But when users can access articles in JSTOR and ScienceDirect through a Google or Google Scholar search, the advantages of the paid databases are diminished.
We talk about journals, but we don’t talk about how we have access to them: free, direct from the publisher, in aggregators, etc. We talk about ILL, but we rarely mention how they may find a copy of the paper archived on a website – students can discover this for themselves and then wonder if we really know what we are talking about.
We teach them about brainstorming keywords, narrowing or broadening their search as needed and identifying the types of information they may need.
But would it also be useful to them if they understood the nature of the scholarly information landscape? Would it be easier for them to track down a copy of an article if they knew the possible ways that they might have access to it: (OA vs. subscription, direct publisher subscription vs. aggregators, final copy edited version vs. post-print)?
I’m starting to think that we need to start introducing some of these concepts to students as freshman, then build on them at advanced levels. I’m just not exactly sure how to do this at the moment.