I’ve been feeling under the weather with this dental problem for nearly a week now, but the antibiotics are finally kicking in. So, it was nice to see Jamie reappear from university the other night, and then his pal Big Jum came round in advance of the two of them going out to party all night.
They were talking about their reading lists for various courses, and about how they had so much to read in preparation for lectures. Jamie showed me an example from his VLE, and do you know what? – the very first reference to an article that I looked at had an incorrect citation. The citation on the reading list, which didn’t even have hyperlinks in it so that the students could click through to the content, was to an article in the ‘Review of Economic Literature’, whereas the article actually appears in the Journal of Economic Literature. What sort of nonsense is that? Why can’t lecturers cite articles correctly? Why can’t they put links in their lists? Hel-lo…there’s software for that, you know. Any librarians reading this post will be all too familiar with this sort of sloppiness.
It’s not as if there are not excellent tools for managing bibliographic citations, is it? And also for reading lists, as well. RefWorks, EndNote, Mendeley and all the others.
I mentioned this to Jamie & Big Jum, and they hadn’t heard of any of these tools. Why not? Why haven’t they been told? They’re in third year, for gooodness sakes. Big Jum thought that these tools would be much better than using Word to copy and paste stuff, like he’s been doing.
I then asked them about how they got access to reading materials for their courses. They explained that they sometimes have to log-in three times with different passwords in order to get to the full text of articles. Once to log-in to the university, once to log-in to the VLE, and once to log-in to whatever library service that gives them the full-text. Big Jum said that sometimes it was really difficult to get into these services from off-campus. There were particular problems with JSTOR.
Plus ça change.
“Can you always, eventually, get the full text?” I asked.
“No” was the answer. “Sometimes the university doesn’t subscribe to the journals we need to read.”
“What!!! You’re undergraduates, for goodness sakes” I replied, warming to the cause, “Everything you need to read as undergraduates should be immediately available in full text, either electronic, or print.”
I asked them about how they discovered articles for essays and suchlike.
“It can sometimes be really difficult” Big Jum said, “There can be loads of places you have to look, they all work differently, and there’s also a new system which doesn’t seem to work as well as the old one. You can spend ages looking for stuff, and then sometimes at the end of it all you can’t get the full text”
Well, I have to ask, in this day and age, and with all the millions that’s spent on these things over, and over, again, why is the service students get so crap? I’m paying loadsa klonkers to support my two sons at universiity, and they can’t even always get acccess to the stuff they need to read! Jamie, Shaun, and Big Jum all go to supposedly good universities.
I showed Jamie and Big Jum the NCSU Library website, and how easy it was for the NCSU students to use that website to find things. Even in the UK, I didn’t need to log-in to find things (though, of course, I’d need to be able to log-in to get the full text of some things, and that’s perfectly understandable).
“Wow!” they both said, “I wish our library system was like that one.”
I also showed them the DOAJ website, and (I was getting far too over-enthusiastic at this stage…too many asprins, I reckon) explained, in three extremely long, complicated but also logical sentences the principles and economics of Open Access journals, and how all of the articles they need could, in theory, be freely available to not only them, but also the taxpayers who had actually paid for the research in the first place, if only the darned researchers, lecturers and librarians got their acts together. I couldn’t stop. I also started muddying the waters with explanations of institutional repositories.
“Why are the students not revolting about all of this stuff?” I demanded, waving my arms around.
“We don’t know about all of this stuff. We have nothing to compare with what we’re simply given.” they answered, looking at their watches.
“You should DEMAND better service. You should get on the student/library committees and demand better access, NOW.” I suggested.
“Erm…we’re off to party” they responded, as they backed towards the door.
Once they were gone, I watched the end of Apocalypse Now, on TCM.
“The horrors…the horrors” Brando whispered.
He might as well have been talking about university libraries :-)