A January email to the AISL listserv posted by Dave Wee sparked my interest. In it, he asked several questions relating to students and database use and if you’re interested in how some of your peer schools answered, be sure to check the Google Sheet linked in his email. As part of the process of thinking about teaching students how to identify and find the information they need, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can help them discover and access that information in our databases. Many of us lament our students’ reliance on Google—their aversion to using databases for research unless required by their teacher is almost like a religion for them. “You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make them drink” comes to mind. Dave’s question, “How do you organize your databases on your library page to get kids eyeballs on the right databases?” begs another question: can our students even find our databases when we aren’t specifically leading them there?
Correction: Thanks to Dave Wee for pointing me toward the original questions posed on the listserv. I seemed to have lost the original thread, but picked up Part 2 in April 2021, when Matt Ball posed questions and received some terrific suggestions from AISL librarians as to how they’ve organized their databases. Apologies all around for this omission.
Where Are Your Resources?
Let’s face it—most databases are expensive and in an effort to get the most from our budget, we spend a lot of time evaluating specific ones, implementing trials, and encouraging our faculty colleagues to help us choose ones that meet the needs of our students and support our school’s curricula. From a return-on-investment perspective, when budget time rolls around, usage statistics often help us make data-driven decisions. But what do those stats really tell us? Do they pinpoint access pain points that keep our electronic resources out of view? Do they help us re-evaluate our instructional programs, or take into account how we integrate our resources in our learning management systems or LibGuides? Not to mention the impact of COVID-19 on trying to evaluate anything related to how our library programs are going. Before we can dismiss the value of any particular resource based solely on usage stats, first we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make them discoverable. For a start, I’d like to answer how we organize our databases (and other electronic resources) to make it easier for students to find the resources they need.
LibGuides A-Z List to the Rescue
Here at Kent, we use LibGuides CMS and their A-Z Database List makes organizing databases and other electronic resources a breeze. But, and here’s the caveat, unless you have enough time to provide instruction on individual databases so your students know each of them by name (seriously, who has that kind of time?) you’ll need to somehow organize your list. Fortunately, one of the features of the A-Z List is it gives you the option to easily organize your resources by database type, subject, and vendor.
To create database types and vendors, choose Content >> A-Z Database List from your menu on the admin panel of your guides.
From the landing page you can begin to organize your databases by database type and vendor. For inspiration, I find the LibGuides Community site to be invaluable. I spent time exploring other K-12 and Academic libraries using LibGuides to get an idea of the variety of options for this.
Choose Your Types Wisely
When deciding on database types, I thought about how we teach source types here at Kent and the common language of research we use. If there’s one piece of advice I can give at this point, it’s don’t go down library lane and start wading in the weeds, trying to come up with as many types as possible. Keep it simple; we humans have only so much mental space for decisions. You don’t want your students to get hung up on having to sort through so many database types that they’re worn out before having to choose which one of those databases to search.
Remember: the goal is to make finding the right database easier.
For a number of our resources, the source type (primary) and database type are synonymous, but for others, such as our image databases, I needed to decide if I wanted to assign them an additional type aside from primary source. You’ll see above, we decided to create an Image Collections type as our students frequently create presentations and this makes it easier for them to find images that are rights-cleared.
The A-Z List is flexible and allows you to add multiple database types so I applied the Primary Source and Image Collections types to ImageQuest. So whether a student is looking for a primary source map from the Colonial Era or an image of a bee for a science presentation, they will be directed to ImageQuest.
Best Bets and Popular
Think carefully about checking the Best Bets and Popular boxes when adding or editing databases. Too many Best Bets, and the ID loses its meaning—aim for 3 at the most for each subject—same with designating a database as popular. Best Bet databases will appear in a highlighted box at the top when filtering by Subject on the A-Z Database List and popular resources will display on the sidebar with a heading of the same name.
Finishing Up the A-Z List
Next, I added our vendors. This filter mostly serves to help us as we review our databases, but I occasionally show this to the student who is interested in strengthening their research muscle and want to understand the inner workings of our guides.
To create subject headings, choose Admin >> Metadata & URLs from your menu on the admin panel of your guides. You apply these subject headings to your guides as well as your database assets.
Finally, a link to the A-Z Database List was added to the Research column on our library website Quick Links menu. You’ll see I also added several direct links to other databases: Source Reference, JSTOR, and the A-Z List sorted for Primary Sources as students are frequently looking for background information, journals, or primary sources.
Next Time . . .
Another of Dave’s questions was on instruction: “Do you teach kids to use different databases at different points in their research or do you pretty much just recommend databases based on the topic?” Although our A-Z Database page has gotten over 950 views this year, most of our databases are accessed through the LibGuides we create to support research in specific classes as well as our EDS searchbox. But that’s a topic for another post. Until then, happy searching.