Tuesday, June 19, 2007

RefWorks and the Workflow of Research

One common experience shared among librarians that support RefWorks is that of the student who approaches with a list of citations that he would like to have formatted ‘automatically’ by RefWorks. The student is disappointed to learn that the most efficient means of inputting citations into RefWorks is to export the citations into the database as one discovers them in such sources as PsycINFO and PubMed. More often than not, once the student realizes that he has to type each of his citations into a RefWorks form or has to “re-search” his citations in a database and then export them into RefWorks, the student follows the path of least resistance and decides to format the reference list without RefWorks.

Research, it is said, is a reiterative process. Ideally, one does research then reads, writes, and repeats, as necessary. The task of formatting a final paper is generally the last step in the process. So is it any wonder why so many students come to RefWorks when it’s too late?

RefWorks is not a bibliography-creation tool. It is promoted as a “an online research management, writing and collaboration tool" and "is designed to help researchers easily gather, manage, store and share all types of information, as well as generate citations and bibliographies” [RefWorks]. Faculty and graduate students generally understand the need for collecting and organizing papers and citations for future use but undergraduates tend not to, either because they don’t share this need or because they don’t recognize it.

I am thinking about services like RefWorks because I am trying to build a case for using an academic library’s indexes instead of using any number of search engines, including Google Scholar.

Ask yourself this question: if every journal you are interested in has its table of contents available on the web, why would you bother using a library’s index?

One reason we could give is that library indexes present structured data that can be easily repurposed to be added as footnotes in papers and become formatted bibliographies, make up course reading lists, be shared between scholars at different institutions without violating copyright agreements, and be used to develop citations trails that can tell us about flow of research from one scholar to another.

Except we can’t deliver this. Not yet anyway. We can do some of these things with the combination of OpenURL (SFX) and RefWorks but it’s not easy or pretty.

If citation collection tools like RefWorks are going to be the bridge between library resources and library services then we need to rethink how RefWorks can be re-purposed and how it can be introduced earlier in the research process. Perhaps RefWorks could be integrated with a social bookmarking service because individuals may be more inclined to ‘bookmark’ a paper that may want to revisit instead of deciding to ‘save’ research for future use (its the same function, but different language triggers different possibilities in the mind of the reader).

It struck me that I have no idea what percentage of my library’s users save their research on disc versus printing the articles versus emailing the articles to themselves. If we don’t understand how students and faculty use the resources we help provide, how can we develop the services to support these resources?

No comments: