To Google…NO!


The above quote comes from that amazing advocate of all things library, Neil Gaiman. I researched extensively to ensure that the quote does originate from him and the answer seems to be a resounding yes. How did I do my research? On Google, of course. Who wouldn’t?

On Sunday last, the other half and I watched a film called AntiMatter, a film about a PhD student at a certain University in the UK who discovers how to move matter – wormhole technology, apparently (that’s the simplistic, non-scientific explanation because I don’t understand it!). If you want to know more, watch the film. It’s really very good.

The reason I have injected this non sequitur is that there is a scene in the film where the main protagonist (we’ll call her PhD 1, to align with the film’s scientific theme) asks a fellow student (PhD 2, D’oh!) a question about where to find some research on a neuroscience topic. Let’s set the scene: PhD 1 and PhD 2 are in the library. We know it’s a library because there are books on the shelf. This, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily mean that they definitively are in a library, but we know that they are because of several other defining features on the set:

  1. They are both holding books…
  2. There are lots of books on the shelves…
  3. There are other students looking at books…
  4. There is a card catalogue next to PhD 2…

Hold on…a card catalogue? Either this is a very hard-up library (and, given the institution, I doubt that very much!) or the director of the film has a very narrow view of what a library is. But that aside, much as it annoyed me and then annoyed the other half because I ranted, the worst thing about this scene is the answer PhD 2 gives PhD 1 about finding neuroscience research…I’m hoping you guessed it? Yes, she says ‘have you tried Google?’.

Again, this just goes to show that the director, script writer, whomever has no concept of the information landscape or the resources we offer as libraries. Ok, if you are doing some generic research on a particular subject, Google et al would be good places to start. However, neuroscience research would be supported by the most up to date resources imaginable, available via the library and provided to the students through database and journal subs. It would contain authoritative and evidence-based information that Google can’t access as it’s hidden behind the passwords that are provided to staff and students to access the University resources.

So. An example I use with my first year students when trying (sometimes even successfully!) to get them to think outside the Googlebox (see what I did there? I’ll get my coat…) is, think of the web as an iceberg. The bit you can see is the bit that Google etc can see. But this is just a little bit of the information that is out there in the digital environment. Think of all the staff intranets around the world; all the company resources that are provided for staff; all of the medical information contained in secure online repositories, ad infinitum. The majority of this isnt available to search engines because they cant ‘see’ it. It’s hidden.

And that is just it; for these two, Google definitely isn’t the answer. What I would have liked to see would’ve been PhD 2 to sit down at one of the (non-existent) computers and say ‘hey, why don’t you try PubMed?’.

This is why so much of my job is teaching information literacy, or information skills, if you like. So that people (staff, students, users, etc) know how to access the most authoritative information for their research or information need. It’s not all about Google, although it can, as I have stated, be a good place to start and it definitely has its place. But it’s a real eye-opener for some students when they see that they can do so much more with our resources than with normal searching. And it adds such value to their studies too. I think more on this will be forthcoming: watch this space…


‘Flipped Classroom’ and ‘Flipped Learning’.

Changing the way we do things…

Previously with our first year undergraduates we have had a one hour introductory lecture to research skills. This lecture has never really worked well for me – I felt it was not interactive enough and that it was very dry…however, I persevered.

This year, I couldn’t get the lecture timetabled for two of my courses – the usual packed timetable for Level 4’s couldn’t accommodate me. However, the students need this input before they come to the workshops in order to have some context in which to work.

So, I decided to turn the one hour lecture into two short videos: the first about searching for information and the second about evaluation, information management and referencing. These would then be sent to students a week prior to the workshops with the instruction to watch them. Below are some of the responses I had in the workshop evaluation, to a specific question on their learning outcomes:

Level 4 responses to workshop – some examples

What is the most important thing you have learned today?

  • Useful information on how to refine searches effectively and efficiently. Also, clearer understanding as to how referencing should be practiced.
  • The important thing I have learnt has to be knowing where to find hidden articles and journals for my modules/course and also having knowledge to reference.
  • Being shown how to use ” and * in the search box to help find as many primary and secondary sources as possible to help with assignments.
  • How to search a database to find accurate resources
  • How to search through databases and find journals and books
  • how to find the resources for my course
  • How to search a database properly
  • How to refine searches and search for specific phrases and truncations.
  • How to find appropriate literature for my course.


These comments highlight how important it is for our students to have these skills. They will go out into practice and need to use these skills to make clinical decisions and find evidence-based practice to make these decisions with.

I found that providing them with introductory videos before the session worked really well – I had the academic tutor’s support and reinforcement that they adhere to the ‘flipped classroom’ approach, which helped. We could then focus on applying the knowledge they had gained from watching the videos to their assignment topics.

With the positive comments I received, I will definitely be using this approach this year with all of my first years. I plan to develop the videos a bit more (we use camtasia) to include our new look interface for Library Gateway, so that students are familiar with the functionality before they attend the workshops. Watch this space…

Pick your own: Literature reviewing tools –

Pick your own: Literature reviewing tools –

Just got this through on an email and was very interested in this article, particularly as I haven’t had the opportunity to do much research recently.

I was interested in it because we have a particular driver at the minute in how we can better support our researchers (not previously having been a research-intensive Uni). However, for REF 2020 we have a priority to be a top 50 Research Uni and to do this we have a Uni-wide strategy to strengthen our support and interaction with research.

Now, I am quite organised but while doing my MA project I found that all the organisational skills in the world won’t help you if you don’t have some sort of management tool, and at the time the only one open to me was Endnote. Not to dismiss it’s usefulness but I personally didn’t find it particularly intuitive (which is a shame as it’s the one we use here!). So I was interested in this article as it covers some other tools that might be more to my liking and also that I could possibly be promoting to our researchers.

Anyway, I will be sure to be trying some out in the future, so please, watch this space…