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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Research moves from the page to the screen

In coming years, "libraries are likely to move away from mainly printed materials — books, journals and manuscripts — to become digital repositories," according to an April 2008 article in London's the Guardian Newspaper.

It's not only libraries that are moving away from print material. Carmen Lowe, the director of the Academic Resource Center (ARC) at Tufts, claims that it may be the publishers who are at the vanguard of the trend.

"Many publishers, now, with the cost of paper and actually producing a book, are moving towards electronic publication," Lowe said.

Many publishers and libraries around the world are trending toward electronic material instead of print because of a change in the way that people prefer to do research. And more so than any other group, college students are at the forefront of the shift.

Tufts students are hardly exceptions to the trend. Senior Kevin Lownds, a head Writing Fellow at Tufts, claims that the papers he has reviewed in his last three years in the Writing Fellows program have increasingly relied on electronic material for research sources.

"I actually have seen that most of the papers I've fellowed have been based on peer-reviewed journals, and fewer and fewer are based on books," Lownds said. "And I think that's a trend that I've seen in the three years I've been here."

Even Tisch Librarian Laurie Sabol agreed, saying that students are absolutely more likely to conduct research online. Sabol pointed to a number of factors that explain why students may be abandoning the stacks for search bars.

"There are a variety of reasons. One is the ease of use; a second is that students, like everybody else, tend to wait to the last minute to get a lot of work done — it's so much easier to gather your source material if it's online, because our library is not open 24 hours a day," Sabol said.

She also noted that students might be particularly prone to the preference of online sources because they tend to use online sources in other aspects of their lives.

"I think the electronic life is more in the faces of students, because you live with it in so many other parts of your lives," Sabol said. "Google, obviously, and Wikipedia are omnipresent."

In spite of the ever-permeating influence of the electronic world, some subject matters are steadfast in their reliance on print material by the nature of the subject in question.

"I think it depends on the discipline, because if you have a discipline like a social science or an empirical science where you are needing the most current research, you're probably going to get it from [electronic] articles, because they are the most current," said Amalia Jiva, the assistant director of the ARC.

"But if you are reading ‘Pride and Prejudice,' you would probably have a different experience by reading the actual book."

Sobel shared this sentiment, noting another discipline that still retains a dependence on print material.

"If you're looking at it as a continuum, the largest reliance on print sources is still in the arts and humanities," Sobel said. "For example, if you want to look at a two-dimensional piece of art, you're probably going to get a much better representation of it in a high-quality book than you are on a computer. It's going to be more consistent, as far as the color is concerned, than on somebody's 13-inch screen or looking at it on your Blackberry."

Jiva went on to say that, aside from a difference in the quality of the representation, the quality of the experience may be better when using print materials for certain disciplines.

"With some subjects, the purpose of reading is different — you want to be sitting somewhere with a book (your own book — not with a library book if you want to underline it), and be able to take notes in the margin and interact with the text," she said. "It's a textual discipline; not a discipline where you're getting the latest or most recent study."

Despite some subjects' continued reliance on print material, Tisch library, along with many other libraries around the world, is becoming tuned to the electronically savvy ways of its users.

Lownds said that the Tisch Library's ‘Research 4 Success' seminars have been a good marker of such a trend.

"My experience in the Tisch Librarians' Research Seminars is that they've been primarily focused on how to do research in online journals," he said.

It may be, however, that the seminars are emphasizing online work so as to prevent certain issues of plagiarism that have only become a concern since the incarnation of the Web.

"The library is trying to teach students how to research carefully," Lowe said. "Because you can imagine, if you're working on something the night before it's due, it's three in the morning, and you're still drafting a copy while copy and pasting, it can be really easy to forget what was your own writing and what was someone else's."

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