Friday, October 9, 2009

Problems with Online Research

The act of finding and reading published research has changed so much in the last 10-20 years. Ask any old-timer - anyone over 30 ;) - and they'll tell you how literature searches used to involve looking up abstracts in hardback paper indexes and CD-ROMs; trying to find missing print journal issues from library shelves and waiting weeks for interlibrary loans from the British Library.

Now you can do everything from your desktop in your office or at home. We can search online databases, read tens of thousand of journal online and save papers to our own personal digital libraries in EndNote or RefWorks, which also automate our citing and referencing.

But things are far from perfect. Endnote, RefWorks and many databases arent intuitive and don't work as smoothly as we'd like. Advanced tools like RSS search alerts can be difficult to set up and manage. For even the most organised, technophile researcher its difficult to find all the important papers in your field and still have time for your own work.

A recent paper, Defrosting the Digital Library, offers a good, accesible review of this and looks to a future where our digital libraries will be more personal, sociable, integrated, and accessible places.

Hull, D., Pettifer, S.R. & Kell, D.B., 2008. Defrosting the Digital Library: Bibliographic Tools for the Next Generation Web. PLoS Computational Biology, 4(10).

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