The “undergrad” checkbox

A colleague and I were chatting this morning about the freaky stuff that undergrads often request through Inter-Library Loan, often not realizing what exactly it is that they’re requesting.  The most common example is Dissertation Abstracts, where if they request the item through ILL, what they get in return is…the abstract of the dissertation.  Which they probably already have, since it’s included in the database.  And that’s assuming the dissertation was even completed which, you know, sometimes doesn’t happen.

We decided that in addition to the “peer-reviewed” checkbox that appears in many databases (EBSCO, I’m looking at you), there ought to be an “undergrad” checkbox, which filters out all the weird stuff that database providers throw into their silos to enhance their stats for numbers of titles indexed, etc.  It would weed out:

  • Dissertation Abstracts
  • Unpublished conference papers
  • Heck, any conference paper, but especially those given at conferences outside of North America
  • Book reviews
  • And, optionally, it would limit to items in English.

Sure, some doctoral-level researcher somewhere could probably use those items, so there’s no reason to exclude them from the database. (And database providers would no more consider removing them from their databases than libraries would consider de-accessioning books. Ahem.)  But undergrads have no idea what these things are, and are so often disappointed when they wait a week for something to arrive through ILL and then see what it is.

Somehow, I don’t think the major database vendors are going to grab this idea and run with it.


  1. Shana Kelley
    Posted February 5, 2009 at 9:53 pm | Permalink


  2. Kristin
    Posted February 6, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    This is such a wonderful idea! As a ILL & Reference librarian I can tell you it’s needed. Hopefully someone will make this.

  3. Posted March 1, 2009 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    I love this idea, but when some colleagues and I did a survey of librarians about these mega-databases, librarians weren’t that into it. About half said that might be a good thing; half said either it would not be a good thing or weren’t sure if it would be. By and large, the librarians we surveyed liked these databases a lot. The bigger, the better.

    We also found, looking at actual searches at 14 undergrad institutions, that 40% of full text journals didn’t have even one article downloaded at any of the 14 colleges – in two years. Most downloaded? The Economist. Half of the articles downloaded came from 178 titles (out of the nearly 4,000 included in full text) and most of those were popular publications, not scholarly.

    I would really like an opportunity to limit a search to “really important and relatively readable core journals” but publishers and vendors would baulk – as would probably a sizable number of librarians who think that kind of guidance is “not our place.”

    I find a lot of students go to JSTOR even when it’s not really right for a question just because they know what they’ll get comes from a scholarly journal with some chops and they will be able to get the actual article without any hassle. Guess I can’t really blame them.

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