After six months of planning, the Weinberg Memorial Library launched a new resource at the start of Fall 2009: The University of Scranton's Library Research Guides, accessible at www.scranton.edu/library/researchguides. The Research Guides are a place where librarians, faculty, students and researchers of all kinds can post links to resources that are reliable, useful, and most importantly, up-to-date. The Research Guides utilize wiki technology in order to make this happen. An online resource that is powered by wiki technology is a resource in which anyone can edit content. In the case of the Research Guides, all that is required is that users create an account on the wiki in order to edit pages and add resources to the growing lists of useful links and resource descriptions.
The Research Guides are organized based on areas of study, such as Chemistry, Marketing/Management, Physical Therapy, or Theology/Religious Studies, to name a few. When you click on one of the thirty-three subjects listed, you will be taken into the Research Guide for that subject area. Generally, the first page of every Research Guide contains links to the following kinds of resources: Reference Books, Databases (for article searching), Web sites (hand-picked by librarians, faculty and student scholars), and the Liaison page for the librarian who works on collection development and information literacy for that subject area. Many Research Guides also have links to resources such as media, citation style guides specific to that subject, professional associations, and more. In addition to the subject Research Guides, there is a category called Current Issues, which includes Research Guides containing information about issues which are of special interest to the University community, such as Sustainability and New Technology.
The goal of each Research Guide is to bring together all of the resources on a given subject into one place. This way, the student can begin his or her research by visiting that subject's Research Guide and clicking into the kind of resource that best fits the student's need at that time. For example, at the beginning of a research project, reference books are a good place to go for background information on a topic, whereas later in the research, reliable websites can provide up-to-date and widely disseminated information about the topic. But whichever step in the research process the student has reached, a subject's Research Guide will always be the jumping-off point for researching a topic in that subject area. And because the Research Guides are constantly being added to and updated, they will always be the most reliable place to begin the research process.
A common concern that arises when creating online educational resources using wiki technology is: "What if users spam the wiki, add irrelevant or offensive content, or delete valuable content?" In an effort to encourage collaborative scholarship, the Weinberg Memorial Library is allowing any user who is willing to create an account on the wiki software to edit the pages on the Research Guides. The extra step of requiring users to create an account adds a layer of security, since a casual spammer is not likely to take the extra time to create an account before vandalizing our content. Furthermore, all changes made to the Research Guides are reviewed once a day by a library staff member, and then further reviewed by the librarian liaison for each subject area. Finally, the wiki software enables those with administrative permissions on the wiki (currently the group of librarians responsible for the design, launch and overall maintenance of the wiki) to view the history of edits made to any page on the wiki, and revert back to an older version of a page if need be. This means, if valuable content is deleted, we can recover that content within the history of the page where the content was originally added.
In addition to helping scholars in our University community do research in a more efficient manner, the Library Research Guides are also a vehicle for enhancing teaching and learning on campus. One example of how the wiki is being utilized to enhance teaching is in the case of librarians creating course-specific wiki pages, within that subject area's Research Guide, to which librarians and professors can direct students for a customized list of resources for that course's research assignment (see http://libwiki.scranton.edu/mediawiki/index.php/OT_501_-_Leadership_in_OT, created by Librarian Bonnie Oldham for the course OT 501, for an example of this). Another way in which the wiki can be utilized to enhance teaching and student learning is for professors to assign students to add scholarly and reliable resources to the Research Guide for the subject area of the course, requiring a scholarly annotation of the resource as part of the post to the wiki. This kind of assignment was successfully administered in the Fall 2009 course PHIL 218: Feminism: Theory and Practice. As a result of this assignment, the Women's Studies Scholarly Resources page, as well as the Women's Studies Websites page, both of which can be found in the Women's Studies Research Guide, have been populated with scholarly contributions made by our very own students.
The Weinberg Memorial Library encourages the university faculty to take a look at the Research Guides, and assist us by adding content to the Research Guides for the subjects in which our faculty are expert scholars. We also encourage faculty to use the wiki in teaching, by pointing students to this valuable jumping-off point for research, when research projects are being assigned. Finally, librarians are available to demonstrate to your classes how to use and edit the wiki, and are more than happy to create course-specific wiki pages to collect recommended resources for your assignments all into one place for ease-of-access for your students - in fact we welcome it! Please contact the librarian liaison for your subject area, listed on your subject's Research Guide, if you'd like to utilize this powerful new tool in your teaching.