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How Online Libraries Are Changing Academic Research

Online libraries are changing the way people consume information and conduct academic research. With digital proliferation and the popularity of tablets and e-books, it is no surprise that the traditional home of the mahogany-scented, leather-bound books that Anchorman’s Ron Burgundy spoke of so fondly would succumb to the same rapid transformation. The traditional libraries many of us grew up with are a thing of the past. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and here’s why.

On-Demand Information
We’re busy creatures, so time is not a luxury for most of us. Gone are the days when you find the perfect book or source for your research project only to realize that it’s already been checked out and the due date is well beyond your deadline. With online libraries, you have instant access to information, and there is no wait time. And speaking of due dates, there aren’t any with online libraries! You can use a source for as long as you need guilt-free because you’re not “hogging” any hard copies.

We live in a 24-7-365 world now. With unpredictable schedules and demands of career, family and other obligations, students aren’t always able to conduct research during the hours of operation of a brick and mortar library. Online libraries are attractive to the busy, on-the-go student who needs instant access to information at untraditional hours like when the kids are finally bathed and asleep! Digital libraries are also a tremendous benefit for individuals who don’t drive or don’t have convenient public transportation alternatives. There is no commute time with an online library. Academic research can be done in an environment that is comfortable or convenient like your favorite coffee shop or your kitchen table.

Linking and Predictive Resource Suggestions
I absolutely love when I’m on a website like Amazon and I get that you-may-also-be-interested-in-this message. Those lovely suggestions have proven to be very useful. Online libraries also have these same predictive algorithms and can suggest and link to other useful sources allowing you to go deeper into your research. Suggestions and reference resources typically come in the form of links within and at the end of text. Linking with online libraries is very useful as online catalogs, reference tools, periodicals and databases can link to other related websites and resources creating a more dynamic and efficient research experience.

Online libraries can offer access to rare books and texts that might otherwise be difficult to locate. Access to primary research materials for a dissertation like diaries, speeches, manuscripts, letters, interviews, records and creative works are much easier to locate online. Since most dissertations require a combination of both primary and secondary research, online libraries are especially helpful in locating primary source information. NCU’s online library is connected to popular databases like Ebrary, ProQuest, EBSCOHost, Gale Academic OneFile, SAGE, Science Direct, RefWorks. Some online library databases charge users to download articles, but students should check with their university to obtain access credentials since many universities subscribe to these databases.

Customization and Organization
Remember when resources and citations were done by hand using notecards? Online libraries make staying organized easy because you can bookmark or save information you want to revisit electronically, and it can be organized in a number of ways such has alphabetically, by subject, author, and more. With online libraries, resources and other media are often available in a variety of formats including, PDFS, Word and HTML documents. This allows for a more customized research experience as the user can zoom, change the size of text, dim the background light or snag screenshots. For those of us who remember squinting to read the tiny font on a heavy book, this is a very attractive feature.

Navigation Speed and Queries
Like Google or Bing, online libraries index information for quick retrieval. If you’re working on a dissertation, a quick database search can tell you if your particular research topic had already been done. Flipping pages can be time consuming and clunky with hard books. eBooks and electronic resources are great because they are searchable, so you can plug in a keyword phrase to quickly find information you want to recall even if you didn’t write down the page number. And, if you can’t find what you’re looking for, many online libraries offer a live chat feature so that students can have a real-time conversation with a librarian as if they were using Gchat, Skype or AIM.

While it’s virtually impossible for a single library to provide all of the sources for a student’s research needs, online libraries are helping to close the gap with their connectivity to other information sources and databases. Students need to continue to be diligent and thorough when it comes to information gathering, and it makes it easier when sources are just a click away.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I think by incorporating APIs into library cataloguing systems and embracing industry standards, it will allow better and faster integration with various applications.

    April 25, 2013
  2. Hi Avitucci

    Nice post, thanks for sharing. The evolution of libraries is perfect normal taking into account the speed of technology. To be honest I like the idea that everything is just at one click distance but sometimes I miss the moments when I used to spend time in the libraries reading a nice book…now people are spending too much time in front of the computer 😦


    June 19, 2013

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