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Searching for Academic Resources: The Importance of Learning Your University’s Online Library

Posted on Thursday January 31, 2013 by Staff Writers

Leanne-Prenovost001

Winner of Best Colleges Online’s 2012 Online College Professor of the Year contest LeAnne Prenovost will be blogging for Edventure Calling throughout the school year on issues that new online students face.

The Internet has provided the world a vehicle and means to obtain a college degree online, but it can also provide challenges for the online student, especially when it comes to research. No longer do students have to make their way to the library stacks to comb through vast amounts of research to find the perfect source. Today, information is literally at their fingertips, which is great news for the student who is solely attending college online. But is all information found online created equal? The answer is a resounding NO, and this is especially important for the online college student to understand.

The Trouble with Search Engine Research

Most students are competent and capable when it comes to searching the Internet via search engines such as Google, and this often the first place they go to collect research for college assignments. While plenty of valuable information can be found on the Web, a large amount of it is not appropriate for scholarly use. There are no filters as to what is published, which means the quality of information can vary widely and excellent resources can be found right along the most questionable. When using the Internet for research, the online college student needs to operate on the premise of “student beware” and learn the skills necessary to critically evaluate all resources prior to use in their academic assignments.

Yet many college students are pressed for time and the combination of searching for and critically evaluating each source is simply not a smart use of their time. Still, taking information from the Internet without critically evaluating prior to use simply dilutes their academic efforts with use of questionable data. Thankfully, there is another way and the solution lies in the university’s academic online library, which similarly is available instantly via the Internet. Using the library takes that step of critical evaluation out of the equation as scholars, publishers, librarians, and the university has already approved all the sources. In short, every single resource has been evaluated in one way or another before you ever lay eyes on it.

Using the Online Academic Library

University library

While this is great news to the online student, it does require a small time commitment (two to three hours) to become familiar with the online academic library. A far cry from the card catalog or Dewey decimal system, this electronic library is sophisticated and organized by databases. Typically, universities will purchase the rights to different databases from venders or publishers, such as EBSCO publishing and ProQuest, for their students to access.

Online academic libraries will also offer students various ways to search databases – by academic discipline, by database, or by overall topic. Typically, online academic libraries also offer access to eBooks and streaming videos as well as valuable scholarly, peer-reviewed journal articles, which are essential for high-level academic assignments. As each university selects material according to the needs of its unique student population, it’s difficult to provide a general overview on how to use university online academic libraries. The online student has to take the initiative and time to learn their university’s online library for themselves. Fortunately, most online universities offer tutorials, webinars, trainings, and even live access to librarians via phone, chat, or email.

When I was a first-time online student, I was overwhelmed by the university online library and did not take the proper couple hours of time needed to properly learn about it in the beginning – something I ended up regretting. When I did finally take the time to go through the provided trainings, it revolutionized my search and retrieval of information, and therefore, the overall quality of my assignments and education.

Finding those few solid resources for an assignment with a search engine is easily comparable to looking for a needle in a haystack. However, the university online academic library arms the student the ability to rapidly narrow and expand searches in scholarly databases. Taking the time to learn how to use the online academic library saves online students hours each week in the long run. The return on investment is well worth it as it provides you the proper, unquestionable information in a short amount of time so you spend more time on the assignment itself and less time looking for material to base it on.

Hear more from Professor Prenovost!