Saturday, June 18, 2005

Notes from ATLA, Day Two

Friday was another busy day at the ATLA conference. I first went to a session titled "'Treasures Hid in the Sand': Finding Information for Religious Studies Research in Electronic Non-Theological Resources." The presenter, Judy Clarence, instruction librarian at California State University East Bay, demonstrated how to find information for religious and theological studies research in a number of different library databases, ones we might not normally think of. For example, Agricola, the primary database in agriculture, contains many citations related to church work with the hungry. CINAHL (Cumulative Index of Nursing and Allied Health) provides access to some literature on spiritual care and chaplaincy. GenderWatch and Ethnic NewsWatch contain information about religious topics with emphases on gender issues and ethic and minority groups. (Ethinic NewsWatch is particularly useful because one can narrow search results by ethnic group.) As a final example here, ABI/Inform, the major database in business, provides access to literature on church management and fundraising. Clarence's session showed once again the importance of cross-disciplinary database/index searches in comprehensive research.

The second session I attended was a talk by Anne LeVeque, who is currently employed by the Congressional Research Service. Anne explained that librarians for the CRS work exclusively for members of Congress, not the general public. She gave examples of broad types of issues she regularly researches. Many of these are obvious: faith-based and community initiatives, church-state issues, evolution, school prayer, public displays (the Ten Commandment, for example), inaugural traditions (e.g, with respect to the Bible and prayers), demographic questions (e.g., "How many Presbyterians live in my district?"), world religious traditions, holiday traditions, ecumenical/interfaith relations, cults, and bioethics (abortion, stem cell research, and end-of-life issues). She receives everything from simple and quick ready-reference questions to those that take days to research. (If providing reference services to members of Congress sounds interesting, the CRS currently has job openings!)

I then heard Libby Peterek, a recent graduate of the School of Information at the University of Texas-Austin, speak about information retrieval strategies. She focused mostly on RSS. (Her presentation is online.)

RSS is not new to me: I've used RSS for over two years. It is my primary means of news gathering. I subscribe to over 155 RSS feeds through my Bloglines account. I won't explain what RSS is here (google it), but I agree with Libby that it is a form of information retrieval. I had previously thought of RSS simply as a form of "push" content, but I read an interesting essay today by Kevin Hale, who argues quite persuasively that RSS is actually the next paradigm in search. However, I didn't agree with everything he wrote (e.g., "Google is essentially a library").

The final session I attended was about OpenURLs. Andrew Keck from the Duke Divinity School library explained what OpenURLs are and how they are implemented. (Keck was quoted in a recent Library Journal article about the use of iPods in libraries.) For those of you who know what OpenURL is, it is now officially a NISO standard. Essentially, OpenURLs are links between electronic resources. In a library database, an article citation which may actually be included in full text in another database is linked to the full text via an OpenURL. This assumes that the two databases are OpenURL-enabled and the library has an OpenURL server. OpenURLs are big time-savers for users and greatly increase access to a library's full text holdings.

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