Week 1: Part 2: Angela Wheeler

Academic papers. As most college students have experienced at least once in their career (though honestly, probably more than once), writing them, constructing them, typing til your fingers hurt and your eyes feel weak: these are a few of our least favorite things. However I think some common ground can be found in that the actual writing of the paper is nothing compared to the research, and the time that goes into finding accurate, viable, academic sources. When in doubt many turn to a search engine, and in this case I tried my luck with the library’s database of databases. Yes, you read that right: a database of databases.

Search engines as far as the eye can see, grouped by subject, name, source type; you name it, we got it! Databases like those provided by universities are a prime example of consumption-on-demand media. This student was on the hunt for articles about Henry David Thoreau. Using Academic Premier, I was hit by what the committee is calling a “vast wasteland.’

Vast? Yes. Wasteland? No!

I was hit with articles from Thoreau’s first writings, modern journals and articles that were critically looking at Walden from the point of view of a geologist, an organic farming activist, a literary critic who was a fan of formalism; again, you name it, we got it! There were also ads from the newspapers of the times, giving context for the time that Thoreau wrote in: what was in fashion? What were these people reading? Who were they talking about? What was going on in local politics? The underlying point of all of the hits and links that were made abundantly clear from just one search was that I had the information I needed. I was finally free to write my paper and drink countless cups of tea to ease my typing fingers and sleepy eyes.

If after our findings the committee does still wish to push congress by lobbying for stricter control on mass media, databases like this will suffer, which will in turn hinder the users, namely students. Resources like this can seem overwhelming from the very first page: too many search engines, then too many fields to fill out, too many articles to sort through, aka “wasteland.’

To those committee members I say: “Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only A heap of broken images… I will show you something different,’ (Eliot, 20-27). Like most of our mass media platforms in today’s modern age, you must understand what you are getting yourself into — you must be literate in the media you are using. The message is out there, waiting for a viable and willing audience of interpreters to access it. We must be taught to think critically about what we are getting in to, and can thus be prepared to understand the processes of these databases, and the companies and investors who own them. The hard part is learning strategies to make your way through all of the media and information provided on them: learning which fields are important and which are superficial, how to manipulate your search terms and key words to get the most out of one hit, and finally how to go through the results to find “the one’ you have been searching for. These “broken images” are not so dire or overwhelming if you have been taught how to correctly analyze and understand what is presented to you.

This is where the time and efforts of the committee should be put towards: lobbying our congress to educate the masses of how to properly and efficiently navigate the databases provided to them; don’t limit your users and audiences, but educate them.