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Talis Aspire

Resource Lists: Curation as a Value-Added Benefit

Stephen J. Belcourt

A decade ago, libraries were heavily engaged in streamlining access to their holdings through a new type of search engine known as a Discovery Service.

Librarians reconciled themselves with the move away from controlled vocabulary focus, through the addition of full-text searching across the majority of the collection, physical or electronic, and regardless of the publisher.  

Frequently, conversations became debates with one side concerned about over-simplifying the quest for information and the other pondering why students needed to become mini-librarians as well as chemists, or geographers, or writers.

Ultimately, ease-of-access won and today the majority of academic libraries have some form of unified search box on their websites.  Students can focus on their discipline without needing to become library experts.

Fast-forward to today, and there has been an explosion of content types, formats, sources, and the added challenges of predatory journals, so-called Fake News, deep-fake AI-generated materials, and more.  

A search at the University of Toronto for the exact phrase “climate change” returns over 4 million results.  Among them, the first 13 are helpfully entitled:  Climate Change. 

These texts are potentially exactly the items the student was seeking, and some of the aforementioned challenges have been moderated by the library’s own selection input which avoids most of the nefarious works. 

Undergrad students in particular however, being new to their disciplines, may struggle to recognize the leading voices on the topic, and differentiating between the various options may lead to suboptimal outcomes.  Discerning who are the thought leaders is not an innate talent.

Happily, Resource List Management Systems (RLMS) such as the platform-neutral Talis Aspire, provide a structured and organized way for faculty to identify preferred texts, websites, videos, journals, etc. collating and effectively curating a subset of the library’s holdings as a starting point for students to engage with their learning.

As with the time spent in class, and their feedback on student submissions, these faculty-curated lists are de facto manifestations of your faculty’s expertise.   Going beyond the goals of Information Literacy, the ability to discern between types and sources of content, to identifying the perspectives (or biases) held by individual authors or imprints, is a capability gained through experience.   

Moving away from the idea of spoon-feeding, in fact by equipping students with stepping-stones in the form of a well-curated list, they are better equipped for their own library research subsequently. 

Curated lists can also smooth the way as libraries seek to moderate student textbook costs through Open Educational Resources (OER) or other types of non-textbook materials, and with the workflow of digitization / copyright embedded within the list design function, the ability to leverage Fair Dealing and Fair Use can further contribute to improving student affordability. 

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