Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Birds, Bees and Bibliography Templates

My own love of research played a large part in choosing to pursue a career in librarianship. As a student, I could honestly go on sprees of caffeine-induced research mania for HOURS without coming up for air (it's probably quite good for my health that I'm not a student this year!), challenging myself to find free databases and research resources (Google books and me are BFF's) and coming up with some truly inventive keyword searches.

However, this left me with the problem that I had way, way, way more notes and quotes than was helpful. For my 8000 word dissertation I read over 100 books and articles, wrote 250 pages of notes, and my short-list of "absolutely essential couldn't-live-without-them" secondary quotations (i.e. not from the novels), that were crucial to my argument totalled .... 6500 words. Of quotes alone. Which would probably allow for an "and" in between each quotation and that would be that.

For my dissertation, I wrote EVERYTHING down in one place (in a very lovely Magna Carta notebook bought from the British Library shop) and got into the habit of automatically writing down all the bibliographic information whenever I found a new source. So before I so much as read the abstract, I would write down the title, author, publication date and city, date accessed (if online) etc. at the top of the page in bright purple, as if it were an MLA-style citation, like so:

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Love in the Time of Cholera. London: Penguin, 2008. Print. 

This meant that writing my bibliography - both works cited and works consulted - was a breeeeeeeze, because I just flicked through my book and typed up all the purple bits, without having to do any formatting whatsoever (apart from itallics). I work best on paper, as I find the act of writing notes and quotes down cements them in my head, and helps formulate ideas. I tried using Zotero once or twice and ended up getting so bloody frustrated with things disappearing into the ether that I promptly uninstalled it.

So within my first two weeks of my traineeship, during which I was revising the Zotero and Endnote guides, I thought: there is no resource here for people like me, who work best on paper, and need one place to write everything down as they read it.

So I came up with these!

The idea was that students write the bibliographic information in the columns as and when they read sources, so they don't forget to record them and everything's in one place. The columns are in the correct order and show you the correct punctuation so that you can type them up without having to use a citation site like Knight Cite. The blank columns are for mandatory information - title, author, date etc. - but the grey columns are optional - for details such as second author/editor, translator, or for a chapter/introduction within a larger book, which may not be relevant for every resource used. But if they are relevant, they are already placed in the right order... so no more digging the Chicago or MLA handbook off the reference shelf to work out what  comes after what!

You will see two different coloured templates in the photo, and two different formats. For every citation style I made a template for journal articles and books, as there is different information to include (databases, volume, issue etc.) My original plan was to - naively - create a different template for each of the main citation styles used. I was used to using MLA at uni and planned to do them for MLA, Chicago (author-date), Harvard, MHRA [Modern Humanities Research Association] and maybe Vancouver. However, after immense difficulty finding out what each department in Cambridge preferred (no faculty handbook states it ANYWHERE), I consulted Emma Coonan, who until recently was the Research Skills and Development Librarian at the University Library, and she let me know that, annoyingly, pretty much every single department uses its own, customised, Cambridge-specific citation style. This pretty much scuppered my long-term plans. Thank you once again to Emma for her help! Unfortunately for me she's now moved to UEA so I never actually got to meet her in person and talk Information Literacy!

So instead of wasting a lot of time and effort, I decided to trial just two styles - Chicago, which I know a lot of people use, and a 'generic' template, which was not formatted to a certain citation style, but was nonetheless a handy place to jot down all your research so that writing your bibliography three hours before the deadline doesn't mean throwing lots of paper around and cursing every god in existence.

We trialled these with a group of new Modern Languages students during a research skills workshop that was held in the library, providing each student with a copy that was partially filled in, to show them examples of academic referencing. The example above is based on a (fictional!) essay about Emile Zola's Au Bonheur des Dames. There's quite a jump from A-level to university in terms of good academic practice and research skills, and we had some really good feedback! The freshers found them useful, particularly because they weren't sure where a translator would fit into the citation.

 I placed the finished products in separate folders around our OPAC terminals, as a lot of people sit down there while they look up long reading lists. And they have been going slowly but surely! 

Like most things in libraries, I think the more you publicise something, the more it'll catch on, and I haven't shouted about these from the rooftops because I know a lot of people prefer using online tools like Zotero. But there isn't a standard, 'one size fits all' library user and everyone works in different ways, and even if this project only helps a minority of students who prefer handwriting notes, it's better than no students at all.

I initiated this project within the first couple of weeks at Newnham, and even though I'm a little late blogging about it, I wanted to share it because it's an idea I'm still proud of and - though it had its teething problems - it's something I can develop at a later date, or even bring to another library in the future.
I would welcome suggestions on how to improve them!

Meriel x

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