Information and the Future

This is the blog of the Information and the Future task force of the Rolfing Library at Trinity International University. The IF task force exists to explore the role of libraries in the future of Christian higher education.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Wide vs. narrow research

My professor asked me what I think about the new search tools such as Google Books vs. the old-fashioned method where you would actually go to the shelf and browse the books. I answered that I thought it was a different style of research. Google Books and other tools like that allow you to get much more specific in your research. I've been using it a lot lately for my research. It helps me to pinpoint which books cover something related to fairly narrow topics that I'm researching. I don't have to wade through as much unrelated material to find what is useful.

Although that made me wonder if I am missing something by not doing that. Perhaps I get too narrowly focused on my specific topic and miss some of the broader perspective of the larger topic. It reminds me of what history class, where we learned about how at the end of the 19th century there was a trend toward increasing specialization in education. Before that time, professors were more generalists, and were knowledgeable in a variety of subjects. But there was the increasing trend toward doctoral studies being focused on very narrow topics, and professors becoming experts in their niche.

I do appreciate the new tools that enable me to more quickly research exactly what I'm most interested in, and thereby to make more of a unique contribution. (Speed and efficiency probably play a role here too!) I do want to avoid the danger of becoming so narrowly focused that I miss the big picture. Perhaps I can try to address it to a certain extent by reading some broader overview works - and wasting time browsing (both online and in print).

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