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The Benefits of Browsing: Comments from Erin Cassidy, Sam Houston State University

Posted on 10/22/2012

Erin Cassidy

We recently received a short note from Erin Cassidy, Assistant Professor, Web Services Librarian, and History and Foreign Languages Bibliographer in the Newton Gresham Library of Sam Houston State University. Drawing on her experience providing library instruction to students, she offered these thoughts on the Readex interface, which we share here with her permission:

One of the most valuable features of the Readex interface is its entirely unique browsing capability. I often assist undergraduate students who aren’t yet sure of their exact research question or thesis, and many of whom are entirely new to the idea of conducting research with historical documents. It can be difficult for students in this situation to build precise searches, but the Readex tools for browsing by characteristics like subjects, genres, people, events, geography, and so forth provide them with a powerful alternative to searching.
First of all, browsing can be a great way to help novice or hesitant student searchers boost their confidence, because it lends them instant success with finding relevant results. In contrast, simply conducting a series of unfocused keyword searches may serve only to frustrate and demoralize these students as they find no results or are overwhelmed by too much irrelevant content. Furthermore, browsing allows a student to quickly identify a topic that matches his interests, engage with the related documents, and begin asking questions that he would like to answer or explore through further research. In this way, the interface’s browsing tools not only increase discoverability of the outstanding content in the Readex collections, but also serve as teaching tools to help students understand how historical research questions can be born out of interaction with primary sources.

For a list of Erin Cassidy’s recent publications, including her 2011 article in the Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, please visit her Research Guides page.

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