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The Summon service gives students a head-start on searching, by building on the knowledge they bring when they enter the university. That point came out, loud and clear, in our recent webinar series on information literacy. But is the Summon service the be-all-end-all? The answer is a resounding NO. As Matt Borg of Sheffield Hallam University declared, “Summon contributes to the shift from systems that librarians know how to navigate, to ones that are intuitive to students and non-library staff. But it needs to go together with the other stuff.”
“In our first-year information-literacy teaching, we present Summon as the first port of call for finding items on reading lists, for further reading, for video on demand and other media, and journal articles,” Matt explained. “It helps students engage with academic information and reduces the need to focus on the hundreds of databases and the arcane complexities of Boolean operators. But there’s still a big place for the advanced databases.”
The choice of a search tool is contextual, as Stephanie Buck of Oregon State University emphasized. “When to teach Summon depends on the class content and target audience,” she declared. “Mostly people are teaching it to undergrads and lower-division students, but not exclusively. At the upper levels the Summon service is not being seen as a replacement for a discipline-specific tool, but as an enhancement to the entire research process and an adjunct to other tools.”
In fact, the Summon service doesn’t just complement those other tools, but helps to raise the perceived value of the library’s resources overall by making them more discoverable. Rosie Croft of Royal Roads University shared results of a survey. “Among the students, 81 percent said they use multiple online research resources for their assignments. While they might be using Google, they’re not using it exclusively,” she recounted. “Then we asked how helpful the results were from the various search resources. More students rated both Summon and the publisher databases as being essential, while Google and Google Scholar were rated as merely helpful. They see the value of the academic resources they find in the Summon service and the online databases.”
“We do have to talk about the tips and tools of using specialized or unique databases,” stated Amy Faye Fin, formerly of Bowling Green State University. “If a faculty member has a preference for teaching databases, we may start with teaching a database, or we may start with Summon. For the more advanced students, courses or topics, we look at Summon as one tool in the context of other tools.”
The Summon service is not strictly for undergraduates, however. For graduates and faculty, there are areas where the Summon service shines. Several of our presenters touched on them, and we’ll share their observations in our next post.
If you’re interested in hearing from the presenters themselves, all webinars in the series are available for on demand viewing. Also, register now for the upcoming sessions with librarians from the University of Denver and Wake Forest University. We’re sure you’ll want to hear from these speakers about their unique perspectives on the topic of information literacy and the Summon service.