By Alison Roth
“Literature is the story of us.”
That’s what Nicole Rakozy, ProQuest Product Manager Lead, said in an interview in early October amid the final stages of testing before the launch of ProQuest One Literature. The new product, designed to support all facets of research, teaching and learning, went live Oct. 22.
“Literature is about connecting with humanity,” added Rakozy, who is responsible for guiding the strategy and development of the product. “For much too long, the curriculum wasn’t representative of the population, and now, that’s starting to change.”
That change – and the increasing need for a resource that prompts a deeper understanding of literature through contextual resources – is the impetus behind ProQuest’s newest product.
ProQuest One Literature brings together the largest literature collection ever curated along with a wealth of additional multi-format sources like criticism citations, video, journals and dissertations. Notably, its scope goes far beyond the traditional Western canon to include primary texts written by authors from more than 65 nations.
“The ship has been turning in terms of the way literature is being researched and taught,” said Katie Birch, Director of Product Management at ProQuest, who leads product management for ProQuest One Literature.
“The Western canon is being challenged on several different levels – from a research perspective, and now, even from a teaching and learning standpoint. Literary movements like post-colonial, Black Power, and Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) are becoming increasingly important.”
Developed with feedback from users – along with a community of advisors from universities with renowned literature departments – ProQuest One Literature was designed to address the evolving needs of today’s undergraduate and graduate students and faculty. Jane Faulkner, Literature Librarian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is one of those advisors.
“As librarians, we need to be able to reassure users that there are reliable, authoritative, curated, aggregated sources they can rely on,” she said. “Many undergrads don’t even know what a database is or how to use it. When they discover hundreds, they get overwhelmed.”
That’s why ProQuest One Literature curates information into author, work and movement pages that serve as entry points for all information related to an author, work or movement.
“There’s a plethora of information out there,” said Rakozy. “Primary texts, criticism, new media types. It’s all over the place, and it’s hard to get your hands on the right sources. Bringing this information together in ProQuest One Literature increases students’ confidence that they will be able to complete their task.”
“ProQuest One Literature offers a trusted core to meet every need a student has for literary research in their college career,” added Faulkner. “Now, students don’t need to panic.”
When it comes to faculty, the challenges are different. During the development of the product, Birch spoke to many literature faculty members, and she said one of their biggest concerns is having to quickly put together curriculum on a topic they’re not experts in, especially World Literature classes. They may be teaching multiple courses while also facing pressure to publish their own research.
ProQuest One Literature presents all the information they need in a task-based interface developed with input from users. The result? Faculty can get quick and easy recommendations for class discussion or new topics. “The movement pages are very helpful for an academic who has to dig into something quickly to teach it for any reason,” she said.
“It’s a great jumping-off point for developing critical thinking skills and fostering an in-course dialogue rather than just ‘sage from the stage’ professing,” added Rakozy.
ProQuest One Literature includes millions of citations from ABELL and other sources, but that’s just the beginning. It’s impossible to look at the full picture from abstracting and indexing (A&I) alone, and in ProQuest One Literature, most of those citations are also available in full text.
“A&I is important, but only using A&I for literature isn’t enough today,” said Birch. ProQuest One Literature blows that away.”
Thanks to those full-text resources along with multi-format material, the product helps bring literature to life in a way that’s never been done before and allows students and scholars to view it through the author’s lens rather than their own.
“Studying poetry, for example, is quite challenging,” said Birch. “Students spend weeks and weeks trying to figure out what a poem is saying and how to understand it. On the surface it’s just a poem, but what is that poem trying to say about language, culture and race? That’s often buried within the work.”
The product helps students gain a new understanding with video and audio. “Being able to watch someone perform a poem, or listen to the way they interpret it, is incredibly powerful,” she said. “In the past, all a student could do is read criticism – flat words on a page – but being able to see or hear someone perform has incredible power.”
But there’s still tremendous value in criticism, especially when it allows a reader to get the full scope of a work’s history. ProQuest One Literature includes more than 3 million criticism citations that can be viewed alongside the works themselves. A classic like Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” for example, was reviewed much differently in the early 1800s than it is today – and ProQuest One Literature brings that shift in thinking to light.
“Understanding the scope of the criticism, and being able to visualize the criticism over time, gives you so much more insight and understanding,” said Rakozy. “Social problems we’re trying to grapple with today – race relations, gender politics, climate change – have been written about for a long time. They’ve been pondered by authors from many decades. We, as humans, share our thinking through the power of words, and the way we talk about the issues has an ability to influence the way we effect change.
Although it launches in October 2019, ProQuest One Literature isn’t a static product; it’s ever-growing in its support of research, teaching and learning. ProQuest will continue to seek feedback from its users – and work with advisors – to evolve the product with additional content and state-of-the-art analytical tools to support the emerging field of digital humanities.
For librarian Jane Faulkner, whose university now has its own digital humanities track, studying diverse, marginalized voices is a metaphor for the way she lives. “We benefit by looking at things from a different perspective,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons we travel, one of the reasons we need to get out and explore the world, and a product like this will help us explore.”
Rakozy, who has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, said one of the reasons she came to ProQuest was because the company saw opportunities to create new solutions for the progressing needs of literary studies. “In the context of education today, we’re acknowledging that there’s a place for and importance of humanities,” she said. “I’m proud that ProQuest is continuing to invest in this critical discipline.”
A one-time literature major and an annual reader of nearly everything on the Man Booker Longlist, Birch said that being part of the development of this product has heightened her senses in a way that she didn’t know that could happen. “I’ve always been passionate about the topic,” she said, “but I’ve already learned so much from this product, and from our advisors and users.”