In this CUA LIS Practicum Diaries post, current student Christen Brown discusses her experience conducting research for the Smithsonian Libraries’ Biodiversity Heritage Library:
When I conduct research for a project or a paper, I often look online to find the necessary information but rarely do I think about how the information got there or who else is using it and why? I feel spoiled having access to so much information and my education with CUA LIS has taught me how to better utilize that information and my practicum experience has shown me there is more to think about when conducting research.
I completed my practicum at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (of the Smithsonian Libraries) which is an online consortium of libraries that has digitized their information to be available to anyone around the world who has the means to access the BHL website. My practicum at BHL was primarily research to find out how the information made available online is accessed and used. I had to find articles that used sources within BHL and then try to decipher how the authors used the BHL sources for their research. I also looked at the BHL blog where employees had already interviewed frequent BHL users and get a better sense of how BHL sources are used and how the authors came across the information – trying to figure out their stories. The amount of research I did for this practicum showed me there is much more to the process than I had ever thought before. It was hard at first because it felt like I was doing backwards research, I would look at the bibliographies first and then read the article to figure out how and why BHL was referenced. I often had to search for the articles by using their Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) and even though that turned out to be the most successful research technique, it did not always prove to be trustworthy because publishers tend to add the DOI’s. Sometimes there were disclaimers stating the information gathered was not from BHL despite the information being available through BHL, but it made the research interesting to find out and figure out if BHL really was used.
My practicum experience with BHL has been a stepping stone in my CUA LIS education. I have taken classes on digital curation and foundations of digital libraries where I got to study the best theories and practices of preserving information online and the digitization process to making that information available online. Seeing the after effect of those theories and processes has expanded my view on digital libraries and even though the process of putting items online is finished, there is still more to learn about the information and the users. I enjoyed my experience with BHL and how it impacted my education and viewpoints on digital information which will now always follow me wherever I go with my career within this field.