The Student Research Pad

Students today have lots of great options for keeping track of sources they find:

  • citation management software and web services (Zotero, Mendeley, EndNote, RefWorks)
  • bookmarking services (Diigo, Delicious, Pinboard)
  • note-taking software and services (Evernote, OneNote, Springpad)

As wonderful as these tools are, there are a couple of notable barriers to their wider adoption:

  • a herculean effort is required to ensure that each year’s newest batch of first-year students, transfer students, and grad students are made aware of the existence of these tools
  • once made aware of the tools and convinced of their utility, students still have to take the extra step to register for accounts and/or download and install software

What if colleges were to set up a combination note-taking, bookmarking, citation management web service for every incoming student? The tool could be all set up and ready to go, accessible on the web to the student by means of the same authentication/login system they use to get to campus email, course management systems, remote access to library databases, etc.  The “research pad” that I have been brainstorming off and on for the past few years would connect to lots of resources and tools automatically and would allow the easy manual import of new items (articles found in a database, for example) via a number of means (bookmarklets, import via a custom email address, RSS feeds from your Zotero account, etc.)

Here are the components such a tool could have:

  • Place to see all the items you have currently checked out from the library (a click through on any item would take you to the “my account” feature commonly found in most library catalogs). Through an opt-in system, a user could decide to retain a list of items they have checked out in the past too (the click through on any item would go the item record in the catalog). This archive of what you have borrowed touches on a major third rail in library privacy issues, but perhaps if it was opt in and we did a really good job of informing our users of why they might not want to do this, it could fly in some libraries.
  • Place to see all the articles you’d found in any database the library has. Most databases have an “email this citation/full text” function of some sort; patrons could type in their unique research pad email address and have the database send the article straight to the student’s research pad. The research pad could also be set to sync with Zotero, RefWorks, or other citation management systems.
  • Section to save your bookmarks of web sites found on the open web. Given the recent rise of tools like Tumblr and Pinterest, and the longer successes of bookmarking services like Delicious and Diigo, a bookmarklet might be familiar enough to many students that it would be installed and used. At the very least, the Research Pad would let you import your bookmarks from your browser or from other bookmarking services.
  • A portion of the page would show the student help in various forms from the library: screencasts and screenshots custom made by the librarian at some reference service point (see my next post for details on this) and automated recommendations of relevant databases (or maybe article content from a service like Ex Libris’ bX Recommender or book content from LibraryThing or GoodReads).

Here is a mock up of the research pad that I put together today:

I’m not a web designer of any sort, but I would expect that you’d want to have the sections made collapsible or tabbed. I also realize that much of the functionality I’ve dreamed up here is not technically or practically possible (yet). But I do think we in the library world need to be dreaming our own dreams of what we’d like to have developed and not rely on the limited and siloed offerings we current get from various vendors. Many databases have “my account” features that let you keep track of content you’ve found just in that one platform; I’d like to see a tool that would be platform agnostic, that would let students pull in sources from all sorts of places and that would be connected via the library’s authentication systems in a seamless and invisible way (students shouldn’t have to think about how to set up remote access options in citation management software or how to log into some database’s “my account” feature).

What important features and functions did I miss? What elements of my research pad are unnecessary? Has anyone ever built a tool like this that pulls in such a wide range of services and resources? I’d love to hear back in the comments.