How we read online libraries

Thanks to the librarian community I was alerted to a great article recently published in First Monday. “Digital reading spaces: How expert readers handle books, the Web and electronic paper” by Terje Hillesund. The article is full of interesting information. I especially enjoyed the historical section looking at the development of how we read. For this post though I will focus on the comments that relate to library research.

In the section, Multimodal and digital reading Hillesund looks at the way academic researchers interact with digital journals.  Or more specifically how they read results from databases. Hillesund describes their behavior as “squirreling”

“an energetic search for treasures that are downloaded for later consumption.”

Isn’t that word picture just great! Isn’t that what you do and what you see others doing?


photo by exfordy

It’s a great first step in the research process, but the next step is to sit down with those downloaded results and ‘consume’ them. And all too often this is where the research process breaks down. Usually because students have not left themselves enough time to consume the articles and do more squirreling if necessary. And 9 times out of 10 more squirreling is necessary because the energetic search for treasures often ends up finding more shells than full nuts. Why? Because when you’re squirreling your browsing, scanning, looking for keywords, and selectively reading. As opposed to doing more in-depth reading which would allow you to make a better judgment call about those ‘nuts’.

Does that mean you need to be reading the entire article before you decide to download it? Absolutely not. Maybe spend a little more time reading the abstract, but otherwise the behavior of squirreling is a fine habit to form, if you aren’t already doing it, and really aren’t we all? The point is that it is just one piece of the research cycle. It should not be the only piece.


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