Christine A. Whittington
Defining the Social Sciences in the 21st Century
In the introduction to this chapter on general social sciences in the first edition of this guide, we endeavored to pin down a definition of the social sciences and to define the disciplines they encompass. We cited the 1930 definition by R. A. Seligman, editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (A-52) as “those mental or cultural sciences, which deal with the activities of the individual as a member of a group.” 1 Seligman divided the social sciences into three groups. The older, purely social sciences are political science, economics, history, and jurisprudence. Those “of more recent origin” are anthropology, penology, sociology, and social work. The semi-social sciences are social in origin or have acquired a social aspect: ethics, education, philosophy, and psychology. A third category consists of natural and cultural sciences with recognized social implications: biology, geography, linguistics, and art. 2 In the second edition of the Social Science Encyclopedia, Raff Dahrendorf presented a more contemporary definition:
The social sciences include economics, sociology (and anthropology) and political science. At their boundaries, the social sciences reach into the study of the individual (social psychology) and of nature (social biology, social geography). Methodologically, they straddle normative (law, social philosophy, political theory) and historical approaches (social history, economic history). In terms of university departments, the social sciences have split up into numerous areas of teaching and research, including not only the central disciplines, but also such subjects as industrial relations, international relations, business studies, and social (public) administration. 3Although reference book editors continue to include different disciplines and fields of study within their definitions of the social sciences, the importance of trying to reach a consensus about which disciplines are or are not included seem inconsequential next to the new theoretical approaches, applications and methodology, and the social dimensions and implications of a vast array of other disciplines, from genetics to spatial engineering. Adam Kuper and Jessica Kuper have noted that “[m]any fields have moved on from the preoccupations of the 1980s.” 4 It no longer seems as crucial to establish whether business, philosophy, or demography are indeed social sciences as it is to examine new or freshly approached fields of study such as post-modernism, subcultures, sex and gender, environmental and resource economics, media studies, and culture studies.
Scholarly Communication in the Social Sciences
The 1989 edition of this guide included mostly print resources. The 1996 edition included relatively few new print titles but listed electronic equivalents of print sources and resources available only in electronic format. This edition includes more resources available electronically only (such as the World Bibliographical Index and FedStats) and focuses on electronic, rather than print versions, because those are the versions that most researchers are using. Although all librarians should be aware of the existence of the print versions of Dissertations Abstracts or the Monthly Catalog of Government Publications, for example, not many librarians or researchers chose to perform comprehensive searches in those indexes if an electronic version is available. At the time the 1996 edition of this guide was being written, use of the World Wide Web in the reference environment was still in its infancy. Librarians depended on electronic discussion lists such as LIBREF-L and GOVDOC-L to keep in touch with developments in the world of electronic information. Librarians watched in fascination while an image of a butterfly loaded on the Web browser Mosaic over a period of several minutes. At the turn of the millennium, electronic versions of reference sources not only replicate their print versions but also use interactivity and hyperlinking features to link to resources elsewhere on the Web. For example, Statistical Universe, the electronic equivalent of the American Statistics Index, not only provides the SuDocs numbers needed to retrieve publications in government but also links to full-text publications available on the Internet. The Catalog of Government Publications is more than the Web version of the Monthly Catalog of Government Publications, providing links to full-text publications and to agency Websites. Librarians and social scientists still share information on e-mail and electronic discussion lists but also routinely check portals like FedStats, the Scout Report, and the Librarians’ Index to the Internet to keep up with technology.
Electronic publishing has not completely superseded print publishing in the social sciences. The 1996 edition of this guide noted the continued use of print classics such as the Dictionary of the History of Ideas, the Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, and the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, and this guide retains those classic sources. Although it has not yet been published as of this writing, the new International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences (IESBS) (Elsevier, 2001) has the potential to become the social sciences encyclopedia of the new millennium. Like many other massive reference works (the Dictionary of Art, for example), the IESBS is preceded by and accompanied by a Web page that includes plans for publication, abstracts of articles, several sample articles, and a list of topics. After the print version has been published, the Web site will continue to offer updates and special features.
Internet resources have given research not so much an electronic substitute for print resources as additional options. Librarians still serve as leaders, teaching their users how to determine whether their information needs will be best served by using print sources, electronic sources, or a combination of both. Because university professors and high school teachers have expressed dismay at student papers citing only Internet sources—and not always good ones—librarians have also begun to teach their users to evaluate critically material they find on the Internet. In the second edition of our book, we mentioned the freewheeling nature of and lack of quality control on the Internet and the various tools used to gain access to it. The tools mentioned—Gopher, Archie, Veronica, and Mosaic—have long since gone to the Internet vocabulary graveyard, replaced by Google, Northern Light, Yahoo, and Inference Find, as well as a number of specialized portals, such as University of Michigan’s Document Centre.
One thing that has not changed is the assumption among many library users that all information needed is free on the Internet and that all the librarian (or user) needs to do is “punch it into the computer and get it from the Web.” Although a great deal of information is indeed free, database vendors, periodical publishers, and producers of market research and financial records are not about to make their expensive products available for free to all Internet users. On the other hand, scholars are exploring refereed electronic publishing venture s and ownership of their own work to address the high price tag that information often carries. Initiatives such as SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) hope to “return science to the scientists” by using technology to bring quality research to a broader audience at a lower cost. Social science initiatives include electronic publications such as the Electronic Journal of Communication (EJC/REC), e-published by the Communication Institute for Online Scholarship.
Much research in the social sciences is recorded in unpublished papers; in conferences whose proceedings are not always published; and in materials produced by national and international organizations, research centers, and corporations. As information has become increasingly available on the Internet, librarians and other information professionals have created sources that identify and control this information. Because many social science disciplines depend on recent information, prompt access to these materials is essential. Primary sources and review articles are usually more useful to the social scientist than books, which may not be as up-to-date or as specialized. Reference sources provide access to both types of materials, and if the source is online on a commercial database or the Internet, information is usually even more timely. A need for very recent materials often involves online database searching or identifying people or organizations that the researcher can contact to initiate networking activity.
The interdisciplinary nature of much social science research requires the use of sources involving several disciplines both within and outside the social sciences. For example, an economist working on valuation of natural resources will study human needs for recreation and scenic areas. The social sciences librarian must be aware of reference sources covering tangential disciplines so users will not miss relevant materials that may not be included in reference sources specific to their disciplines.
Research in the social sciences is complicated by terminology that varies to discipline, reference sources, chronological period, geographic location, and individual author. Controlled subject headings exist for many sources, but others, such as the Social Sciences Citation Index (A-23), Dissertation Abstracts International (A-39), NTIS Database (A-48), and the online periodical index CARL UnCover (A-17), have little controlled vocabulary, and access is dependent upon the titles and abstracts authors have written for their papers. Even when controlled vocabulary is present, as in online public access catalogs or general periodical indexes, many users do not use it, preferring to search by keyword ds. The “softness” of social science terminology, although not as problematic as in the humanities, can be a challenge for reference librarians.
Once information has been located, its delivery is the next issue to be addressed. The Internet has revolutionized document delivery. Most periodical articles can be faxed or delivered to a researcher’s computer desktop, if the researcher is willing to pay the price of document delivery through databases such as UnCover. Material retrieved on the Internet can be e-mailed, downloaded, or printed. Some “chat” reference services offer technology that enables a librarian to “push” a Web page to the person at the other end of a “chat”. In the second edition of this book, it was noted that “the delivery method has become part of the total reference environment” and, at the turn of the millennium, this is more true than ever.
In the first and second editions of this guide, it was noted that reference strategies varied according the problem to be explored, the sophistication of the researcher, and the resources within the person’s reach. Previous volumes discussed differences among “laypeople,” undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and professional researchers. Many of these distinctions are beginning to blur. Library users once though of as laypeople are beginning to take undergraduate and graduate level courses, often at a distance from the academic institution with which they are registered, connecting with their own computers. Computers that can provide access to e-mail and the Web are being marketed to students and their families. Resources within reach extend around the world. “Traditional” undergraduate students may come to their university libraries with inadequate preparation for writing research papers, having discovered the wealth of information available at their fingertips on the Internet but not having mastered the tools for critical analysis of those resources. Graduate students may be returning to the research environment after many years away at a time when only a few months away may drastically change resources available at their libraries. Thus, it is more reasonable to define information strategies by the type of problem rather than the type of library user.
Some library users need to find information about real-life issues that concern them. This can range from a need to find information about immigration and naturalization, to whether a news story is real or a hoax or “urban legend,” to the types of decorations associated with Mardi Gras. Library users looking for this type of information may have limited time to spend looking for it in a library. They may phone the library to get advice on how to search for this information on the Internet or ask that it be mailed, e-mailed, or faxed to them. They may be best served by references to government Web sites, online almanacs, online encyclopaedias, or general periodical indexes that include full-text articles that can be printed out quickly, downloaded, or e0mailed. Library users looking for this type of information especially appreciate electronic resources because they often provide information that is immediately accessible, rather than having to decipher and round up a list of sources from a bibliographic database. Many popular magazines include columns on Internet resources, and publications such as Wired (1993- ) and Yahoo Internet Life (1996- ) are devoted to the Internet. In the second edition of this guide we mentioned that Newsweek had a regular feature on the “Net,” now the New Yorker has a regular Web column and Martha Stewart Living includes references to Web sites.
Undergraduate research supporting term papers and coursework is often similar to the information needs described above in its urgency and the desire of undergraduate researchers for full-text and immediately usable information rather than a list of sources. An additional characteristic of undergraduate research is that material retrieved usually must be scholarly in nature, and undergraduates’ professors often require—with good intentions—that a certain number of resources be in print rather than Internet resources. This last criterion is often the result of faculty members having received too many papers citing only Internet resources or looking suspiciously as though they had been downloaded from the Internet. Individuals researching undergraduate papers or projects still need to identify important books and articles in their disciplines and critically evaluate what they find, whether or not they acquired their articles full text on the Internet. They may need an electronic or print source that will help them choose a topic or design a research project. Undergraduate students may also be faced with designing a research project for the first time. They will also need to identify measures, tests, and scales used in social science research. They will require clear and concise discussions of abstract concepts, such as postmodernism, semiotics, existentialism, or teleology, that they may hear in class or find in their readings but not completely understand.
Undergraduate researchers need to find discussions of major thinkers in their fields—Foucault is popular in social sciences these days—definitions of specialized or technical terms, and statistics to reinforce their arguments. The second edition of this guide noted that undergraduates’ use of the electronic sources consisted of “online public access catalogs and general periodical indexes.” Five years later, undergraduates use the Web search engines more than public access catalogs and almost certainly use public access catalogs on the Web. Students doing undergraduate research should be encouraged to become more familiar with specialized resources in their fields—both electronic and print—and critically evaluate what they find on the Internet. They can increase the quality of Internet sites they use by applying standards for evaluating resources and becoming familiar with portals that exercise some control over the Web sites they include, such as the Scout Report for the Social Sciences, or the library’s own refereed lists of Web resources.
Graduate students, university faculty, and practitioners such as psychologists, social workers, economists, and those working in public policy or criminal justice are usually involved in very specialized research. Like people researching real-life problems or involved in undergraduate coursework, this user group seeks to locate articles, facts, books, and specialized Web sites on their topics, but intense professional networking, resource-sharing behavior, and the practice of identifying materials through lists of references in articles rather than indexes or abstracts often cause them to come to the library already knowing what materials they need to support their research. Some may feel little need for “finding” tools and may not be aware of indexing and abstracting sources in their fields. Some enjoy conducting research themselves and make an effort to discover all ways of finding information, including electronically.
Others may be suspicious of information available on the Internet, especially if it dominates their students’ papers. On the other hand, professional practitioners are usually problem-oriented and generally prefer the Internet or database searching to searches of print indexes to save time when pursuing information on elusive, specialized topics. Practitioners with corporate libraries may rely completely on fee-based electronic database searches. Because social sciences research often involves scientific method, including controlling the variability of human behavior, graduate students, university faculty, and practitioners often need access to information about research design and social measurement. They need detailed information about various research options (surveys, questionnaires, and the like) and test and scale construction more than do the undergraduate or practitioner. Graduate students, faculty, and practitioners may all need data of the type that can be found on the Internet and in commercial electronic sources.
All types of users may be interested in electronic subject-oriented discussion groups, but such groups have revolutionized the communication of academic and professional researchers. News of archaeological discoveries often appears on the archaeology discussion list (ARCH-L) before it appears anywhere else in print. Novices can post questions on discussion lists or Ask-a-Librarian sites and receive advice from the top experts in the fields within days, if not hours. Web sites such as Government Documents in the News or Anthropology in the News make news and discoveries easier to find.
The type of information needed to satisfy these types of research activities varies according to the specific problem, the discipline, and the level of research required to satisfy the information need. The needs of the social science researcher will further depend on whether the problem requires current or retrospective information, whether there are other disciplines within or outside the social sciences that should be considered, and the geographic and chronological parameters of the problem. The reference interview can uncover these parameters, help the researcher define questions that need to be answered, and match reference sources to individual questions.
Many libraries subscribe to suites of licensed databases that their users have access to within the library and remotely from home. The growth of distance education—students completing coursework via interactive television or courses on the Web—has created a demand for licenses for even more full-text databases.
In an article in the International Encyclopedia of Education, P. Foster defined area studies as “academic programs of study focusing upon particular nation-states or clusters of states characterized by contiguous geographic location and usually exhibiting common characteristics in terms of social structure, culture, or linguistic and historical traditions.” 6 During the 1930s, U.S. colleges and universities began to develop academic programs around the study of particular regions of the world. These programs came to be known as “area studies” in course catalogs and bulletins were often linked to disciplines in the social sciences as well as studies of language, culture, and humanities. During World War II and the postwar period, wariness toward other countries and a heightened demand for information about distant places left urgency to the development of area studies programs. Bryce Wood, in his article on area studies in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (A-55), wrote that area studies programs in U.S. universities were “largely created on a ‘know-your-enemy’ basis.” 7 The phrase “area studies” was first used in a military intelligence context. 8 Western governments, including that of the United States, felt that the expertise was not available to inform international relations policymakers and military personnel about the languages, ethnic groups, cultures, and geographic characteristics of areas about which important military, political, and economic decisions would have to be made, especially Soviet bloc countries and developing nations, such as those in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. 9 At first, individuals were trained in language programs within the armed forces, then academe provided expertise through faculty specialists who focused on specific regions of the world. After World War II, grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Rockefeller Foundation funded Russian studies centers at Harvard and Columbia universities, which served as models for area studies centers at other academic institutions, many of which were supported by the Ford Foundation. 10 The National Defense Education Act, Fullbright-Hayes Act, Foreign Area Fellowship Program, and private foundation awards provided for expansion of area studies programs. 11
Although sometimes called a discipline, area studies can be more accurately described as an interdisciplinary program that takes advantage of the expertise of faculty in a wide range of programs in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. The Committee on World Area Research listed the most desirable features of area programs as intensive language instruction; joint seminars; group research; combined study in humanities and social sciences; participation of foreign students and faculty members; and the availability of specialized materials such as newspapers, official records, maps, and other sources. 12 Research and publication in area studies began to increase steadily, and by the 1960s three research councils—the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Research Council, and the Social Science Research Council—were all providing leadership in some aspects of area studies. Implication for college and research libraries increased substantially as the proliferation growth brought new problems for libraries associated with institutions that were trying valiantly to collect comprehensively in all areas. This challenge was heightened by staggering new printing costs, changing world alliances, and diverse user populations with more complex information needs.
The American Library Association’s focus on area studies began as a project conceived and developed by the Collection Management and Development Committee, Resources and Technical Services Division. Its first volume, Selection of Library Materials in the Humanities, Social Sciences and Sciences (American Library Association) was published in 1985. From that publication grew the idea for a series of three volumes, the second of which was titled Selection of Library Materials in Applied and Interdisciplinary Fields (American Library Association, 1987). The third and final volume of the series was devoted exclusively to area studies, covering the entire world except for North America. Because of scheduling difficulties and potential manuscript length, it was decided to issue this volume in two parts, with Asia, the Iberian Peninsula, the Caribbean and Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and the South Pacific grouped together in the first part, and Australia, Canada and New Zealand making up the second part of the publication, titled Selection of Library Materials for Area Studies (1990-1994). Other scholars, including members of learned societies and area studies departments, defined the world (excluding North America) in the following seven geographic regions: Africa, Latin America, South Asia, the Middle East, the Far East, the Slavic and Eastern European countries, and Western Europe. All helped to define a structure to the literature and access to the humanities.
Cecily Johns noted that while academic institutions and research centers developed a studies programs, public, school, and academic libraries are also interested in collecting material for area studies. All types of libraries now serve diverse communities, including Spanish-speaking users and immigrants from Asia and former Soviet countries. 13 In their introduction to a collection of essays about area studies in U.S. libraries, Marianna Tax Chodrin et al. wrote that “this nation’s ability to deal successfully in strategic, political, economic and cultural spheres with important parts of the world depends to a significant extent on our ability to provide access to information from and all those parts of the world.” 14
In the reference environment, area studies resources present additional challenges because of time lags in obtaining information, erratic indexing, and bibliographic control. The Internet eased research in areas studies because many resources are now available on the Web that would have been impossible to gain access to even a few years ago. National organizations and national libraries have Web sites and Web-publishing initiatives, such as Unesco’s directory of social science In nations, that make communication and networking easier than ever.