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INFO 520 "I want to compare these two associations..."

This is a perennial project for the INFO 520 class. And I always wonder how far to go in responding to the questions I get about it. Aren't all these librarians-in-training just overflowing with ambition and creative ideas for research projects like this? Well... I guess for those full of verve, they don't need my help and this posting won't hurt them. And for the ones that can use the encouragement, at least they'll have to wade through my sermonizing to get to the useful advice, and hopefully be better for it.

First of all - the question  "I'm looking for articles on these two associations..." reveals an expectation that some author in the professional literature has done the careful work of sifting through multiple sources to synthesize an overall picture of some association.

Aside from what the organization says on their own website, what independent third party is going to be studying the mission, structure, projects and effectiveness of any association? It's not like associations are the subject of journalistic inquiry as you might expect from a watchdog group who scrutinizes an elected official. Anthropologists and organizational studies academics are busy studying al Queda and Google, not library professional associations. What would the author's motivation be? At this point, I recommend you return to the basic reference desk source-finding question. Ask yourself "who cares?" Who would care enough to study the association you've chosen? Let me know if you come up with a good answer, because I still don't have one.

So let's face it. Libsci students will have to settle with doing their own investigation for this one. Of course you should start by studying the publications of the association itself. Sometimes they do excellent self-studies. Having trouble choosing an association? Here's a starter list to try. If you're lucky and choose a well-known association it might have an encyclopedia entry somewhere. Or a book all about it.

More likely than not, you get to start from scratch. You've seen their website. Does it look professional? What's type of membership do they appeal to? What benefits do they offer their members? What do they publish? What sorts of conferences or meetings do they hold?

Due diligence suggests that you still look for your perfect article in the LIS literature databases. But as I said, don't get discouraged if it does not appear. You're almost doing a form of competitor analysis and that discipline is all about scouring all available sources - not relying on the the published literature alone. Compare what you have learned from their website with the bare-bones record in the Encyclopedia of Associations. Does the encyclopedia entry match the initial impressions you had from their website? Does Drexel carry their publications? Browse a few issues. What sorts of articles do their publications carry? Are they scholarly? Focused on professional development? Or just the minutes of their meeting?

Maybe they've been written up in wikipedia. Do they disclose their financials and how many staff they have? If not, you can find that in their IRS filing at Guidestar.org.

What else? There are probably lots of self-published details among the blogs and youtube if you are prepared to wade through that sort of content. See how many hits come up out there and evaluate the content you find. If you've got better ideas, feel free to contribute them using the comments feature on this blog.

Best,
Tim Siftar
Drexel IST Librarian

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