Selected vs. Comprehensive Bibliographies

Most of the bibliographies we’ve gathered so far aim to be comprehensive, either explicitly or implicitly.  Scholars and librarians both have a tendency to be completist; most of us feel the urge to own ALL the books, read ALL the articles, list ALL the citations about our topics.  This urge has a place in the academy, and comprehensive bibliographies, whether searchable or in list form, are a valuable research tool.

The selected bibliography is also a valuable research tool, however, and perhaps is becoming especially so now that the digital revolution has made “too much information” at least as common a problem as “too little information.”  Barbara Fister argues this point in her recent essay “Undergraduates in the Library, Trying Not to Drown.”  She notes:

The bad news is that they [undergraduates] think there’s far too much information available and, as a result, narrow their options in rather mechanical ways. They limit what they look at to avoid being completely lost and overwhelmed.

Because undergraduates can find something on their topic fairly easily (using Google, or Jstor), they do not learn how to look in the best places for their topics, to find the best things on their topics.  This is a problem for librarians as well as faculty, Fister notes:

We tend to think more is always better, that helping students do research means exposing them to a huge banquet of options. The problem for undergraduates is not finding enough sources: it’s finding the right ones. The means undergraduates have developed of reducing the aperture, of focusing their attention to a manageable set of options, is a survival strategy that we should consider as we design library collections and instruction for this group of novice navigators. How do we guide them to the best sources when most of our efforts in developing collections has been to simply make them bigger?

While the problem of finding the right information in a vast ocean of sources is endemic to undergraduates, it also can arise with graduate students, or even experienced researchers who are exploring a new subfield or reaching across disciplinary lines.  For this reason, I would argue, the selected bibliography is becoming more important.  It gives the researcher a place to start getting to know a topic, highlighting the most important resources on a topic, not merely those that rise to the top of the page in a keyword search.

Have you composed a selected bibliography, maybe to hand out to an upper-level undergraduate or graduate class, or to a student doing an independent study?  Would you be willing to share it with us all via the Ancient World Open Bibliographies?  If you have an existing bibliography that is not available online for linking, consider emailing it to me (pacheson @; I can handle most file formats) and making it a part of this project.

About classicslibrarian

Former PhD student in classical archaeology, now a librarian. Seeing Classics in a different way!
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1 Response to Selected vs. Comprehensive Bibliographies

  1. Pingback: What Undergraduate Researchers Need « Becoming a Classics Librarian

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