Avoiding "Google-It" Overload: Guidelines for Creating a Personal Digital Reference Library

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

The movement from paper publications to digital resources presents a challenge for students and professionals who want to build a set of personal resources for ready access rather than sifting through Google results.  This session will share design and resource curation ideas for a personal digital reference library.

Sponsored By


Linda J. Smith, Ph.D., is Professor and Program Chair for the Master of Distance Education and E-learning (MDE) program at the University of Maryland University College. She received her Ph.D. in Instructional Systems from Florida State University where she also taught graduate courses in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Department. She works internationally in academe and professional development, including consulting and teaching in higher education and serving as Coordinator of Online Courses and Professional Development Consultant for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. Prior to work in higher education, she was a senior staff director for the Social Security Administration in Baltimore, MD, where she led projects of national scope. Dr. Smith’s research interests include an exploration of how theories of science (e.g., chaos theory, complexity theory, field theory, and others) can provide a lens through which we can view the teaching and learning experience to improve our understanding and performance. She presents at international conferences in the US and Europe. Her service activities include Peer Reviewer for the European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, and she has been a paper reviewer for the Chaos & Complexity Theories Special Interest Group for AERA conferences.

Extended Abstract

The Problem:  As we move away from paper-based materials to digital resources, the concept of distance in learning applies to more than a physical separation of students and instructors.  Distance now can apply to the separation of learners from the resources needed to perform effectively as students and later as career professionals.  Some learning materials have always been available in online environments, but much of what students have used for study has been in the form of textbooks and other printable materials that could be stored in the learner’s personal library.   Depending on the subject matter and its relation to a student’s career path, some of these resources have been invaluable later as reference material while in school and subsequently on the job.  Today, learners often study course content through various technologies which may not be readily available after courses end.  The Internet provides access to a plethora of information, but identifying the most beneficial material takes valuable time.  Once found, the student or new professional may want to add such information to a personal repository for future reference.  Building an effective personal digital reference library requires a strategy for:  a) curating resources, b) establishing a usable organization of material, and c) ensuring persistence of availability.

Working with a personal digital reference library can be distinguished from knowledge management, personal information management, and personal knowledge management.  Knowledge and information management tends to refer to a process for retrieving, analyzing, and working with information.  A personal digital reference library is intended to contain the resources one would use to generate knowledge for situations that may not yet be defined.  To summarize, a personal digital reference library is a digital collection of resources and information pertinent for knowledge creation, knowledge management, and engagement in professional activities. 

Students and professionals at all levels can benefit from developing a resource to help them locate and use important digital materials easily.  Students who are provided with the reference library guidelines during program orientation can save time if they begin building their personal libraries as they proceed through their courses rather than waiting until they need to locate a resource again later.

Objectives:  This session will share ideas for designing a personal digital reference library and curating resources to support the learner while s/he is a student and later as a professional in his or her career.  The presenter will discuss key issues affecting a design:  the importance of a plan; curation guidelines; copyright issues; maintaining URLs; storage site for library structure and elements; tool selection; and a backup plan.  The audience will be given examples of content items for the library and tools for library creation and management.   Because of changing perspectives on “fair use” for copyrighted material, emphasis will be placed on how to avoid infringement, and links will be provided for additional material explaining copyright and fair use today.  After a discussion of the guidelines, attendees will review the design for the presenter’s personal digital reference library.  The guidelines, presentation materials  and slides will be posted on the conference web site.

Working Together to Find Solutions:  The session will be collaborative throughout.  Session attendees will be encouraged to add to the design concept and tool set to expand the utility of the resource.  By the end of the session, attendees should have tools and information to enable them to create a personal reference resource that replicates many of the advantages of a print-based library without requiring an office filled with book shelves and filing cabinets.  They should be able to share these guidelines with learners and others in contexts such as higher education, industry, or government.