Take Me Out to the Ballgame … or the Library

I love baseball and am unashamedly a National League baseball fan! This year was a lot of fun as several work colleagues invited me to play fantasy baseball again. This was only my second year to play. I am still fairly new at this. Last year we played at MLB.com but switched to Yahoo! Fantasy Sports this year which was much more intense and required daily work.  As a librarian, I fascinated to see that many of the daily baseball skills used to manage my team were similar to library research! I may be a baseball fan, but these same principles are true for any fantasy sport.

First, I got a team with the draft. After that came the assessment. I had to know my team’s strengths and weaknesses. What were the stats for each player last year? Would I keep them all year long or put them on waivers in favor of someone else? How long would I keep them? The same is true for a research assignment. The researcher must first narrow down the available topics and determine what is the best fit. As the writing process begins, what the strengths and weakness for my arguments? The weak points will need improving and that is where the library comes into play. The student can take those weaker arguments to the reference librarian who can help the researcher and teach them how to find and narrow down resource options so they can make the best choices of journals and databases.

I also had to learn the fantasy baseball “literature” and “authors.” Who were the best fantasy bloggers and sports writers? What were the best discussion forums and supplement web sites that did analysis? What statistical sites and resources did I need to evaluate players? Would I buy a player research guide or do it on my own for free? You can also pick up information just from reading regular team news or sports sources. For instance, this past weekend, I learned that Ryan Howard had a broken toe and would not be playing for the rest of the season. Bummer! But knowing that enabled me to replace him with someone on my bench. Writing a research paper is no different. Students need to locate the best resources and learn who the best writers and authors are in the area in which they are majoring, in particular, but they can speak with their professor about specific assignments. They also need to run their database searches regularly because information can change. Just like discovering Ryan’s inability to play affecting my lineup for the weekend, a student will discover new terms and concepts by reading regular assignments and attending classes forcing you to update the terms used in your searches. The news information and the past few days statistics on a given player will affect my decision on his inclusion in today’s lineup. The database search you run today will be different tomorrow after learning new information because your use of language will have changed as you learn more.

In the day to day grind of creating baseball lineups, you have to learn how to search for players of interest. If a player was slumping, what were the full range of options to find players? On the available player list or evaluating players for possible trades, I had a lot of sorting options beyond just position only. I could sort by a variety of stats: 7, 14, or 30 days (average or total points), splits, careers, rankings, upcoming opponents, and daily matchup ratings. I learned that in fantasy baseball, there is several schools of thought depending on how big your league is: 1) constantly moving players around and picking up free agents to get guys who are currently hot, or 2) get guys who are consistent over the course of the season. I learned that you need to do a little of both but, in the end, leaned toward consistency. I tended to stick with a majority of the guys in my draft but if I thought they were losing their edge and getting mired in a long slump, then I needed to replace them. The same is true with research. Students will likely have keep searching and re-searching for their terms. They may need to swap terms and try new ones. Researchers need all the options to get the best possible information from which to assemble their work. Usually, the database’s advanced search option is the best approach to maximize control over your terms. Use the drop-down menu options and experiment. Why do a global keyword search (find your word anywhere in the full-text) for a term when you could try that same term as a subject? You are likely to get much fewer results and more relevant results!

Refining your searches is also a library skill. Fantasy players assess the quality of the information they obtained and determine if they have enough to make decisions about the draft, their roster, players, and trades. Student researchers must evaluate their results, too. Do you have enough information? What do you do when you do not have enough or the wrong type of information? What do you do if you have too much? How you evaluate conflicting information? This is common in sports statistics. Interpretation of those statistics is also another interesting dilemma. Writers will disagree about a player’s abilities or consistency with statistics and this will ebb and flow all season long. In both cases, you may need to redefine or restructure your searches for better results. Also, The serious fantasy players organize their research into some system that works for them like assembling data in notebooks or spreadsheets. Student researchers are no different. They need to organize their useful data into some useful system whereby they can access their information quickly and effectively. This is also useful for tracking player trends or search trends. As you change the terms of your searches, keep track of what you do. Some search results will get better results than others. Focus on this and limit those results or add additional terms to those good searches.

Both the fantasy player and the researcher share the common problem of evaluating resources. After looking at all the player data, it’s tough evaluating players with so many statistics. If you are looking to make a trade, you need to make sure you are comparing the same types of information. In addition, there are plenty of baseball forums and writers but what are their biases (biases toward league, team, certain players or types of players, etc.)? Who do you believe? Why? The same is true for research. Documents and web pages will have their own biases as well. Another example is what web site is hosting the article? A scientific writer (not necessarily a scientist) whose article is hosted on a particular company web site, for instance, may show biases for products by that company or the company itself. Documents like this aren’t very good options for inclusion in one’s research. Do your homework on these authors and check on their reputation before blindly accepting what they say as truth.

It makes no difference if you are an athlete boning up for an upcoming game, a fantasy team owner, or library researcher, the search and evaluation skills used for all of these are essentially the same! Whatever you are doing, I encourage you not to skimp! If you want to win the game, then you will put in the extra time, study hard, and effort to learn about your opponent, your team, or your research. Use those inborn sports abilities to your advantageI Put in the extra time to do it right and you will be successful in the game — and more importantly, in life!

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Library and Integrating Your Faith

Welcome to Glaze and Glory.  This blog takes a different track and explores the library research process, research tools, and hopes to explore the value of research from a Christian foundation. Interestingly, this process very much resembles the creation of pottery. As we explore issues pertaining to search methods, I hope this becomes more apparent.

In pottery, there is a lot of “source material.” There are different types of clay for different purposes. Also, ideas abound for how to actually design the vessel. In research, we have a lot of source material, too — sometime too much! Have you ever wondered how much “information” is out there?

The estimates in the video were from 2010. 500 exabytes is:

500,000,000,000,000,000, or
1 million terrabytes, or
1 billion gigabytes.

This is an unbelievable estimation, isn’t it? We have too much information and still have no idea how to define “information.” And we say we live in the “information” age!  Even Claude Shannon, the father of modern day information theory, could not define it himself. We may not be able to define it but perhaps we can understand it better by using several modern concepts to guide our thinking. These concepts may even help us see the spiritual side of information.

But what does any of this have to do with the name of this blog? What does information have to do with pottery? In the Oxford English Dictionary, the root of  “information” is “inform” meaning “to give shape or form to something.” It is my belief that the research process is akin to creating a piece of pottery. Each part of the process is critical from the selection of the right clay, to the centering of the clay on the wheel, to the shaping of the clay, to its firing time in the kiln, to its painting and decoration, and, finally, its decorating and glazing. Likewise, your research is also shaped by your ideas and values. The glazing process is one of the last steps before completing the work. Glazing is used with decoration but also makes a vessel able to hold liquids. In the end, quality research should be able to hold its values and its significance in academia without losing anything (e.g., your integrity).  Handmade pottery and research both take time and thought. Ecclesiastes 9:6 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.”  The completed research project ultimately should give the glory back to God for whatever we discover or develop as a result of research.  The work of a budding artisan is best developed under the apprenticeship of someone who is a skilled whether in research or pottery. When invited, God can also come alongside of the researcher to guide this process in His own way coupled with our unique abilities. Colossians 1:16 says that “all things were created through him and for Him.” If Jesus is Lord of all, then He must also be Lord over your research.