Saturday, February 19, 2011

New Database: GalleryWatch CRS Reports

Although many people aren't even aware of what the CRS is, Sawyer Library is very happy to have a new fulltext database containing their materials. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) serves as shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress. One of their key charges is to produce research reports on " major policy issues." They approach their "complex topics from a variety of perspectives and examine all sides of an issue. Staff members analyze current policies and present the impact of proposed policy alternatives."

CRS reports are very valuable documents, but it has always been difficult to find their research brought together in one place. However, individual libraries, social action groups and corporate sites have always done part of the job. For example, the Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) has a nice searchable collection of CRS Reports on environmental and related topics. And the Law Library at the University of Maryland has attempted to organize CRS Reports related to Homeland Security/Terrorism and Health Law & Policy. But everything is here and there, throughout the web, with frustrating gaps aplenty!

That's why this database, on the familiar EbscoHost interface is potentially so useful. GalleryWatch CRS Reports contains the largest and most up-to-date collection of CRS Reports available online. The GalleryWatch CRS Reports database includes abstracts and PDF full text for more than 35,000 CRS reports and is updated daily, "enabling researchers to keep track of issues as they are presented and discussed in the ever-changing environment of Capitol Hill." Content spans 1993-present and covers a host of subject areas. Current and archived versions of each report are included, providing comprehensive coverage of edits and amendments.

Subjects covered by the reports include hot-button policy issues like immigration, health care financing and terrorism, but many other topics from taxation to medicine to environmental challenges are also covered. All records should include a searchable abstract as well as a PDF fulltext document. There aren't a lot of subject headings (controlled vocabulary) here, so you might want to keep your search broad (like hospitals) to start with, and also stay very flexible, searching your topic in multiple ways. If you know the name of a particular piece of legislation (like PATRIOT Act or TARP), you can search that. If you want to search for a bill number, just remember to use the periods in the title and put it in quotation marks (e.g., "H.R. 1424"). Otherwise, you will either get too many false drops....or nothing at all.

I hope that Ebsco is able to improve the indexing of this database as it moves forward. But even, as is, it will help people from many disciplines and departments find useful and supposedly "impartial" research related to American government and life.

GalleryWatch CRS Reports on our Business, Social Sciences and Sciences database lists.]

Monday, February 7, 2011

Notable E-Book: Handbook of Economic Sociology

In a world where everything seems to be "all about the Benjamins," it is appropriate that social structures and issues are often studied within the context of economic factors. In 1994, Princeton University Press and the Russell Sage Foundation co-published the first edition of The Handbook of Economic Sociology as a synthesis of the burgeoning field of economic sociology. As Credo Reference, which just added the 2nd edition to their online library indicates: "Since then, the field of economic sociology has continued to grow by leaps and bounds and to move into new theoretical and empirical territory."

The original publisher, Princeton University Press, claims that "the thirty chapters of this volume incorporate many substantial thematic changes and new lines of research--for example, more focus on international and global concerns, chapters on institutional analysis, the transition from socialist economies, organization and networks, and the economic sociology of the ancient world. The Handbook of Economic Sociology, Second Edition is the definitive resource on what continues to be one of the leading edges of sociology and one of its most important interdisciplinary adventures. It is a must read for all faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates doing work in the field."

Of course, reading a book from cover to cover is not necessarily comfortably done through the Credo Reference interface. Credo, when it was called xreferplus, started out providing providing general and subject-specific dictionaries and basic reference eBooks--materials that specialized in succinct definitions. Since then, they have expanded their content to include encyclopedias and handbooks and other books with longer entries and chapters.

This can be useful, but also frustrating, if you end up getting hundreds of hits when you look up a word concept and you find it difficult to find the most appropriate materials. Credo has tried to get around this by creating "Topic Pages" that gather content together from their own resources and from other databases and web pages. These can be a handy way to get a brief introduction to a specific subject, but I must admit that I am not a big fan of the ready-made hodgepodge that the database presents for most topics, especially since they link to questionable internet news along with higher quality content.

If you know that a specific book is worth exploring, you are better off going to it directly via the "Find a Book" option in the top Credo frame (which lists and sorts books by category). And remember that all Credo books should be in the online catalog (OPAC), so you can identify a promising eReference book the same way you would circulating stack books, through doing keyword and subject searches.

Searching for a specific word concept or phrase in a particular book like the Handbook of Economic Sociology creates a more manageable list of browsable results. In the case of a search for entrepreneurship, it is 15 items,

You can easily link to and read the most relevant entries. And, as you can see, right below the lavender border, you can also jump into a search of our OPAC quite readily from the database.

Credo Reference adds new content every month. (They often highlight titles in their own blog, too.) The Handbook of Economic Sociology is just an example of a recent addition.