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March 10, 2006

Remote Engineering Research Assistance - A Day In The Life

.: Yesterday I worked in ETLC 2-006. ETLC E2-006 is a computer lab in the Engineering Teaching and Learning Complex at the University of Alberta, where we (two engineering librarians) provide an engineering research assistance service four hours a week to engineering students. I had planned to be there from 1:13-3:00, but ended up staying until about 4:14. I had two questions, b2b, both lengthy and detailed.

The first student I helped was in Materials Engineering 365 (a design course), and was looking for kinetic data on GeO2, germanium dioxide. His design group is working on reduction of GeO2 to solid germanium, using H2, hydrogen. We did extensive searching through a number of databases, including Knovel, which had some related information. Eventually we searched SciFinder Scholar. We tried various combinations of search terms, including the using the CAS RNs. We then started screening the citations, and it became evident that the research in this area had been published decades ago, and primarily in Russia and Japan. Naturally, the few citations we found that seemed bang on were either in Russian or Japanese.

I had a feeling we might hold some of the older Russian journal titles, so we began to check them in the NEOS catalogue. Not only did we have all but one title, we had some of the translation journals as well. After I finished the second question, and went back to Cameron with the second student, who needed information from the Chemical Economics Handbook (CEH), the Mat E 365 student saw me, and told me that he found exactly what he needed in the translated versions of the Russian articles we found in SciFinder Scholar. Lesson learned: the old stuff in our collection is still very, very valuable - the translation journals to which we once subscribed provided the solution to this student's search question.

The second student was in Chem Eng 465 (another design course), and her group was working on a number of issues, including a solvent called selexol, the cost considerations when designing an ammonia plant, and gasification. She told me that her group's off-campus industry contact told her that there was information in an SRI report on ammonia, but that he couldn't tell her what it was. As we began to search the SRI web site, my brain kicked in and I realized that he was probably referring to the CEH, which I told her was in the Cameron SciTech Library.

We searched Knovel, and found the CAS RN and selexol, along with a list of its synonyms, in Sax's. In the Knovel search results was a book called Gasification. However, when we clicked on the book, we were asked for an ID and PW. It appeared that this title, and the next one, Surface Production Operations (2nd Edition) Volume 2 - Design of Gas-Handling Systems and Facilities, were new titles that were considered "Premium Content." I had my cell phone, so I decided to call our Knovel rep, who was available. He explained that Knovel just created a new subject area, Oil and Gas Engineering, and that some of the titles were in the Premium category. It was so new that Knovel had not yet turned on access for libraries whose subscriptions include access to Premium Content, which includes the U of A. Our Knovel rep initialized our access to these titles, and the student and I were able to view these titles, which contained valuable information for her group. (BTW, this is typical of our Knovel rep, who tends to respond quickly and thoroughly to any questions or concerns about the Knovel db; excellent service all around.)

As we continued to search for additional information using Compendex, she made a telling comment, and I paraphrase: "You know, it's not that we don't know how to search, it's just that we don't know where to look." She explained that she uses Compendex after I had demonstrated it in class, but beyond that is not sure what resources to use next. This is the dilemma we face - we deal with an incredible, large set of resources, and at best, can only skim the surface when we teach our 50-minute sessions on library and research skills instruction. This is why I always stress, repeatedly, that if the only thing the students take away from our classes is an awareness that there are important, relevant resources out there to help them with their research, then that's half the battle. They know they can approach us for help and guidance, which is why we are here.

I walked back to Cameron with her, and showed her CEH. The section on ammonia had a lot of information she could use, and she was very happy to have access to it.

A good day indeed.