This year I’ve been shamelessly cribbing off one of my co-workers who’s mantra is “scholars index their own literature.” At first, I didn’t know what she meant, but the more I work with the idea, the more I absolutely love it, especially for the “softer” areas of study where traditional indexing falls short (yes, I’m thinking of the MLA International Bibliography, here).
Here’s the idea, indexers can give a general sense of the primary topics of a given article. Scholars, however, make use of other scholars’ work as it relates to their own work. The web of citations that builds as each area cites relevant works is often a much richer, much more crafted set of interrelations than any result set is. (Incidentally, this is where dissertations are a great help, since part of a dissertator’s project is to map his field and place himself within that field… jackpot for those looking for a starting place in the web of interconnections.)
The problem is that tracing this web of interrelations also takes a whole lot longer than plunking keywords into a bibliographic database and clicking “Search.” Still… if there’s time, and especially if direct searching isn’t working, this is one of those other options that can, sometimes, pay off.
Now I just need to figure out how to explain this succinctly to freshmen. “Scholars index their own literature” doesn’t make much sense when “index” and “literature” are jargon within the scholarly community.