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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2004

[Board accepted]

The Web-Based Academic Field Trip Bibliography: A Multi-Use Library Tool

Lura E. Joseph
Geology Librarian
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Field trip courses are part of the academic curriculum of many disciplines, especially in the sciences. This article examines the process of creating web-based field trip bibliographies in support of field trip courses, and their value to academic librarians as tools for reference service, instruction, collection development, partnering with teaching faculty, and public relations.


Field trip courses are a part of the curriculum of many disciplines including geology, soil science, biology, botany, and archaeology, to name a few. Bibliographies created in support of field trip courses are valuable tools for academic librarians and have multiple uses including reference service, instruction, collection development, forming partnerships with teaching faculty, and public relations. Posting the bibliography on the web makes it available at any time from any computer, and allows links to relevant information such as online articles and documents, virtual field trips, electronic indexes and databases, online maps, and style guides. It can also be updated frequently as additional relevant resources are discovered, and notices to the class can be posted, such as materials added to reserves. Web links between the online bibliography and the course web page facilitate use by the students and trip leader. Links can also be provided to online library instruction pages, when appropriate.

Academic field trip courses differ slightly from professional field trips hosted by societies and associations. For professional field trips, the trip leaders present information at the various locations or "stops," and a field trip guidebook is nearly always provided to participants at the beginning of the trip. The field guide will generally contain information on the regional setting, a trip log with mileage or GPS coordinates, and specific information related to each stop.

For many academic course field trips, the students present talks at the various stops, and the presentations count heavily toward their course grade. The students generally prepare some type of handout to accompany their talks. These handouts may consist of information similar to the content in professional guide books, and may be collected from students and compiled by the professor prior to the trip, or they may consist of simple talk outlines with references and figures that are handed out to participants at each stop. The professor leading the trip determines the guidelines for student presentations and handouts. No matter what the format, the librarian can provide valuable assistance in helping to locate information for the presentations and handouts, and a web-based bibliography of available resources prepared before the field trip benefits the librarian, students, and the professor leading the trip.

Creating the Web-Based Bibliography

The first step in creating the bibliography is to consult with the leader of the field trip to determine the geographic range of the trip, the emphasis of the trip, the locations of field trip stops, and the topics students will present at the various stops. The bibliography can be arranged by field trip stops, by students' topics, or both.

Librarians can create bibliographies for field trips "from scratch" by using online subject indexes and the online catalog. Alternatively, they may be able to build upon a nucleus of previously used resources. An example is {Field Trip - Southern Arizona & California; Selected Bibliography}, which supported a geology field trip conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). The nucleus for this bibliography was a box of articles with incomplete bibliographic information that were previously used as field trip resources and partially incomplete references from previous student handouts. Complete references for these resources were located and formed the basis for both sections: the trip stop outline and the student presentations. A search of GeoRef, an online geological index, yielded additional references. If an item was available in the UIUC library, the call number was added to the reference. Future resources discovered in student handouts will enrich the bibliography, as well as appropriate new materials added to the UIUC collection and new references found in GeoRef.

In addition to print resources, the web-based bibliography enables direct linking to resources such as online articles, documents, maps, images, indexes and databases, style guides, virtual field trips, park information, weather and climate information, the course web page, and other web resources. While there is a temptation to include anything remotely relevant, care should be taken to be selective and to use established procedures for evaluating web-based information (Brandt 1996).

The bibliography can remain static on the web until just prior to the next field trip, or it can be updated periodically as new resources are found. If there is concern about dead web links, web URLs can be hidden with the HTML "comment" code (<!-- text to be hidden -->) until needed for the next field trip, and then updated, or else a caveat can be added about the possibility of dead web links.

Uses/ Value of the Web-Based Field Trip Bibliography

The field trip bibliography has significant value due to multiple possible uses. As a reference tool, the bibliography saves the librarian valuable time. Academic departments regularly cycle field trip locations. Some trips are repeated on a yearly basis, while others are repeated every three to five years. In order to help students prepare for their talks the librarian often provides extensive reference service. By creating detailed bibliographies for regular field trip locations, service is maximized for patrons while time and labor are ultimately reduced for the librarian. Although compiling a bibliography consumes a substantial amount of time initially, it is relatively simple to update it, and over time, the quality of material referenced can be refined.

While creating the bibliography, the librarian can note library items that will probably be requested by multiple patrons. These items can be put on reserve for the class, thereby saving library staff time spent recalling items, and also reducing patron frustration due to lack of availability of materials. Following copyright law, high-use materials could be scanned, put on the web, and linked from the bibliography.

The librarian may also discover additional relevant material missing from indexes. For example, previously compiled field trip guidebooks are excellent resources, however determining their existence can be a daunting task for librarians, not to mention students. Guidebooks are considered gray literature and are often missing from indexes (Bichteler 1991; Derksen 1991; Wallace 1978). Tools for finding geologic field trip guidebooks include the Union List of Geologic Field Trip Guidebooks of North America, sixth edition (Geoscience Information Society Guidebooks Committee 1996) and the more up-to-date online version. Other tools include online catalogs of various academic libraries, the United States Geological Survey library and web pages, various society web pages, and published sources of meeting announcements such as newsletters and Geotimes. The American Geological Institute (AGI) is now making a greater effort to include guidebooks in the geological index, GeoRef, through collaboration with the Geoscience Information Society. Other disciplines likely have their own sources for gray literature. Beyond difficulties determining the existence of guidebooks, it is also often difficult to borrow or purchase a copy (Wallace 1978). For example, leaders may print only enough copies for trip participants. Other valuable, but non-indexed gray literature such as reports and maps may also be identified while the librarian is working on the bibliography.

The web-based field trip bibliography can also be used as an instructional tool. It is helpful to attend one of the pre-field trip class sessions and "advertise" the bibliography. The web-based bibliography can also contain links to other resources such as the online catalog, online indexes, style guides, and direct links to full text articles, maps, and other resources that may be useful to students when preparing their presentations. The librarian can demonstrate these resources while introducing the bibliography to the class. In other words, the field trip bibliography is a practical tool geared to a particular curricular and pedagogical situation, and as such it can serve to enhance the students' information literacy in the discipline.

Experience shows that a web-based bibliography actually increases the number of students coming to the library to seek help, and this increases the opportunity for one-on-one instruction in the use of online indexes and the online catalog. The one-to-one interaction reveals pervasive gaps in students' information literacy which can then be addressed in more formal group instruction.

Creation of the field trip bibliography also helps identify weaknesses in the library collection. The librarian can utilize interlibrary borrowing to examine promising materials not held by the library and, if they are determined to be important resources that will be needed for future field trips, can attempt to purchase them. Without the work on the bibliography, the librarian may overlook these potential purchases. Some of the items will likely be obscure publications such as proceedings and field trip guidebooks. Cataloging problems can also be uncovered and corrected while constructing the bibliography and helping students find materials.

A field trip bibliography may also result in increased circulation. For one UIUC field trip location, students previously relied heavily on a box of articles, rather than coming to the library. After the bibliography was posted on the web, students found it easier to use library materials than to sort through the articles in the box.

Creation of the web-based bibliography and occasional field trip attendance by a librarian may earn huge gains in public relations with both students and teaching faculty. While developing the bibliography, the interactions between the librarian and trip leaders can build bridges and forge partnerships. While participating in the field trip, the librarian may gain new insights into the ways that resources are used by students, an understanding of teaching faculty expectations regarding references, and rapport with students due to a shared experience in the field. The professor will likely appreciate the interest shown by the librarian. The librarian can act as added staff to help with logistics and emergencies during the field trip. The bibliography helps organize the professor's literature on the subject, and helps the professor update information on the subject.

The bibliography has additional benefits for the library, the department, and the University. Links to department web pages embedded in the web bibliography can be used to funnel prospective students to the department, and can facilitate networking of professionals with like interests. The web-based bibliography is a public service resource that can be used World-wide.

A field trip bibliography can also result in improved student handouts. A non-empirical comparison of 25 student handouts from a recent academic field trip with the same number from previous years without the benefit of a librarian-created bibliography indicates some improvement in references for those who used the bibliography. Previously, a number of handouts completely lacked references, and in all but few handouts references were incomplete and style was inconsistent. Subsequent improvement could be due to the availability of complete references in the web-based bibliography, but could also be partially due to changes in requirements by the professor prompted by conversations with the librarian.


Academic field trip courses are common in the sciences, and trips to specific geographic locations are often repeated. While creation of a web-based bibliography can be time consuming, the time saved by not having to find the same information for multiple patrons over a number of years more than compensates. In addition to enhancing reference service, the web-based field trip bibliography has added value as a tool for library instruction, collection development, forming partnerships with teaching faculty, and public relations.


Bichteler, J. 1991. Geologists and gray literature: Access, use, and problems. Science and Technology Libraries 11:39-50.

Brandt, D.S. 1996. Evaluating information on the Internet. Computers in Libraries 16:44-46.

Derksen, C.R.M. 1991. Overlooked sources of information: Geologic field trip guidebooks. Compass 68:100-103.

Geoscience Information Society Union List of Field Trip Guidebooks Committee, eds. 1996. Union list of geologic field grip guidebooks of North America. Alexandria, VA: American Geological Institute.

Wallace, H.E. 1978. Geological field trip guidebooks: Bibliographic problems. Special Libraries 69:291-295.

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