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Social Work: Companion Document to the ACRL Framework: 6. Searching as Strategic Exploration

Created by the ACRL/EBSS Social Work Committee, 2020

Social Work Perspective

Social Work Practice

Evidence-based practice necessitates that social workers know how to locate relevant research in an efficient manner that accounts for quality and currency of scholarship, including relevance to their clients. This requires searching strategically for literature while anticipating new information and learning opportunities. As the bulk of scholarly literature for social work exists behind a paywall, it is imperative that practitioners know how to search for and retrieve open access sources.  

Social workers understand and articulate the value of open access. They are empowered to seek avenues beyond restricted resources, such as obtaining access through public and university libraries. They seek assistance to identify access points for themselves and their clients. Where sources are limited, social workers advocate for themselves and on behalf of others to improve access to information and to acquire the skills to understand, interpret, and discern information to make informed decisions. Depending on the practical context and scope of their organization's or client's needs, social workers select from a variety of search strategies with which they are proficient. 

Because social workers see themselves as "partners in the helping process” they persistently guide clients in pursuit of their information needs; actively listening to help identify questions, developing strategies for searching across multiple resources, and empowering clients to explore information sources for themselves.

Social Work Education

Social work librarians instruct students how to locate and utilize open-access sources beyond traditional, subscription-based databases (Pendell, 2018) such as websites, government documents, policy briefs, statistics, and academic journals. They teach students to recognize that, depending on one’s research needs, “information sources vary greatly in content and format and have varying relevance and value.” 

By encouraging students to “seek guidance from experts, such as librarians, researchers, and professionals” as part of their strategic search strategy, social work librarians help students understand that “first attempts at searching do not always produce adequate results” and to think with “flexibility and creativity” while browsing sources and brainstorming how to craft and refine research questions. In addition, social work librarians help students to “identify interested parties, such as scholars, organizations, governments, and industries, who might produce information about a topic and then determine how to access that information.”

Connection to Professional Standards (NASW)

National Association of Social Workers: Code of Ethics

Value: Social Justice 

  • “Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. Social workers' social change efforts are focused primarily on issues of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. These activities seek to promote sensitivity to and knowledge about oppression and cultural and ethnic diversity. Social workers strive to ensure access to needed information, services, and resources; equality of opportunity; and meaningful participation in decision making for all people.”

Examples of Learning Objectives and Activities

1. Learning Objective: Utilize virtual reference service to access social work librarian

  • Activity: Seek assistance through the virtual chat service to access one open access journal article and one resource through interlibrary loan.

2. Learning Objective: Evaluate alternative information sources 

  • Activity 1: Sketch a research question through a brainstorming activity while identifying alternate language or keywords in the process.
  • Activity 2: Have students pair off with one another to “mind map” or brainstorm their research topics. Students can help each other tease out (divergent thinking) their research question. Using a tool similar to the PICO format, have students ask one another about the population or geographic areas in question, what interventions may already be employed to address their topic, what sort of comparisons or outcomes are you looking for? After working together, have them each spend a half hour searching for resources on their topics, and adding or modifying their mind maps. Have them note on their maps which keywords or controlled vocabulary they find in their search that could better help them to craft “search strategies to the appropriate search tools” (databases).