A couple of weeks ago I had an unusual request. A librarian wanted to use one of my Libguide pages as an example of citing sources in research guides. It seems the dean of the library or someone had expressed concern that the librarians weren’t paying enough attention to plagiarism within Libguides and wanted a presentation to raise consciousness.
I have to say, it’s not a subject I usually think about. As far as I can tell, librarians have always had a culture of sharing about research guides. It’s not like we’re doing original research here. There are only so many ways to describe the research process or annotate a database. And though we seem to have become the citation police, librarians aren’t the plagiarism police, at least not on my campus. There are other academic units for that. While I’ve tried to assign credit when I blatantly copy or adapt something, I’ve given permission to everyone who’s wanted to use some of my Libguide material to do whatever they like with it, and I’ve never bothered to check whether people were citing or linking back to me. Now that I’m thinking about it, I wish Libguides could be published with some sort of Creative Commons license.
Eventually, I tried to find some examples of plagiarism in Libguides to see if this was widespread. It wasn’t hard. All I had to do was search Google for PLAGIARISM LIBGUIDES. The first guide that came up was this one with a page on avoiding plagiarism. That one has a section beginning, “Each day we take ideas from others without acknowledging the original source.” That’s probably true. In this case, there’s also a sidebar with a warning that begins, “Changing the words of an original source is not sufficient to prevent plagiarism.” That’s an unattributed warning, I might add, although based on the 73 results that come up in Google for that phrase, the source seems to be a document from Turnitin. Ooops.
And we get some interesting results if we search for the phrase “Each day we take ideas from others without acknowledging the original source.” That phrase, along with an entire section explaining plagiarism, shows up on at least three other Libguides, none attributed. Looking at the four, it’s impossible to tell who was first, or if all four are plagiarizing some third document.
So, plagiarism in Libguides definitely happens, and it’s ironically amusing that guides are plagiarizing each other to warn about plagiarism. Should we worry about it or try to do anything about it? I’m thinking probably not. While it might bother me to have an article or blog post blatantly plagiarized, I just don’t have the strong feelings about library research guides. Unlike with other types of writing, with research guides we’re all in this together, and using stuff that works for research guides helps everyone. It’s important for scholars to attribute ideas and phrasing for their sources so they don’t pass someone else’s ideas off as their own. But with library research guides, there just aren’t that many original ideas. The Libguides platform itself is built on the assumption that we want to easily borrow stuff from other guides, especially within our own institution. But perhaps I’m missing something and this is somehow a big deal.