An Explanation of the Criteria For Our Criminology Research Guide

There are already a few criminology research guides that detail some of these resources. In particular, guides created by the libraries of the University of Florida, University of Southern Maine, and the University of Western Ontario are especially helpful. Our criminology research guide, however, is a valuable addition to the conversation for several reasons.

For one, the field of criminology is interdisciplinary and rather complex to define, and this research guide presents a relatively novel scope and focus. The organization of criminology departments varies depending on the university, and it is often included as a subset of criminal justice, or even part of the legal studies department. As a result, many of the accompanying library guides are created with this audience in mind.

The target audience for this guide, on the other hand, is graduate level students in criminology and sociology programs, but also undergraduates and graduates pursuing sociology, psychology, and closely related social science degrees. It is not intended for bachelor or associate’s level criminal justice, social justice, or law enforcement students, although many of them would find some of these resources useful. In addition, research in the sciences, especially biology, also plays a strong role in formulating theories on the causes of criminal behavior, but this is also not emphasized here.

Many existing library research guides make little distinction between criminology and criminal justice, most likely due to the departments those libraries actually serve, and they consequently lump all of these resources together. Although the two areas of study are closely related, there is a significant difference between the two. Criminology as defined in the present guide is a social scientific investigation into the causes of and social responses to crime. Criminal justice, on the other hand, is a study of the policies and structure of the actual criminal justice system, including the police, courts and prisons. This distinction was the primary basis for evaluating the existing library guides and deciding which resources to include, which to omit, and when additional resources were necessary.

Further complicating the situation, even professional criminological organizations and publishers use the terms criminology and criminal justice interchangeably at times. As such, some resources included in this guide have the words “criminal justice” in them (for example, the database Criminal Justice Abstracts) but have been judged to have content valuable for social scientific criminology research, not just for studying the police, court and prison systems.

To return to the discussion of the intended audience of this research guide, it is assumed that the interests of the general public will be weighted towards the criminal justice side. That is, they won’t likely be interested in highly quantitative studies of crime, historical analyses, or theoretical discussions of the factors influencing criminal behavior. On the other hand, many local community members would likely be interested in resources to help them track crime in their own community, or possibly to gain employment in criminal justice or law enforcement.

The present research guide is not ideal to solve these information needs. Depending on the type of university that uses this guide (ie. a public university vs. small private college), there will be differing levels of reference assistance given to the general public. In some cases there might be a criminal justice research guide already created by the university, especially since this is a very popular undergraduate major. If not, then some of the resources in this guide would still be of interest, namely the Criminal Justice Abstracts and Academic Search Premier databases, which will have many articles useful for that area of study. In addition, many of the data sources, such as the Uniform Crime Reports of the FBI, would also likely be helpful. If I were working at a library reference desk, I might also refer the general public to the criminal justice-focused criminology research guides of other institutions, although this has the disadvantage of not being able to access subscription resources. In this case, I might also recommend the Internet Public Library, which has links to many helpful criminal justice resources freely available online. If this guide were to take the form of a web-based resource on the Libguides platform, I might even briefly mention this distinction in a sidebar widget and direct them to an appropriate place (ex. “Looking for criminal justice? Check out these resources!”) All in all, as a reference librarian using this guide I would employ a multifaceted approach to helping out the general public, whose interests conflict with the information needs of the guide’s target audience.

Moving on, for many of the resource categories of this guide, it was difficult to decide what to include, and some tough exclusions had to be made. For one, there were many fascinating and comprehensive encyclopedias about crime and criminals, but works that lacked an emphasis on the social factors and processes that contribute to criminal behavior were excluded.

In order to arrive at the key criminology journals, a few steps were taken. First, the ISI Web of Knowledge Journal Citation Reports were taken into consideration, especially the journal’s impact factor which has been included in some of the entries on the resource guide. This should not be the sole factor to determine importance, however, for both general reasons (ie. the limitations of these statistics in the social sciences) as well as criminology-specific ones. The appropriate category for journals in ISI Web of Knowledge is “Criminology and Penology,” which brought up the same subtle distinctions between criminology and criminal justice previously discussed. Some journals in this category were heavily focused on law, and others were aimed at practitioners in the criminal justice system. These journals were excluded.

One noted criticism of these citation analysis statistics is the lack of coverage of journals outside of the United States which do not have a large international following. A potentially positive factor for using these metrics in criminology is the fact that several non-English titles were included in the ISI Web of Knowledge criminology category, including the Slovenian language Revija za Kriminalistiko in Kriminologijo.

In addition to these statistical factors, effort was made to include the core publication of the most prominent criminology organizations, such as the ASC, as it is reasonable to conclude that they are producing much of the most important research. In addition, including journals from nations outside the United States was made a priority. Some of the existing library research guides focused entirely on United States or British resources, and the present guide is an attempt to begin to bridge this gap. Finally, the journals included are intended to introduce researchers to a wide variety of methodological approaches in criminology, ranging from the highly empirical (Journal of Quantitative Criminology) to the more theoretical (Theoretical Criminology).

Criminology-related blogs were abundant online, but deciding which to include in the research guide was another important decision with several components. First, efforts were made to find blogs that are updated with some regularity and not abandoned for months at a time. Next, some blogs featured interesting coverage of criminology, but had too many unrelated or personal posts to be included in this research guide. Others did focus on criminology, but the majority of their posts were about university events and other topics of primarily local interest. This narrowed the large field down to a few suitable candidates for inclusion.

Overall, it is hoped that researchers will use this guide as a gateway to the various approaches to criminological research. As previously noted, journal titles range from quantitative to theoretical to policy-oriented and they also include both American and European titles. Article databases range from criminology-specific to those centered on sociology and psychology. The reference resources were carefully selected to highlight both contemporary and historical issues and paradigms.

The order in which the categories are presented was also a deliberate decision. Print reference resources are included first in order to serve as a starting point for newer students and those with less experience in the discipline. Faculty or more advanced level researchers can easily skip ahead to the sections more pertinent to them. In general, the research guide flows from the fundamental (first encyclopedias, then subject headings for finding books, then databases for finding articles) to the more advanced (specific journal titles then data sources to analyze for primary research.) Finally, the web resources, featuring online communities and blogs, are included last because they are less academic and more personal in nature, which can be a great complement to peer-reviewed journals and professional encyclopedias.

It is also hoped that users of the guide will use the resources to actively engage with other criminology researchers, perhaps by posting on the Facebook page of Crimspace or subscribing the listserv of Critical Criminology. A student could even make a guest post on one of the community blogs or submit a paper to the Internet Journal of Criminology. In today’s Web 2.0 landscape, pointing patrons to platforms that enable two-way conversation and active participation is a great way to make research more enjoyable and rewarding.

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