A few days ago, I received an e-mail from a graduate student asking for suggestions about “an area in the field of anime & manga that deserves more exploration or doesn’t have enough research at the moment”. Not an uncommon question by any means, especially in the middle of a fall semester – and one I would be glad to answer. But once I started actually considering the question and the possible answers to it, I realized that these answers themselves lead to a whole set of further questions.

What is the usual process for beginning research on an academic topic? The first step is simply to understand the state of the current conversation about this topic – at least in the humanities, the major approaches and theories and readings. That is, this first step involves searching for what other scholars have already written about the topic in question. And at least in principle, the entire intellectual structure of scholarly publishing and formal academic knowledge-sharing has developed and evolved to support this kind of searching. Some of the specific kinds of tools that are available to someone who is beginning the research process in a particular area can include various “research guides” and handbooks, compiled bibliographies, and, ultimately, both multi-disciplinary and subject-specific academic databases that promise the ability search (and often, offer direct access to) thousands of journals, magazines, and other types of publications.

Beginning the research process with a search in a general multidisciplinary database is a basic concept in information literacy and a skill that is commonly taught in basic research methods classes. The appeal of a resource such as EBSCO Academic Search Premier, which covers “more than 4,600 magazines and journals, including full text for nearly 3,900 peer-reviewed titles” is obvious. But – and this is something I as an information professional will never get tired of repeating – there is never such a thing as a perfect information resource. So, yes, it’s easy to respond to a question about an “an area in the field of anime & manga that deserves more exploration” with a recommendation to search for recent articles on anime and manga in a major multidisciplinary academic database. But, what will this kind of search actually find – and what will it miss?

“No one periodical database can guarantee complete coverage of a topic”

Christy Gavin, Teaching Information Literacy: A Conceptual Approach, p. 85

With this in mind, I decided to explore a rather straight-forward question. The major multi-disciplinary databases are imperfect – but how imperfect are they? Or, more specifically, how well do several major multi-disciplinary academic databases cover recent publications in the field of anime and manga studies? A broader version of this question has been asked a number of times in the library and information science literature. Kelly Blessinger and Maureen Olle introduce it in Content analysis of the leading general academic databases, Kathleen Joswick apply the framework to “core journals in psychology“, and Sonia Poulin and Robert Tomaszewski narrow the focus to examine coverage of “gold open access (OA) journals within the field of communication studies in five major commercial bibliographical databases”.

Of course, at this point, my goal is a lot more modest in scope – essentially, a demonstration or a proof-of-concept, though one that can then potentially be expanded. Accordingly, the scale that I use to answer my question is fairly modest too. But, with that in mind, I am able to design a relatively basic preliminary study that will shed some light on this question – and point a way towards studying it in much greater detail.

Purpose: To explore the coverage of English-language peer-reviewed/scholarly journals that have recently published papers on anime and manga in major multidisciplinary academic databases

Scope:

Journals – Anime and manga studies is an inherently inter-disciplinary field, without fixed borders. Determining whether a particular publication “belongs” to it is a subjective decision. With this in mind, the scope of the study encompasses the journals I identified as having published scholarly/peer-reviewed articles on any topic related to anime/manga in 2018: a total of 51 individual journal titles, from Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal to the U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal.

Databases – For this initial/preliminary study, I selected four major multidisciplinary databases. all of which advertise access to a large number of journals in many different areas, fields, and subjects, and are widely available in both academic and public libraries: Academic OneFile, Academic Search Premier, MLA International Bibliography, and ProQuest Research Library.

Methodology:

Each of the four databases I selected currently offers a complete list of journal titles that are actually included in it available for review. However, to avoid the possibility of any mistakes in the title lists, I also specifically searched in each database to confirm whether or not it did in fact include every journal of the 51 in my sample.

Results:

Just under half of the 51 journals that I examined (25 titles – 49%) are included in at least one of the four major multi-disciplinary academic databases. The results for each database are:

Academic OneFile: 13 titles (25.5%)
Academic Search Premier: 12 (23.5%)
MLA International Bibliography: 10 (19.6%)
ProQuest Research Library: 5: (9.8%)

Although the figures for 3 of the databases are fairly similar, this actually does not mean that all of them always cover the same journals: in fact, 13 journals are only covered by one of the three. For that matter, the only journal that appears in all 4 databases is the Journal of Popular Culture (3 cover the Journal of Chemical Education – included in the study because of the paper Presenting safety topics using a graphic novel, manga, to effectively teach chemical safety to students in Japan, Taiwan, and Thailand, MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, and Science Fiction Studies).

Discussion:

The overall results of this basic and preliminary survey are very much in line with those of other database coverage studies that find availability ranging widely between different subject areas and different databases. What this means, then, is that relying on only one of them is only going to return an incomplete portion of all potentially available and relevant results. And even using more than one is not likely going to deliver comprehensive coverage – for example, none of the four major databases include Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal, the Journal of Fandom Studies, or the International Journal of Comic Art. Locating articles that appeared in those journals will require expanding the research process and using additional databases, consulting with subject expert scholars and librarians, and, potentially, using other research tools such as Google Scholar – with their own strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, the results also imply that a paper that appears in something like the Journal of Popular Culture will most likely reach a very broad audience – so if an author’s goal is specifically to place their paper on Japanese animation and Japanese comics in a position where it can be noticed by the largest number of potential readers, that is the journal that they should strive to place their paper in. 

Limitations and further steps:

As I’ve mentioned several times already, this is a essentially a demonstration, or the first step in a larger project. The next step would be to expand the scope of the analysis significantly, both chronologically beyond just 2018, and in terms of the databases it covers. If nothing else, the 51 journals that I analyze are only a sample of the “universe” of English-language scholarly journals that publish scholarly articles on anime/manga, and it’s just so happened that relatively few of the journals that I have identified as being “core” to the field (such as Asian Studies Review, Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema, Japan Forum, and Transformative Works and Cultures actually published any relevant articles last year). Likewise, beyond the four multi-disciplinary databases, it would be useful to also analyze a selection of subject-specific ones, such as Bibliography of Asian Studies, Film and Television Literature Index, and Performing Arts Periodicals Database.

So, at this point, I’d like to think that even as a purely intellectual exercise, this study already has some value. Of course, if you have any questions about my methodology or goals, please let me know. And hopefully, before too long, I will be able to use what I have done so far, and expand it into a “proper” research project that can then itself be published as a contribution to both anime and manga studies and library/information science.  

 

 

 

 

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