We write in response to Alison Tierney's Editorial in the August 2003 issue of JAN (43, 325–326). The ‘scoop’ on the nursing shortage is indeed an elusive target, as we have discovered in our own attempt to conduct a systematic, ongoing exploration for information about the topic on the Web. What began a simple literature search in preparation for a grant application became an obsession that has resulted in our compilation of an on-line, searchable, easily accessed and free database of citations and annotations – the Nursing Workforce Digest (http://www.nursingshortagedigest.com). The principle objective of the Digest now is to provide an efficient means for decision-makers and others to stay current in the area.
The range of disciplines and enterprises with interest in the nursing shortage is exceptionally broad. Economics, political science, social science, labor science, and education are among the many fields that have weighed in on the shortage. We found, however, that while ‘‘nursing shortage’’ is a reliable search term for some nursing journals and a few web-sites, it is not consistently used by other disciplines. Even a savvy and determined information-seeker can spend many hours in the hunt without coming across other exceptional resources. Our search process, consequently, casts a wide net.
The range and type of information sources is similarly broad. While peer-reviewed journals (print or web-based) are the references most academics first explore, other sources – government reports, press releases, law reviews, the popular media, and even some advertising – provide a surprisingly rich and often more timely array of information. Again, we look beyond the usual types of material in our search process.
As most of us have learned by now, there is both too much and too little information on the Web. A Web search is just the beginning. One must sort out the repetitive; identify the new and singular; identify those resources with greatest interest; screen out the clearly commercial or dubious; and then track down print copies of information in many cases. An individual needs many hours and robust access to reference resources to conduct a successful search.
The Digest addresses these issues by conducting an up-front, ‘‘wide-net’’ search, distilling the resources found, annotating some of the resources, and categorizing all information in a way that allows the user to customize their search by a combination of broad categories, special interest areas, and geographic focus as well as by title, author, and date of publication. It is intended to provide the user with the tools to navigate efficiently the vast and growing amount of information on the nursing shortage and, ultimately, to contribute to resolution of the shortage itself.
Although all that is needed is an Internet connection and a common browser to use the Digest, there are limitations to the site. First, it is a Web site. Is it reasonable to address the problem of ‘‘too much information on the Web’’ with yet another site? We believe so, because it is still the best platform to share information with a broad audience regardless of resources or geographic location.
Second, we are able to annotate fully only a small portion of the information we choose to post. Our annotations, which are intended to offer a deeper look at the information in our own words (but without introducing our subjective opinions) are very time- consuming to produce. We continue to look for more efficient ways to spotlight ‘the pearls’ among the many sources and types of information.
Finally, we feel this work-in-progress needs improved searchability, greater interactivity, and a friendlier layout. We anticipate ongoing adjustments and amendments to the site.
We invite you and your readers to visit the Nursing Shortage Digest web site (http://www.nursingshortagedigest.com). We hope that you will find the site useful, and will consider participating by providing feedback or by contributing in some other way to this project.