InfoLitLibrarian recently announced the development of a new undergraduate research custom search engine (CSE) for her students and is asking for contributions. In my response to her I explained that I had set up several CSEs for my students and staff and explained that they were much more specific than hers. I think it would be a huge task to come up with general research CSE since it would have to cover everything in the universe (like a library!). I much prefer the approach I have taken with CSEs linked to specific searches.
She also states in her post that she specifically excluded Wikipedia from her CSE. In most cases I haven't done that because I'm a Wikipedia user and advocate and believe, at least on the secondary level, that it is, like any other encyclopedia, a starting place for research.
I recently read a couple classes worth of papers written by tenth graders in response to their reading 1984 by Orwell. Their task in the paper was to find similarities between the themes of the novel and current events. Topics they chose to write about: the PATRIOT ACT, the uses of propaganda, torture, the right to privacy, etc. were fairly obvious but some really ran with the project and produced original and interesting papers. One thing I was impressed by was the references which they used. Although many did use Wikipedia, they also had many other references to articles from the libraries subscription databases, as well as things they had found on other online sites. Most included at least a book or two! I think kids do get the notion, if we tell them, that such tools as Wikipedia are useful in certain ways but not in others. Even at the college level, I have to ask: Is it right to encourage kids to "lie" about their use of "forbidden" resources like encyclopedias, Wiki or other? I'd much rather know a student is finding information someplace and posting it in their list of "Works Consulted" than the intellectual dishonesty exhibited when teachers and professors forbid students to even consult such tools.
If anybody else out there is developing CSEs I'd love to start setting up a little index to them so we are not, once again, having to "re-invent the wheel."
BTW, I just found a CSE directory which I will explore and report on later.