or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Reference Question of the Week – 3/11/12

   March 17th, 2012 Brian Herzog

This isn't so much a reference question as it is just me venting about two different reference interactions that ended up having the same answer.

Consumer Reports OnlineSituation 1:

A patron comes up to the desk and asks to see Consumer Reports. In my library, we get two copies of the magazine - one to circulate, and one to keep behind the reference desk (otherwise, it would only circulate in one direction*). Generally this works well. Our circulating versions are usually checked out, so often people using the reference copies just photocopy the article or ratings or whatever they want.

Such was the case with this patron - except, when I suggested photocopying, I also offered the fact that we have online access to Consumer Reports (through EBSCO). The patron got excited about that, so I showed him how to find it and log in from home. By this time we had found the article he was looking for in the reference copy of the issue, but he said instead of photocopy it he would look it up tonight online, as well as spend more time researching the ratings.

But the next day, he called and said he couldn't find in the database the article that he saw in the magazine. I thought it just must have been his searching skills, so I grabbed the issue to get the title, and then searched the database myself - and I couldn't find it either. And then I noticed that none of the articles seemed to be in the database - the ratings and reviews were, but not the magazine articles.

I apologized to the patron, and told him I'd contact the database vendor to see why those were missing from our account. He said he got enough information from the ratings, so that was good, at least. But I emailed EBSCO anyway, and then got a call later in the day from our sales person (new sales person actually, so he was calling to answer my question and to introduce himself).

He said that our experience was correct - the Consumer Reports database we purchased through them was limited (by the publisher Consumer Union, as EBSCO is just the distributor) to the ratings and reviews only. The full magazine is only available for customers of MasterFILE, which has the full text of each issue.

So, that sucked, and was not something I realized when I originally subscribed to the database (which was probably an oversight on my part, even though it might be a natural assumption to think buying the magazine database would give you full access to the magazine).

Meanwhile...

Ancestry.comSituation 2:

The day after I first spoke with the Consumer Reports patron, another patron asked for help with our Ancestry database. She said she was in the library the week prior doing genealogy work, had printed a page of search results, and now she couldn't figure out how to get back to it.

That seemed simple enough - she was in the family tree section, so I helped her drill back into the family tree search for the name she was researching - and nothing. Not only was there no matches for that name, but the family tree screens didn't look like what she had printed out.

When I realized the menus were all different from our library interface, it occurred to me that perhaps she had gone directly to the ancestry.com website, instead of through our subscription database. So I switched to their website, drilled into that family tree search (called Public Member Trees) - and sure enough, we found the page she had seen before.

But when we clicked the name to see more information (which of course is what she wanted), we were prompted to purchase Ancestry. We were both puzzled as to why something behind the website's paywall wasn't available in the subscription the library was already paying for, so I told her I'd contact the vendor to find out.

I emailed ProQuest, who we buy Ancestry Library Edition from, but they wrote back in a few hours saying that since my question was about the Ancestry.com website, I'd have to contact them directly (and provided the contact information). I did, and a few days later I got this reply from them:

Thank you for contacting Ancestry Library Edition support.

Unfortunately, the Ancestry Library Edition does not have access to the Member Trees that a personal account does. While there is a "Family Trees" section of the library edition, it is limited to the databases listed on the following URL:

http://search.ancestrylibrary.com/search/CardCatalog.aspx#ccat=hc%3D25%26dbSort%3D1%26filter%3D0*42%26

The answer to your question is that the databases available to the library edition do not contain a match for the person being searched for when limiting to the "Family Trees" category.

If there is anything else with which we might assist you, please let us know.

Also in looking around the Ancestry.com website, I found this:

About Public Member Trees

This database contains family trees submitted to Ancestry by users who have indicated that their tree can be viewed by all Ancestry members. These trees can change over time as users edit, remove, or otherwise modify the data in their trees. You can contact the owner of the tree to get more information.

Perhaps I can understand that, since the family tree information is uploaded by users, there is some licensing reason it cannot be resold to libraries. At any rate, I informed the patron, and she was disappointed, but okay - in fact, she thought she knew which Ancestry.com member posted that family tree, so she was going to try to contact her directly.

The Resolution

But the bottom line was, in both situations, the library version of the subscription database didn't have the information in it that the patron was looking for - even though it was available through other (not free) sources. And probably in both cases, it was me being a bad librarian for not having known this beforehand, or evaluated the library editions more thoroughly when I signed us up for them.

I'm sorry for concluding such a long post without some great insight or happy ending. It was just a odd coincidence that these two situations happened at the same time, and with the same (unsatisfying) resolution.

 


*By which I mean, get stolen.



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American Physical Society Offers Free Access to Libraries

   August 3rd, 2010 Brian Herzog

American Physical Society logoI thought I'd pass this along in case anyone is interested - The American Physical Society is offering online access to their journals free to public libraries.

I haven't decided if my library will take advantage of the offer, because these journals seem more academic that what our patrons are usually after, and also, it's in-library access only. But on the plus side, it's free, and this is a good direction for publishers to be headed.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

APS ONLINE JOURNALS AVAILABLE FREE IN U.S. PUBLIC LIBRARIES

Ridge, NY, 28 July 2010: The American Physical Society (APS) announces a new public access initiative that will give readers and researchers in public libraries in the United States full use of all online APS journals, from the most recent articles back to the first issue in 1893, a collection including over 400,000 scientific research papers. APS will provide this access at no cost to participating public libraries, as a contribution to public engagement with the ongoing development of scientific understanding.

APS Publisher Joseph Serene observed that "public libraries have long played a central role in our country's intellectual life, and we hope that through this initiative they will become an important avenue for the general public to reach our research journals, which until now have been available only through the subscriptions at research institutions that currently cover the significant costs of peer review and online publication."

Librarians can obtain access by accepting a simple online site license and providing valid IP addresses of public-use computers in their libraries (http://librarians.aps.org/account/public_access_new). The license requires that public library users must be in the library when they read the APS journals or download articles. Initially the program will be offered to U.S. public libraries, but it may include additional countries in the future.

"The Public Library program is entirely consistent with the APS objective to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics," said Gene Sprouse, APS Editor in Chief. "Our goal is to provide access to
everyone who wants and needs our journals and this shift in policy represents the first of several steps the APS is taking towards that goal."

--Contact: Amy Halsted, Special Assistant to the Editor in Chief, halsted@aps.org, 631-591-4232

--About the APS: The American Physical Society is the world's largest professional body of physicists, representing close to 48,000 physicists in academia and industry worldwide. It has offices in Ridge, NY; Washington, DC; and College Park, MD. For more information: www.aps.org.



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Buying Databases Like Used Cars

   June 22nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Image: discounts everywhere, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from cjc4454 photostreamLast week at a meeting of area reference librarians, the topic of research databases came up - which ones we like, which we wish patrons would use more, etc.

One librarian remarked that her favorite database is one of the most expensive, but doesn't get used much so she's considering cutting it. She happened to mention the price they're paying, which got everyone's attention.

That particular database vendor bases their pricing on population. For her town of 32,000, they're paying over $7,000 for that database. My town is exactly the same size, but we pay only $4,400 - and another town, of 25,000, pays over $5,000. What?

Then we started relating other database pricing anecdotes:

  • A sales rep told one librarian a database cost $4,000. When the librarian said she couldn't even come close to that, the sales rep asked, "well, what can you afford?" - she said $1,500, and the rep made the deal for that price
  • One vendor said they don't like losing customers, so when I called to cancel a database, they gave it to me for free provided I kept access to the others I had from them
  • Another vendor gives volume discounts, so when I called to cancel two of the three databases we got from them, he said buying just the one database (without the volume discount) would be more expensive than getting all three

I hate this. Don't get me wrong - I like the database sales reps I work with - I just don't understand the business model behind databases. And the difference between charging a library $4,000 for something instead of $1,500 seems like price gouging.

It's great that reps are able to work with small-budget libraries, but it would be so much easier to have fixed, posted prices, rather than everyone paying different rates (isn't that one of the things that got the health care industry in trouble?).

All the librarians at the meeting agreed to compare notes and prices, so we can try to save money the next time we renew our contracts. I hate to haggle and negotiate for prices, but now I feel like it would be fiscally irresponsible of me not to - and never accept the first quote. Since what we pay is public record anyway, maybe libraries should post their database contracts in a central place, so we can all get better deals.

(And just as a funny aside: while I was looking for a photo to accompany this post, this clever one cracked me up. Ah, sales - it's why I left the business world for librarianship.)



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Geolocation Database Access from MBLC

   June 8th, 2010 Brian Herzog

MBLC logoLast week, my Director gave me a letter she received from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) with good news - the database access they provide through Gale and Proquest now offer geolocation authentication for any computer in Massachusetts.

Good for patrons:

  • Just click a link on the library's website to get into the database - whether the patron is in the library or at home (within Massachusetts), they get right into the database without having to also enter their library card barcode or anything else
  • If they're traveling outside of Massachusetts, they can still access the database using the same link, because they'll be prompted to enter their card number
  • Patrons from other states who are traveling in Massachusetts can access all of our databases without having to be in the library - any internet connection within the state will do

Good for librarians:

  • We just need to put a single link on our website that works for both in-library and at-home access - much easier to manage
  • Each link includes a library identifier, so we still get usage stats on anyone using the links on our website
  • The MBLC provides a list of all the links for each library (ours look like this), so we just need to copy/paste them onto our website and it works

MA libraries have until Oct. 31, 2010 to get the new links posted, because that's when the old links stop working. If you need help, or didn't get a letter like this, contact Marlene Heroux and the MBLC. And libraries outside of MA, contact Gale and Proquest to see how to get this to happen for you, too. They can do it, so ask for it.

Way to go, MBLC!



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Free Access to Ancestry.com’s Military Resources

   November 12th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Ancestry.com logoIn honor of Veterans Day, Ancestry.com is offering free access to all of its US Military resources through Friday, Nov. 13th.

An AP story also says that Ancestry has added some new resources, including

...more than 600 Navy cruise books...[which] include the names and photos of those who served on ships...one book - a 1946 edition for the U.S.S. Pennsylvania - includes a photo of TV legend Johnny Carson.

Great idea, Ancestry - thank you. And if I may suggest another great idea: offer libraries remote access at an affordable price.

via LibraryStuff



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Kindles, Orwell, Libraries, and Ownership

   July 21st, 2009 Brian Herzog

Kindle, burningHopefully by now everyone has read David Pogue's NYT article about Amazon deleting Orwell's books from its customers' Kindles. Even though it's been covered elsewhere, I wanted to throw in my two cents.

First, yes, it was shocking Amazon did this. Not that they could do it, but that, 1) they felt it was necessary, and 2) they just went ahead and did it. @librarythingtim linked to a good explanation of the whys and wherefores.

Hopefully libraries considering adding Kindles to their collections will take note. I'm not against ebooks, but I think too many people equate them physical books - and they are not that.

They are information, and libraries are right to pay attention to them. But customers, obviously, don't own them in the same sense they own a physical book. Ebook vendors have gone out of their way to convince us of this, but DRM technology is simply designed to the contrary.

In the library world, ebooks are more akin to databases than real books. We have access, not ownership. Database contents and interfaces change beyond our control (although usually we're notified first), but we're okay with that, because we understand that. Overdrive downloadable audiobooks are very similar - Overdrive says we "own" the books we buy from them, but if we ended our contract and lost access to their interface (or they went out of business), how useful would those ebooks be?

So I think it's the same with the Kindle. It's a technology not at all designed for libraries anyway, but lots of patrons are asking about it. However, what would library staff say to the patron who brought in their on-loan Kindle to complain that 1984 is just gone?

Or worse, what if down the road Amazon decides it doesn't like libraries loaning Kindles loaded with books, and just shuts down libraries' accounts and deletes their books? It might credit the money to their accounts, but is that only good towards the Kindle Store? And what could the library do with their expensive, empty gadgets?

But I do think libraries need to try to make this work. We just need to recognize that we have very little control in this arena. And then, we can develop policies and procedures around it, or we can work to change it. I vote for change.



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