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




Free Online Historical Newspapers

   January 10th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Access NewspaperARCHIVE logoA few months ago I got an email about a website called Access NewspaperARCHIVE, saying that libraries could signup for free access to historical newspapers, dating back to the 1700s.

Sweet. I'm always looking for good primary source resources, especially online ones (and especially-especially free ones), so I thought I'd check this out. The signup process was a bit odd, having to download and then fax in their signup form [pdf, 418 kb]. I didn't hear anything back from them for months, so one day I just tried their url again (from within the library) and it IP-authenticated me.

So, I took that as us being signed up, and I started playing. The database is neat, as all the newspapers in there are saved as PDF files (see the 7/29/1895 Sandusky Register). And some are older than I could find in our other available resources, so those are two great things in its favor. However, I did see some drawbacks:

  • In-Library use only. And right on the authenticated homepage (the one patrons would see by logging in at the library) is a link to "Sign up for a home account." Which isn't expensive, but it's not free. It's just a little bit underhanded to give libraries a free account and then use that as a vehicle to sell to our patrons. So, I bypass this page and go right to the Browse page
  • No keyword searching. You can only browse by location, date, or newspaper title. Which will be fine for the "what happened on my birthday" questions, or if you were just looking up anything old in your area, but eliminates searching for a topic. And, the browse tool and the results listing are kind of clunky
  • No Massachusetts Newspapers. Which is a pain, since I mainly serve Massachusetts patrons. So, I guess no local historical information for me
  • Front pages only? For the papers I viewed, it wasn't the entire paper but just the front page. That's a pain
  • Not high-quality scans. The newspapers are legible, both on screen and printed, but they are just a little bit too bitmapped. And they are images, rather than text-based, which means no copy/pasting

So, my overall verdict is this: it's an amazing resource for primary source newspapers, and it's free, so it's better than nothing. There are some drawbacks, but I am rarely completely satisfied anyway.

Something else I did like was they had a "Questions? Ask a Librarian" link. This is an email link to whatever email address you supplied on the signup form. Which is good, since my patrons using this will be able to write to me, instead of this company.

Anyway, this is available, so I'm going to give it a try. If anyone has experience with this company or database, please comment below and let us know what you think. Thanks.

access, database, databases, historic, historical, libraries, library, newspaper, newspaperarchive, newspapers, primary, public, source, sources



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Databases Stats and WebFeat Express Trial

   April 3rd, 2007 Brian Herzog

I don't really like being a repeater for products and advertising, unless I think they are helpful. I've never used WebFeat before, but from what I know about it, I would love to.

I recently received a marketing email from them, offering a free trial, with a pitch that caught my eye:

...The WebFeat Express 2.0 trial isn’t just a canned demo – you’ll be able to...add your own databases and subject categories...

This is of particular interest to me now. My consortium's reference committee met last week, and we were told that the directors are looking to cut our database budget. The consortium itself only pays for three databases (NoveList and History Reference Center [HRC], both from ebsco, and Overdrive), and want to do away with one of them.

These are three very different resources, so this alarmed me. So, too, did the way they were being compared to each other. We were given a sheet with the cost for each database, the number of sessions for the Ebsco databases, and the number of audiobooks downloaded in Overdrive. They then divided the usage by the cost, to come up with a per usage dollar figure, and suggested cutting the most expensive one.

The figures came out like this:

Database Total Usage Cost Per Use
HRC 3776 $6.28/session
NoveList 3697 $4.69/session
Overdrive 4342 $4.38/checkout

Now, there's all kinds of extra information that goes along with this breakdown. But, based on this comparison, it seems like HRC is the most expensive, so we should get rid of it.

My issue with it, though, is that a session is not the same as a checkout. In the ebsco databases, patrons will access the database (a session), search for their keywords (searches), and then read articles (end product). In Overdrive, patrons will access the catalog (a session), search for audiobooks (searches), and then checkout something (end product).

See that subtle difference? In the comparison above, they are looking at sessions in HRC and NoveList, but the end product in Overdrive - the proverbial apples to oranges comparison. To meaningfully compare these three, I think you have to look at sessions across the board, or searches across the board, or end product across the board.

So, they should compare the audiobook downloads in overdrive to the number of articles viewed in the other two - which I think would significantly bring down that cost per use number. This is my statistics rant. Having an undergrad degree in Market Research, I am sensitive to such things.

But back to WebFeat: regardless of the cost per use breakdowns, I think the real problem is that we generally do a poor job of promoting our databases. Most patrons don't know what "database" means, nor when to use one. And our websites don't help much. This trial lets us see what searching with WebFeat would be like, with the databases we currently subscribe to.

Which is why a product like WebFeat (and SchoolRooms) is great - it incorporates all of these resources into a patron's information search without the patron even realizing it. It gives the patron access to information from resources they didn't know existed, without them having to go out of their way to find it. In the future, I hope library ILS are all designed this way - a single, unified information search.

That should be our bottom line goal, not just bringing down cost per use figures or inflating our database statistics.

database, databases, ebsco, history reference center, libraries, library, novelist, overdrive, public libraries, public library, webfeat, webfeat express, webfeat express trial



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