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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LCSH: Fallery–Sky

   October 1st, 2009 Brian Herzog

cookery signThis announcement was making the rounds yesterday on Twitter, and it seems to qualify as the-sky-is-falling type news:

The Library of Congress is revising their "Cookery" subject heading [pdf], saying:

The use of the term “cookery” will be discontinued in these categories of headings. The term “cooking” will be used instead in most cases.

The "Cookery" example was always the go-to citation for demonstrating how traditional library institutions were out of date, and how Web 2.0 tagging filled a need by linking together books and information based on the way people actually think and speak.

LibraryThing.com has led the way in much of this innovation and development, showing the old timers better ways to serve library patrons. This Cookery change shows that the powers that be are paying attention. So does Ebsco's release of NoveList Select, which mimics LibraryThing for Libraries' functionality by putting NoveList data right into the library catalog (where our patrons already are), instead of making them go somewhere else for it.

People often refer to these traditional library vendors and institutions as dinosaurs, but they seem to be learning from and closing the gap with the inflatable rhino.



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EBSCO’s Customer Success Center

   August 6th, 2009 Brian Herzog

EBSCO Library Advocacy AwardThis is nice: the Chelmsford Library was recognized by EBSCO Publishing's Customer Success Center with the Library Customer Success Award for Library Advocacy.

Since EBSCO serves so many libraries, they started noting instances where a library did something in a particularly outstanding way, and created a repository of these success stories. They interviewed me earlier in the year for a success story about the Library Use Value Calculator (read more).

Last week we received the award from them (in the mystery box), and our case study was added to their Customer Success Center website (click "View Success Stories for Public Libraries" and Chelmsford's story [pdf] is the first one).

I skimmed the summaries of some of the other case studies, and they are definitely worth reading. I had never heard of this before they contacted me, but now that I know about it, I'm going to see if I can translate successes from other libraries into improved service or practices at my own.

And if you're doing something great at your library that you'd like to share, there is also a form to Submit Your Story. Please do, as well as add it to the Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki, because sharing good ideas between libraries makes us all better.



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EBSCO Taking Blogs Seriously

   August 26th, 2008 Brian Herzog

EBSCOhost logoThis email came in to my work address yesterday from EBSCO:

Dear EBSCO Customer,

Some of you have asked us to consider adding full text blog content to our databases, which would have no impact on the cost of your subscriptions.

Before we move forward with this idea, we would like your opinion. Below is a link to a quick, five-question survey. Your answers will help us to gauge the value of adding this type of content to certain EBSCO databases.

http://support.epnet.com/contact/surveys/index.php?sid=71644&lang=en

Please note that we would only consider using “vetted” blogs, and would provide you with the option of disabling access to blogs.

Thank you for your participation in this survey. We will carefully evaluate all responses, as they represent a very important part of our product development process.

I don't know what criteria will be used in the "vetting" process, but I was very happy to see this initiative.

They aren't saying they are absolutely doing this; they are saying they see an emerging source of potentially reliable information, and are asking us what we think about it.

Imagine - getting our input to help design a product that we will use. Thank you, EBSCO.



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EBSCO Launches Free GreenFILE Database

   April 8th, 2008 Brian Herzog

EBSCOhost logoLast month, EBSCO announced they are making their GreenFILE database freely available at http://www.greeninfoonline.com.

According to the announcement message, GreenFILE indexes scholarly and general interest titles, government documents and reports, concerning the ways humans affect the environment in the areas of agriculture, education, law, health and technology. The database contains nearly 300,000 records, including some full text for selected titles.

I added this database to my library's online resources webpage, but also wanted some more information. I wrote to EBSCO to ask why they are making this available free, and if they have any plans to change this to a subscription database. Here's the response I received:

GreenFILE is a free database we provide in an effort to facilitate research and understanding on matters concerning human impact on the environment. We also offer a free database called Library Information Science & Technology Abstracts which features content that is free on the web but for your convenience we've created a database for it.

Since no login or IP-authentication is required, this is an easy resource on a timely subject to add to a library's website. More information from EBSCO and The Ipswich Chronicle.

Also, for those who don't otherwise use EBSCOhost, this database allows a look at EBSCO's visual search interface.



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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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