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

CIL2007 Wednesday – Federated Searching

   April 19th, 2007 Brian Herzog

The final session in the "tailoring library services to patrons needs, based on patron input" theme was on Federated Searching, led by Frank Cervone (Northwestern Univ.) and Jeff Wisniewski (Univ. of Pittsburg).

They overviewed the various players in the federated search market, which were numerous. Their basic message is that this field is constantly changing, and it is difficult to keep up with all the mergers and acquisitions and name changes; but, that is no reason it not get involved. This is the type of searching our patrons need, so picking one tool and going with it is the best thing for libraries to do.

Current players in this market are:

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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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