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teaching:electronic-access

Electronic Access

Date: Tue 20 Feb 2019

Samples and Healy (2014)

Samples and Healy (2014) provide a nice framework for thinking about issues with electronic access. They include two broad categories, proactive troubleshooting and reactive troubleshooting of access. They include examples of each, where:

  • proactive troubleshooting of access: "defined as troubleshooting access problems before they are identified by a patron". Some examples include:
    • "letting public-facig library staff know about planned database downtime"
    • "doing a complete inventory to make sure that every database paid for is in fact 'turned on'
  • reactive troubleshoot of access: "defined as troubleshooting access issues as problems are identified and reported by a patron". Some examples include:
    • "fixing broken links"
    • "fixing incorrect coverage date ranges in the catalog"
    • "patron education about accessing full text"

The goal here, as suggested by Samples and Healy, is to maximize proactive troubleshooting and to minimize reactive troubleshooting. That is, to prevent the problem from happening in the first place. Samples and Healy's report is a great example of why we call the field library science. The purpose of making librarianship a science was based on a need to not just rigorize the field, but also a need to systematically study the problems of the field and to generalize solutions based on such systematic study. The project they describe does just that. The librarians had identified a problem that had grown "organically," collected and analyzed data, and then generalized it by outlining a "detailed workflow" to "improve the timeliness and accuracy of electronic resource work." Practically, not only does a study like this promise improved productivity and better work flows that help better job and patron satisfaction, but it could also help librarians identify the kinds of software solutions that will align with their workflows and patron information behaviors.

There are a few key quotes in this article. The first one speaks against a common assumption about electronic resources, especially those provided by vendors:

The impression that once a resource is acquired, it is then just 'accessible' belies the actual, shifting nature of electronic resources, where continual changes in URLs, domain names, or incompatible metadata causes articles and ebooks to be available one day, but not the next.

Thus, unlike a printed work in a print-only era that, once cataloged, may be shelved and left there for decades or longer without any problems of access, electronic resources require constant and active attention to maintain their accessibility. Ebooks, for example, can cause metadata problems. Often, what's important about an ebook is the chapters it includes, and thus metadata about the components of an ebook is important, as well as the links to those chapters in the discovery systems. Thus, note the difference between item-level cataloging and title-level cataloging, as Samples and Healy describe, and how confusing and problematic this can be when considering different genres and what those genres contain. Or, note that they discuss how a series of links are involved starting from the source of discovery, e.g., an OPAC, to the retrieved item, and how difficult it might be in determining which of these links, and thus services, is broken when access becomes problematic.

Let me highlight a few key findings from their report:

  • Workflows: why does this keep coming up? It's because workflows help automate a process -- simplify and smooth out what needs to be done, and because this is only possible when things are standardized.
  • Staffing: we'll talk about more in a future forum, but part of the problem here is that ERM has had a major impact on organizational structure, but one where different libraries have responded differently. This lack of organizational standardization has its benefits regarding overall management practices and cultures, but it also has huge drawbacks -- and that's the difficulty in establishing effective, generalized workflows that include key participants, and to minimize as many dependencies on any one person.
  • Tracking: if there's no tracking, there's no way to systematically identify patterns in problems. And if that's not possible, then there's no way to solve those problems proactively. It's just all reactive, and reactive troubleshooting, as Samples and Healy point out, results in poor patron experiences. We'll talk more about tracking when we get to the week on Evaluation and Statistics.

Carter & Traill (2017)

I like the Carter and Traill (2017) article because we often get the line that discovery systems are a great solution to all the disparate discipline based resources that librarians subscribe to in order to search their collections. Or, if we do think about problems with such systems, we often are presented with a basic information retrieval problem, such that the larger the collection to search, the more likely a relevant item will get lost in the mix. But as Carter and Traill point out, these systems also tend to reveal access problems as more patrons are exposed, through the discovery system, that access to particular items might be broken. The authors provide a checklist, as a result of their analysis, that is helpful in tracking issues, and thus, helpful in improving existing workflows.

Buhler and Cataldo (2016)

The Buhler and Cataldo (2016) article provides an important reminder that all the stuff electronic resource librarians do is for the patron, and reminds us that the internet and the web has flattened the genres, making it much more difficult to distinguish among things like magazine articles, news articles, journal articles, encyclopedia articles, ebooks, etc. Even though the Buhler and Cataldo reading is focused on students, other studies have hinted at the same issue they describe across other populations. Also, it's important, if possible, to recognize these issues as ERM librarians and work to resolve them in the ways that you would be able to.

Back to the article -- I am in my early middle aged years, and so I grew up being able to easily tell the difference between an encyclopedia article, a journal article, a magazine article, a chapter in a book, a handbook, an index, a dictionary, etc. because I grew up with them around and because they were tangible things that looked different. Today, a traditional first year college student, however, was born in the year 2000 and grew up reading around the turn of the first decade. The problem this raises is that although electronic resources are electronic or digital, they are still based on genres that originated in the print age, yet they lack the physical characteristics that help distinguish one from the other. E.g., what's the difference between a longer NY Times article (traditionally a newspaper article) and an article in the New Yorker (traditionally a magazine article) today. Aside from some aesthetic differences between the two, they are both web pages, and it's not altogether obvious that we can tell, as regular users, that they're entirely different genres based on any kind of cursory examination. However, there are important informational differences between the two, how they were written, how they were edited, who they were written by, and etc that make them different even today. Even Wikipedia articles pose this problem. Citing an encyclopedia article was never an accepted practice, but this was only true for general encyclopedias. It was generally okay to cite articles from special encyclopedias because they focused on limited subject matters like specific areas of art, music, science, culture, and thus were usually more in-depth in their coverage. Examples include the Encyclopedia of GIS, the Encyclodia of Evolution, The Kenctucky African American Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia of Virtual Art Carving Toraja--Indonesia, and so forth. And nowadays, there are some studies that show that Wikipedia does provide that kind of in-depth coverage of some subject matters, thus helping to flatten the encyclopedia genre.

The flattening holds true for things like Google. The best print analogy for Google is that of an index, which was used to look up keywords that would point to source material. See the links in the discussion post for examples. The main difference between such indexes and Google is that the indexes were often produced to cover specific publications, like a newspaper, or specific areas, like the Social Science Citation Index or the Science Citation Index, both of which are actual, documented, historical precursors to Google and to Google Scholar. But, today, these search engines are considered source material (e.g, "I found it on Google"). Few perhaps would have considered a print index as source material, but rather as a reference item, since it referred users to sources. Now it's all mixed up and who can blame anyone.

Let's talk about all of this on the board.

teaching/electronic-access.txt · Last modified: 2019/02/08 21:03 by seanburns