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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Online Databases at the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, December 28, 2008

Librarian training in the 1970s consisted of reading book reviews, and a lot of evaluating of print materials based on the library where you worked.

 

Yes, there was a computer, but it was locked inside a cage in the basement.

 

There were other types of electronic equipment, most notably some huge keypunch machines that fed data into a mainframe computer.

 

Selection for a library collection consisted of primarily looking at print materials.

 

For the past month, I have been reviewing online databases for the library.

 

I am using those same skills I learned long ago, but the decision-making is different.

 

In the case of contracts for databases, I am committing a lot more money in one contract than any one of those books cost in the 1970s.

 

If I picked a reference book that was not so helpful to the collection, I could choose not to purchase the next edition.

 

If I pick a database that is not so helpful, we are stuck with it for the duration of the contact.

 

Combine local databases with acquired databases through state contracts, and the decision-making process become downright scary.

 

The impact of online resources and the Internet has been felt most directly on our reference collections.

 

Encyclopedias, dictionaries, and those other really big books in a library collection that you can't check out are disappearing from publication.

 

The Gale Cengage Learning Company, one of the nation's largest reference publishers, feels that paper reference books will cease publication within the next decade.

 

It is easier to produce, and easier to update reference publications online.

 

It is also cheaper to produce reference books online.

 

Oops, not it isn't.

 

The cost of preparation of an online publication is about the same as a paper publication, but there is the additional cost of maintaining the online system as operational and accessible to computers around the world.

 

The usefulness of an online database is better than a stagnant paper publication.

 

So, libraries can contract for an online database for a period of time.

 

The population of a library's service area, or the number of library cardholders, or a flat rate can determine the cost if it doesn't have remote access.

 

But, remote access through the library's web page is important as a bonus for having the information online and in a database format.

 

Can't you just find this information on the Internet?

 

Sometimes you can, and sometimes you can't.  We bookmark great web sites of information at the library, only to find that they disappear when the provider doesn't want to continue supporting the site.

 

Gone forever, information vanished.

 

Selecting information in the 21st Century is more about decision-making and all the factors than it is about reading reviews.