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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.

Reference Databases in the Library Collection

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, September 20, 2015


I still look at my set of 1964 Compton’s Encyclopedias with awe.  My parents sacrificed to be sure we had a brand new set of encyclopedias for schoolwork.


They continued to purchase the Compton’s Yearbooks each and every year into the 1970s to be sure the set was up-to-date and ready-to-use.


Unfortunately, it was years later in Library School that I found out how useless those Yearbooks were to a set of encyclopedias.


Today, some students probably don’t even know what an encyclopedia is or was, unless they use the online version that comes with some computer software programs.


Actually those online encyclopedias have a strong advantage over their hardbound paper grandparents --- the online version has what librarians call, “continuous revision” meaning that as new information becomes available the software is updated.


In the old days, an encyclopedia had to wait for the “next printing” to be updated.


Libraries still contain books, and people check out a lot of books these days with the availability of online catalogs of books contained in other libraries that can be borrowed.


When I came to our Library System in 1983, if you went to one of our libraries you could select from the books on the shelves or listed in the card catalog – or you could ask the librarian to “fill out a request” which triggered a complex system of multiple-copies of paper that eventually went someplace and your books would arrive at the library in 4 to 6 weeks – if you were lucky.


Today, our local database catalog has 7.5 million items in 92 Library Districts that can be requested with a click of the mouse.  A second layer of materials are in the Worldcat system and can be obtained from libraries across the nation.


Libraries used to point with pride to their Reference Collections, a stately collection of large books, often with multiple volumes that could answer any question you could imagine.


Today, many libraries still have those collections, but many of the volumes ended publication a decade ago as information resources switched to online databases with the advantage of the “continuous revision” that I mentioned earlier.


Today, all you have to do is look at our “other Branch Library” called a Website, and click on e-Resources to see the lengthy list of databases that can be accessed free-of-charge with only your library card.


Start with journals and magazines online, either for academic and professional journals in EBSCOhost or popular magazines found in Flipster.


The School Resource Center has divisions for younger students, or secondary level searching for high school students.


The youngest students today can look at Kids Search or “Searchasaurus” to help divide information into sections appropriate for their age.


Business searching is separated for small business owners, and for people interested in business careers.


Remember those greasy auto repair manuals at the library?  They have been replaced with the Auto Repair Reference Center.


Consumer Reports are now kept up-to-date with their own online file.


Books are recommended on a variety of Novelist sites for different age groups.  Literature searches and reviews are retained in the Literature Resource Center and Contemporary Authors that formerly filled 10 shelves in the Reference Room.


Our Library System has Rosetta Stone Library Edition, an online database for language training in a formal setting.


We also subscribe to and Heritage Quest for genealogy searches, although those must be use in-house at one of our libraries.  The same is true for Newspaper Archive.


These are only a few of the online resources available with your library card.  If you don’t have a computer, our system has 135 public computers in our 7 library locations.  Bring your laptop or computer device and use the WiFi at one of our libraries, much of our system is on Fiber Optic.


One day, someone commented that the “library didn’t seem too busy.”  I told him that in that perspective, he was correct.  People don’t “browse” in a library anymore; that is all done online.


Then I told him that over 300 items arrived in the daily delivery to fill the requests of just one building and a total of 1,200 items were checked out.  The red lights on the router were showing 25 people in the building accessing the system, and the fiber optic line to Columbus was showing 70 percent capacity.


Keep your head down, or you might get hit with a byte.