Profound changes in the tools that facilitate discovery of and access to information have changed the role of the academic library in providing resources for research, learning and teaching. Students and faculty at Grinnell College continue to make extensive use of information resources in the course of their work, but they no longer look to the library and its research tools as the sole means of discovering or acquiring access to those resources.
The Key Challenge
The Grinnell College Libraries must take information resources to our users with tools that can be readily used within their existing Web-based work flow. We provide a wealth of tools for discovering needed information—such as the library catalog and indexes to disciplinary literature—but these tools are often perceived as difficult and time-consuming to use. The complexity and features of library searches are intimidating to some users, and Google's “one box” approach to searching is often preferred. A 2006 study showed that 89 percent of college students started their research with an Internet search (Cathy De Rosa, College Students’ Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources: A Report to the OCLC Membership, A companion piece to perceptions of libraries and information resources, Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc., 2006. Available online at http://www.oclc.org/reports/perceptionscollege.htm [Accessed January 15, 2009]). Most people have a preferred Web page from which they start their research, and for most people this is Google, Wikipedia, or Amazon since those sites can be reached through the search box on their Web browser.
However, there is often no clear connection between citations discovered using these general Web tools and the Libraries’ collections. A student who discovers a book using Google would assume she has to leave Google, open the library homepage, find the library catalog, and then search the catalog to determine whether or not we have it. This creates a gap between the initial discovery (the citation) and access to the content — a gap most users are increasingly impatient with, and (more importantly) one that diverts a user's attention from scholarly evaluation of the work to the mechanical processes required to find the work. With the right Web-integrated tools, however, this student could instead search for the title in our catalog from the Google results page and then browse its Google Books preview in our catalog before deciding whether or not to walk to the library to get it. The Libraries need to find ways to make that potential linkage clear and to support users in their preferred information environment whenever possible.
Google Scholar is an example of the type of freely available discovery tool with which the Libraries' catalog and databases are being compared, and one that our users are increasingly interested in using. Google Scholar searches the Web for pages that appear to be scholarly material, and it often returns some of the same citations that our subscription databases would. The results are often very extensive, and results for many different disciplines are returned together. This is not the best approach for scholarly research or for undergraduates in a specific class using unsophisticated searching techniques, but the appeal of its simplicity is clear. Google Scholar does give libraries the option of indicating which resources in the results list are also available in the library collection, so users can quickly click from the results page to a catalog page or subscription article. The Grinnell College Libraries have arranged for our resources to be identified in this way for our patrons.
An example of a Web-integrated tool created by libraries is LibX, which the Grinnell College Libraries have implemented. This browser extension (http://libx.org/editions/download.php?edition=7866E019) allows users to search the library catalog, WorldCat, Journal Finder, and other catalogs right from the toolbar; drag and drop article citations onto the toolbar to locate a full-text copy automatically; or go from a book’s page on Amazon.com to searching the library catalog for that book with just one click. More tools like this are being created by libraries and offered by the commercial services that libraries use. The Grinnell College Libraries must make finding and adapting these tools a priority in order to meet our users’ emerging preferences.
The ability to discover a wide variety of scholarly resources using library databases or tools on the open Web also has implications for the library’s provision of access to materials. The content being accessed may be available on campus in the form of print or digital materials, or, increasingly, it may be accessed from remote locations. Users are discovering a wider range of materials more quickly, which increases their expectations of how quickly the library can then make those materials available to them. A student or faculty member who discovers a citation to an electronic version of an article from a journal to which we do not subscribe may see a “Buy Now” button on the page and question why they must make an Interlibrary Loan request and wait a week for something that could be had instantly. Improving our Interlibrary Loan services and examining our collection practices to determine whether or not expanded article-on-demand services are warranted will be crucial to providing the speed and breadth of access that our users want.
Finally, a "seamless" information environment—one in which search processes are simplified and the steps required to move from citation to document are mediated by machines—creates the risk that research processes will become superficial and that student learning will be compromised. In such an environment, "critical information literacy" becomes all the more important: students must develop a critical understanding of the methods, norms, and significance of inquiry, and the ability to evaluate an information source for its credibility and relevance to a project. We address our goals for information literacy at Grinnell College in section 1 of this self study.
Meeting the Challenge: What We Can Do
A. Designate a librarian or staff member as responsible for actively monitoring and implementing technological developments that will benefit our user in a systematic way.
LibX is just the beginning of what is possible in terms of Web-integrated library research tools. We also might create and make Web tools readily available that allow users to integrate all, or parts of, the library Web site into personal pages and PioneerWeb (the campus course management system). This could make it as simple for people to search via the library as it is to do a Google search. The first step in developing and enhancing Web tools is knowing what can be done. If we had a designated person who could keep track of features that are being added to services we already use and tools that are being developed by other libraries, we would be able to evaluate the usefulness of these services and tools to the Grinnell community and to adopt them as needed.
B. Promote the Libraries' Web tools more effectively to our community and educate users about the range of tools available to them.
C. Implement new Interlibrary Loan software and services that will benefit both library staff and users.
Interlibrary Loan (ILL) is our chief way of extending our collections beyond what we can purchase. One of the areas that both faculty and students who completed the 2007 LibQUAL survey identified as both very important to them and in need of improvement was the speed of Interlibrary Loan delivery.
Among the changes we have identified:
1. Move to a different ILL software platform (probably ILLiad). Compared to our current platform, ILLiad has software capabilities that would both offer services requested by our users (e.g., status tracking for individual ILL requests) and probably increase efficiency for library staff (e.g., automated printing of bookstraps, automated generation of statistics).
2. Introduce Web pick-up of Interlibrary Loan articles for patrons. During the spring of 2009, we plan to shift from our current practice of printing and mailing paper copies of articles to putting an electronic copy on a password-protected Web site for users to retrieve for themselves. This will speed delivery, make items available to people at remote locations, and, perhaps, reduce printing (and thereby our carbon footprint).
3. Join a RapidILL group. RAPID is a consortium of libraries, founded by Colorado State University, that uses a combination of technology and service commitment to improve interlibrary borrowing and lending within the consortium. Most participating libraries find that RAPID improves delivery speed significantly and improves local efficiency. However, participation in RAPID requires making a commitment to fast responses to requests coming from other libraries, and this will require some changes in our current work flows.
D . Keep current with developments in “next generation catalogs” and be ready to change if and when the time is right.
A “next generation” library catalog may offer a more systematic approach to simplifying the discovery of library resources. Currently, from the library Web site there are separate links to the library catalog, the list of databases, the Journal Finder, etc. “Next generation” integrated library systems are intended to unify and simplify the discovery process for library users. Typically, they integrate search results from several databases and present those results in groupings intended to help users refine their searches or identify relevant materials more readily. Next-generation catalogs also often incorporate Web 2.0 features such as user-contributed tagging and automated recommendation services à la Amazon (“people who borrowed this also borrowed that”).
The current “next generation” catalogs are works in progress. The Open Library Environment (OLE), a Mellon-funded initiative (http://oleproject.org/), is an attempt to create a design for the future with input from a wide variety of libraries. There are several other open-source initiatives, as well as commercial solutions.
WorldCat Local is an alternative direction that we are exploring. WorldCat Local is a different model from the traditional library catalog: it searches the wider world of library collections and article databases together, rather than just searching just those books, journals, and databases that we own or to which we subscribe. WorldCat Local thus requires a strong resource-sharing program to facilitate retrieval by the library of materials to which it might not have ready access (http://www.oclc.org/worldcatlocal/default.htm). Libraries that have used WorldCat Local as their primary information discovery system include Macalester College (http://www.macalester.edu/library/) and the University of Washington (http://www.lib.washington.edu/).
Strengths To Build On
A. We have a strong foundation of modern information tools that link the catalog, full-text databases, and ILL request forms.
A "Journal Finder" available on the Libraries' home page provides title access to all electronic and print titles held by the Libraries — a "one-stop shopping" utility for journals. We have also implemented article-linking between our electronic citation indexes and our electronic journals. When the article-linker cannot discover a print or electronic version among our holdings, it generates a link to an interlibrary borrowing form and pre-populates the form with the citation data. As we note above, we have also adopted the LibX browser extension, which we promote through our Web site. However, it is not currently distributed as part of the College's standard computer image, so it is not available on all campus computers.
In addition, the Libraries have a tab on the local instance of Blackboard (which the College calls PioneerWeb) which provides access to the Libraries' home page and many of the Libraries' services.
A fuller overview of the Libraries' discovery and access services is in Appendix 9.
B. We have recently introduced a "new-generation" federated searching tool, Research Pro.
The Grinnell College Libraries introduced a federated searching tool, Research Pro, at the beginning of the spring 2009 semester. Federated searching tools such as Research Pro make the early stages of research more efficient by allowing library users to search multiple databases and library catalogs at once. However, Research Pro is not a panacea: we still need to provide guidance to our users on how to use this tool their best advantage, and not all of our subscription databases will be searchable through Research Pro.
C. We have made improvements in Interlibrary Services. Comments from respondents to the 2007 LibQUAL survey confirmed that ILL is a popular service on which many students and faculty rely; it also revealed that our users want it to be faster.
Since receiving the results from LibQUAL the Libraries have made some changes in the way that we fulfill ILL requests. For recently published books that fall within our collecting parameters and cost less than $100 we now purchase the book and have it delivered overnight. The item is added to the collection after it is returned. Requesters generally receive the book in two to three days, which is faster than most traditional ILL transactions for books.
Moreover, the Libraries' 2007-2008 ILL statistics show an increase over the previous year in both borrowing for our users (15.4%) and lending to other libraries (8.3%). However, lending to other libraries has for many years lagged borrowing, and we are committed to improving the proportion of ILL borrowing and lending to be good citizens in the world of resource sharing.
(See Appendix 10 for a comparison of net borrowers and net lenders among our peers.)
As we note in Section 3, Collections and Collection Development, we have also recently introduced a "pay-per-view" service for articles in journals published by Elsevier. This gives requesters faster access than traditional ILL: faculty have immediate, unmediated access to the Elsevier ScienceDirect collection, and library staff retrieve articles for students within 24 hours. This service also diverts Elsevier articles from the ILL workflow, allowing ILL staff to focus on other requests.
Weaknesses and Constraints to Overcome
A. Prioritizing and allocating resources for projects to improve discovery and access
When things are working “well enough,” it can be hard to gather the energy and resources to make major, expensive changes. The library catalog works for those who have the skill and motivation to use it. Interlibrary Loan also works “well enough” for people who plan ahead. Getting beyond adequacy in these areas requires understanding what additional needs are going unmet and dedicating ourselves to meeting them. Until these unmet needs are perceived as urgent, it will be hard to mobilize the technological, budgetary, and human resources necessary to do so. There are enhancements that we can make to the current systems, and each enhancement requires identification, planning, testing, and implementation. It will also likely require specialized training; our staff are library-oriented rather than technical specialists, and many improvements require some specific technical expertise.
B. Lack of understanding of our users’ work patterns and lack of data about Library operations
Much of the change we describe in this self-study revolves around a decision to meet our users where they are, but first, we must know where that is. Users are less concerned about having numerous tools at their fingertips than having a few that they know how to use and find reliably helpful. For example, most students use the same databases for everything once they come to the library Web site; they only go beyond Academic Search Premier and JSTOR when led by a librarian or a professor. Also, many students prefer to access library resources directly from PioneerWeb. One example of creating tools to fit our user’s patterns would be making subject specific research guides that populate the library resources tab in PioneerWeb based on a student’s course enrollment. This could improve academic work and decrease frustration, but it would require knowing more about our users’ work habits.
In addition, we have incomplete transaction and performance data about use of the Libraries' electronic services. We have recently started using Google Analytics to track use of our Web site and catalog, and we have one full year and one partial year of download and search statistics for licensed databases.
C. Providing access to dispersed collections
Library collections are dispersed across five facilities (Burling Library, Kistle Science Library, the AV Center, the Curriculum Libraries, and Offsite Storage). Multiple collection locations are both strengths and weaknesses for users depending on where you are standing when you want an item, your time constraints, and the weather. For the Libraries, staffing and maintaining multiple facilities, as well as paging materials from and returning materials to remote locations, are also issues.
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