Monday, April 30, 2012

Books in the library are confusing

An interesting couple of reference transactions came my way last week. It is coming to the end of the term when people get desperate enough to actually start asking questions. (See my post about Research Avoidance Disorder.)

First, an online student was frustrated enough to use LibAnswers twice in the morning then call the library before mid-afternoon. She was almost sure that her student login wasn't working because she had found a book online that she wanted to use, but all she could see was a preview. After looking up the book myself while she was on the phone I discovered the problem. She had been trying to read a book on the shelf here in the library -- not an eBook. This is difficult to do from Pennsylvania when the book is in California. The closest she could get to the full text on her own was to buy the book by clicking on one of the links to Amazon, Books-A-Million, Barnes&Nobel, IndieBound, or directly to the publisher. That is marginally convenient but not at all what she wanted to do!

She clicked "Preview this item" button, which led her to Google Books. There is a lot you can do in a Google Books preview but eventually, you come to a subtle "some pages are omitted from this book preview" message.

It made sense. After all, she was an online student using an online library. The number of eBooks have recently surpassed the number of print books in the Darling Library but I admit that the assumption that a print book found in the catalog was an eBook took me by surprise.

I suggested she might be able to use her local public library's Interlibrary Loan services to get her hands on it. I followed up with an email explaining how she could limit her future searches to eBooks.


That same day, I was walking past the computers set aside for searching the library's catalog on the first floor and noticed a young man seated at a chair that he had pulled up to search for books in the library. He looked uncomfortable reaching up to the waist high counter to use the keyboard so I suggested he might be more comfortable if he pulled the keyboard onto his lap. He proceeded to complain only that searching the catalog was "taking forever."

So, I let him in on a little secret. We put the slowest computers there to discourage people from surfing the internet. We want those to be free for guests to look up a book or two and be on their way. The default home page is the library's catalog, but it is completely web-based -- no special library program or software is installed, just Firefox. The same searches can be done from any computer in the world with a web browser -- the faster, the better.

I asked why he didn't use a computer upstairs in the Information Commons. Ironically, he had left the convenience of a fast iMac workstation in the IC to search for books downstairs because that's where he thought it had to be done.

It made sense. That's the way the first generation OPAC was set up. And after all, these computers are conveniently located downstairs near the circulating books for a reason, right?

I told him that was "old school" and followed him upstairs to where he was still logged in and showed him how to find the library's website. And then I let him in on another well-kept secret -- how to limit a search to books held in the library. (As odd as it may sound, it requires the Advanced Search option. See the instructions, below.)

Last summer, the library's "catalog" was replaced with WorldCat Local which is actually called a "discovery tool." It searches ten databases at once in Google-like fashion, delivering results for libraries worldwide as well as books in our Darling Library. (Our holdings float to the top of the list.) It provides "value added" features such as an Interlibrary Loan request button for print books not held in the our library and convenient Google Books previews. (The Interlibrary Loan button did not present itself to my online student because our library has the book!) To add to the value and confusion, besides books and eBooks, it also finds articles that fit the search query.

This is wonderful for those who are at the beginning of their research -- which, of course, is where most of us start. It is only the librarians who are concerned that it can lead students astray. But as my college student daughter pointed out to me, we cannot hope to address everyone's assumptions. Librarians are just going to have to answer questions sometimes. (Duh!)


More Information:

The computers on the first floor are set by default to "only show me results that don't require authorization" in the Hope International University Library. If you know you want a printed book in the library and don't want to be bothered with all to the articles and eBooks that might fit your search query, here's how you can limit to books at the beginning of your session:

  1. Click on Advanced Search
  2. Click the "Add / Remove Databases" button
  3. De-select "Default Databases" box (all databases)
  4. Select only the "" box
  5. "Save Selections"
  6. Limit to Hope International University (rather than the default Libraries worldwide).

Any questions?

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