Trends in Reference

From more intuitive searching to digital circulation of formerly print-only reference materials and to more materials on marginalized populations, trends in reference reflect library users’ changing needs and expectations.

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From more intuitive searching to digital circulation of formerly print-only reference materials and to more materials on marginalized populations, trends in reference reflect library users’ changing needs and expectations.

Publishers and librarians are acutely aware that patrons want libraries to provide a simplified search interface online. Rob Tench, head of resource fulfillment at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, notes, “Many patrons want a database to be searchable like Google—they want to be able to enter a basic term and have excellent and immediate results.” Paul Gazzolo, senior vice president and general manager at Gale, stresses that “the opportunity is reaching prospective patrons who currently use Web search engines as a sole source of academic research.” Gale has made content on its platforms easier to find. “Through our Google Scholar partnership, we make millions of articles discoverable through Google search results and guide users to their libraries to retrieve credible research documents or to search further.”

Sara Earley, EBSCO vice president of product management, and Todd Baldwin, associate vice president of library editorial at SAGE Publishing, say they are working with search engines to make sure the articles they publish are indexed. In tandem with efforts to surface reference material via search engines, publishers are trying to make search similarly straightforward and powerful. To that end, Jim Draper, executive vice president of Readex, says, “Readex’s proprietary ‘Suggested Searches’—or a list of subjects that patrons can use when conducting a database search—has shown considerable success.”

 

PRINT ON THE MOVE

Access to print reference is changing. Joyce Serravo, collection librarian at Arapahoe Libraries, Englewood, CO, notes that “public libraries are increasing access to print resources by moving reference materials to circulation. The checkout time may be shorter than it is for other content, but this allows patrons to check out materials that are usually restricted to in-library use only.” Robert Mixner, reference librarian at Bartholomew County Public Library, Columbus, IN, agrees. “Most new books are purchased to be circulating. This is a decision we made to best serve our patrons to increase the usage of books that tend to be very expensive.”

In addition to being able to physically check out their sources, academic users are looking at another takeaway: the ability to easily cite those sources. Gricel Dominguez, head of information and research services and user engagement librarian at Florida International University, Miami, has noticed “an increase in the number of databases offering citation tools and export options for citation managers beyond RefWorks. Students really appreciate these and often ask for ways to save their sources beyond copying/pasting citation information.” Tench agrees that users need to be able to “put citations into citation software source like RefWorks, EndNote, and Mendeley.”

 

USER-DRIVEN TOOLS

Many patrons prefer interactive and multimedia resources. Tench says “streaming video databases are very popular.” Serravo hones in on user needs: “Lynda.com and the Gale courses are popular with some of our patrons in learning new skills for the workplace or for lifelong learning.” Publishers are taking note. Todd Baldwin, associate vice president of library editorial at SAGE Publishing, says that “SAGE Business Cases are being enhanced with video and live data embedding from Data Planet…and that’s a direct result of librarian and faculty requests for varied content types to engage students.” Alison Roth, marketing communications and PR manager at ProQuest, adds, “reference resources will continue to broaden their scope to include a variety of content—video, ebooks, dissertations, audio and more.”

Patron-driven or demand-driven acquisition (PDA/DDA) and open educational resources (OER) are also growing. However, Dominguez admits her institution has “been having a hard time matching demand for titles triggered in our PDA/DDA packages” because budgets are static or declining. Tench feels that “OER is expanding exponentially and may be the ultimate landing spot for researchers.” Earley says “EBSCO is addressing the need to identify high-quality free content with EBSCO Faculty Select. Through a single interface, faculty can search and access quality open textbooks, OERs, and request access to unrestricted library ebooks.”

Many publishers, including Readex, Gale, ABC-CLIO, SAGE, ProQuest, and EBSCO, have added more print and digital materials about marginalized communities. Gale continues to add to its Archives of Sexuality & Gender series and earlier this year published a print encyclopedia of LGBTQ history. Librarians appreciate seeing these titles. Says Mixner, “A marginalized community is exactly that, ‘marginalized,’ and this may affect how willing people interested in the topic are to ask for materials on it. This is why it’s important to have a well-stocked collection.”

Cooperation between librarians and publishers will help ensure that patrons’ information needs are met. “People often want a quick or easy answer, which is not always the same as good answer,” Mixner says.


Jason Steagall is a Library Specialist at Arapahoe Libraries, Centennial, CO

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